A restored house in Pompeii offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the ancient elites of this volcanic city

A restored house in Pompeii offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the ancient elites of this volcanic city

A restored house in Pompeii offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the ancient elites of this volcanic city

Italy Pompeii Restored House
Columns surround a “peristyle” or courtyard at the center of the ancient Roman Domus Vettiorum, the House of the Vettii, in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, near Naples, southern Italy, December 14, 2022.

Andrew Medichini/AP


Pompeii — The newly restored remains of a wealthy house in Pompeii believed to have belonged to two former slaves who got rich from the wine trade offer visitors a unique insight into the details of domestic life in a doomed Roman city. On Tuesday, after 20 years of renovation, the Vettius House, or Domus Vettiorum in Latin, was officially unveiled.

New life was given to the frescoes of the latest fashion in Pompeii’s wall decorations before the thriving city was buried under volcanic ash spewing furiously from Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

The unveiling of the restored house is another sign of Pompeii’s revival that has come after decades of modern bureaucratic neglect, flooding and looting by thieves in search of artifacts to sell.

This delights tourists and rewards experts with enticing fresh insights into the everyday life of what is one of the most famous remnants of the ancient world.

Italy Pompeii Restored House
Detail of the frescoes decorating the walls of the “Room of Cupids”, part of the ancient Roman Domus Vettiorum, House of Vettii, in the Pompeii Archaeological Park, near Naples, southern Italy, December 14, 2022.

Andrew Medichini/AP


“The Vetti House is like the history of Pompeii, or rather Roman society in one house,” raved Pompeii director Gabriel Zuchtriegel as he showed off an area of ​​the domus known as Cupid’s Rooms last month.

“Here we see the final phase of a Pompeian mural painting with incredible detail, so you can stand in front of these paintings for hours and still discover new details,” an energetic archaeological park director told the Associated Press ahead of the public inauguration.

“So you have this mix: nature, architecture, art. But it is also a story about the social life of Pompeian society, and indeed of the Roman world at this phase of history,” added Zuchtriegel.

Italy Pompeii Restored House
A cat walks through the “lararium”, the site of the ancient Roman Domus, where there was a temple to the cult of the lares, domestic gods, in the ancient Roman Domus Vettiorum, House of Vettii, in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, near Naples, southern Italy, December 14, 2022.

Andrew Medichini/AP


Previous restoration work, which involved repeatedly applying paraffin to the frescoed walls in hopes of preserving them, “has caused them to become very blurry over time as very thick and opaque layers have formed, making it difficult to ‘read’ the fresco,” he said. Stefania Giudice, director of the fresco restaurant.

But the wax was used for their extraordinary preservation.

Zuchtriegel ventured that the fresh “readings” of the revived fresco “reflect the dreams, imaginations and anxieties of the owners because they lived between these images”, which include Greek mythological figures.


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And who were these owners? Vettis are two men – Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus. In addition to sharing names, they shared a past – not as descendants of noble Roman families accustomed to wealth, but rather, experts in Pompeii say, almost certainly as once enslaved men who were later freed.

It is believed that they got rich thanks to the wine trade. While some have hypothesized that the two were brothers, this is uncertain.

Italy Pompeii Restored House
View of the “triclinium” or dining room called Hall of Pentheus, part of the ancient Roman Domus Vettiorum, House of Vettii, in the Pompeii Archaeological Park, near Naples, southern Italy, December 14, 2022

Andrew Medichini/AP


In the dining room, called the Hall of Pentheus, a fresco depicts Hercules as a child, crushing two serpents, as an illustration of an episode in the life of a Greek hero. According to mythology, Hera, the goddess wife of Zeus, sent the serpents to kill Hercules because she was furious that he was born of Zeus’ union with the mortal Alcmena.

Could Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus somehow recognize their own life story in the form of Hercules, who overcame successive challenges in his life?

This question intrigues Zuchtriegel.

After years of captivity, the men “had amazing careers afterwards and reached the highest echelons of the local community, at least economically,” judging by their exclusive domus and garden, Zuchtriegel said. “They were clearly trying to show their new status” also through culture and Greek mythological imagery, and it’s all about saying, “We made it, so we’re part of this elite” of the Roman world.

Italy Pompeii Restored House
View of the impluvium, a rainwater tank in the atrium of the ancient Roman Domus Vettiorum, House of Vettii, in the Pompeii Archaeological Park, near Naples, southern Italy, December 14, 2022.

Andrew Medichini/AP


Pompeii architect and conservation director Arianna Spinosa called the restored house “one of Pompeii’s iconic houses. The residence “represents the Pompeian domus par excellence, not only for its frescoes of exceptional importance, but also for its layout and architecture.”

Ornate marble tubs and tables surround the garden.

First unearthed during archaeological excavations in the late 19th century, the domus was closed in 2002 for urgent restoration work, including supporting the roof. After a partial reopening in 2016, it was closed again in 2020 for the final phase of work, which included restoration of the frescoes and the floor and colonnades.

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