Unveiling the Mystery of Pompeii’s Thermopolium – Witness a Spectacular Display of Artwork that Holds Secrets of the Past

Today, 12 August, the thermopolium of Regio V finally opens to the public, the ancient “fast food” of Pompeii, brought to light during the last excavations in an area never investigated before the ancient city (I had already talked about it in this article), with extraordinary visits to the construction site of the House of Orion and the House of the Garden.

The thermopylae, where drinks and hot food were served, as the name of Greek origin indicates, preserved in large dolia (jars) embedded in the masonry counter, were very common in the Roman world, where it was customary for those belonging to the lower and middle classes, to eat prandium (the meal) outside the home. To learn more about thermopolies, I recommend reading this article

Although in Pompeii alone there are at least eighty of them, the thermopolium of the Regio V stands out for the exceptional decoration of the painted counter, with images of the Nereid riding a hippocampus and animals that were probably cooked and sold right in the place.

The thermopolium  was only partially identified and investigated in 2019, during the interventions of the Grande Progetto Pompei for the safety and consolidation of the historical excavation fronts. Considering the exceptional nature of the decorations and with the intention of restoring the complete configuration of the venue – located in the clearing at the intersection of the vicolo delle Nozze d’Argento and the vicolo dei Balconi – in 2020 it was decided to plan a further targeted intervention to the completion of the excavation, to the restoration of the rooms and of the decorations present. At the same time, a new wooden roof was built to protect the painted counter, and the ancient menian (balcony) cantilevered was restored, on which part of the original cocciopesto flooring found during the excavation was placed.

Visits will be possible every day from 12:00 to 19:00 (last admission at 18:30), with entry from via di Nola and exit from the vicolo delle Nozze d’ Argento. No reservation is required.

As previously mentioned, at the same time as the thermopolium   visit, extraordinary access will also be allowed to the construction site of the House of Orione and the Garden – with limited access and differentiated routes for a guided visit in safety – where the works of accommodation are still in progress, view of the definitive restoration and roofing interventions in preparation for the permanent opening of the entire area.

Both residences, with their extraordinary decorations, emerged and made safe during the excavations of the Regio V, connected to the wider intervention on the excavation fronts envisaged by the Great Pompeii project.

Visits will be possible every day from 16:00 to 19:00 (last admission at 18:30). Access is provided every 20 minutes, for groups of up to 5 people at a time accompanied by Park staff. As with the thermopolium , access is from via di Nola and the exit from the vicolo delle Nozze d’ Argento. Admission is free until availability is exhausted; however, reservations are recommended on the website (online booking cost € 1.50).

The House of Orion

The House of Orione takes its name from the floor mosaic present in a room of the domus, depicting the myth of Orion. The scene represents the transformation of the hero Orion into a constellation, and is probably connected to that of a second mosaic in the house.

Both mosaics denote a considerable cultural level and probable relations of the owner with the eastern Mediterranean world, from which the artists who made them could come.

The dwelling had already been intercepted during the nineteenth-century excavations, between 1891 and 1893, but only in 2017 was it entirely brought to light. The domus has the typical structure with a central atrium, surrounded by rooms decorated with precious frescoes in the I Pompeian style and rich floor mosaics. At the time of the eruption in 79 AD the house was being renovated.

The current excavations have made it possible to identify several tunnels, practiced in the past by grave robbers before the official excavations, in order to recover precious objects, which unfortunately compromised the structure of the house in several places.

The House of the Garden

The House of the Garden, which takes its name from the presence inside a garden with a frescoed portico, is known for the discovery of the charcoal inscription that changed the date of the eruption.

On the portico overlooks the beautiful room decorated with paintings depicting Venus in one square with a male figure (Paris or perhaps Adonis) and Eros, and in another always Venus but this time depicted in the act of fishing, together with Eros. In the same room there is a very refined female portrait, probably representing the domina, the mistress of the house.

The skeletons room overlooks the atrium, where the remains of a dozen individuals were found who sought refuge here in a vain attempt to escape the eruption, and whose remains are being studied and DNA analysed.

In some service areas, however, a wooden box was found containing female jewelery and amulets against bad luck, probably belonging to one of the victims found in the house and now exhibited in the Antiquarium of Pompeii.

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