Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Brothels of Pompeii

One of the most popular buildings in Pompeii (both then and now) is the Brothel which has some rather beautiful (if somewhat graphic) frescoes depicting the services on offer.

There were in fact around 25 brothels (known as lupanare – meaning Wolf Dens) in the city. We visited three of them, one of which is not open to the general public. We were told that a typical visit fee in the AD70s would be 2 asses which has been estimated as equivalent these days to €2 (2011).

Some brothels had signs up on the wall indicating what went on inside.

Brothel sign on wall

There are also phallic symbols on the pavements in various

Phallic sign on pavement

places although these apparently were sometimes there as luck charms and not always indicating a brothel nearby.

These days, the most visited brothel often has queues of

Brothel House

up to 30 minutes to get in (and there is a one way system operating on the streets in the area to manage the queues) although when we were there it was about 5 minutes.

Brothel room

Although over two floors, only the first floor is open to the casual tourist and above is a typical room (one of about 7 on the ground floor) with its solid stone bed, presumably originally covered by a mattress.Brothel 2 picture 1

On the walls above the cells were a range of frescoes

Brothel 2 picture 2 Brothel 2 picture 3 Brothel 2 picture 4 Brothel 2 picture 5 Brothel 2 picture 6 Brothel 2 picture 7    

which we assume were for decoration rather than a menu of services on offer. Flash photography is not allowed and hence the quality of the pictures is a bit poor.

Brothel single bed

Brothels seemed to be quite popular in this area, above is a single cell room presumably for a sole operator (usually a slave) – again a solid stone bed.

Immediately outside of the city walls down where the old dockside used to be near the Porta Marina are one of the Public Baths which also served as a brothel. Evidence of where the ships used to tie up is obvious

Original quayside

from the rings on the wall. The sea is now a few kilometres away. Routine visitors are not allowed into this section because it is not designed for easy walk through and much of the work is fragile. However, because we were with an Andante archaeological tour, we were taken through the locked gates and down into the building.

External baths

Being a baths, there is an obvious palaestra (outdoor exercise yard), exercise being an essential part of the bath process. The outside has lost much of its decorations other than an ornate door.

Bath doorway

The hot baths are somewhat unusual in that there used to be a large copper cauldron in the middle of the bath heated by a

Baths heated bath

fire underneath.

SB Cold Room Ceiling

The Cold Room has a beautifully decorated stucco ceiling in some disrepair. Next to the cold room in the baths is a

SB Bath Mosaic

SB Bath Mosaic 2

room with a rather nice mosaic although the blue is said to be blue glass rather than blue tiles.

The frescoes are not in the greatest condition in this area

SB Bath Wall 1 

but fragments, such as this Hippopotamus show that

SB Bath Hippo  

exotic animals were not unknown in ancient Pompeii.

The jury is out on the use of one area.

SB Brothel Picture 3

This fresco pictures at the top and underneath each one is a Roman numeral. One interpretation is that the numbers refer to lockers and that this was a changing room, decorated with frescoes and lockers for the use of patrons,

SB Brothel Picture 1 SB Brothel Picture 2  SB Brothel Picture 4 SB Brothel Picture 5 SB Brothel Picture 6 SB Brothel Picture 7 SB Brothel Picture 8

another is that this is a menu of services on offer.

Brothel graffiti

There is also some graffiti on the wall whose meaning we could not work out but we could guess.

There are plenty of online explanations of the general system and more pictures and charts of some quite well executed (if somewhat explicit) art providing evidence of a somewhat laissez faire attitude to sex in the Roman world.

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