POMPEII, Italy (AP) — The newly restored remains of an opulent house in Pompeii that likely belonged to two former slaves who made their fortune from the wine trade are offering visitors an extraordinary glimpse into details of domestic life in the doomed Roman city.
On Tuesday, the House of the Vettii, Domus Vettiorum in Latin, was officially opened after 20 years of restoration. Fresh life was given to the frescoes of the latest fashion in Pompeii’s wall decoration, before the flourishing city was buried under the volcanic ash violently ejected from Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
The discovery of the restored house is yet another sign of Pompeii’s rebirth, following decades of modern bureaucratic neglect, flooding and looting by thieves looking for artifacts to sell.
It delights tourists and rewards experts with tantalizingly fresh insights into the everyday life of what is one of the most famous remains of the ancient world.
“Vetti’s house is like the history of Pompeii and indeed of Roman society in one house,” Pompeii director Gabriel Zuchtrigel gushed as he showed off part of the home known as Cupid’s Rooms last month.
“Here we see the last phase of Pompeian wall painting in incredible detail, so you can stand in front of these images for hours and still discover new details,” the park’s energetic director told The Associated Press ahead of the public unveiling.
“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 that phase of history,” Zuchtrigel added.
Previous restoration work, which involved repeatedly applying paraffin to the frescoes in the hope of preserving them, “resulted in them becoming very blurred over time because very thick and opaque layers formed, making it difficult to ‘read’ the fresco”, said Stefania Giudice, Director of Mural Restoration.
But the wax preserved them remarkably well.
Zuchtriegel ventured that fresh “readings” of the revived mural “reflect the dreams, imagination and anxieties of the owners because they lived between these images,” which include Greek mythological figures.
And who were these owners? The Vetti family were two men, Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus. In addition to having some of their names in common, they shared a common past—not as descendants of noble Roman families accustomed to luxury, but rather, say Pompeii experts, almost certainly as once-enslaved men who were later freed .
They are believed to have become wealthy through the wine trade. Although some suggest that the two are brothers, there is no certainty about this.
In the living room, known as the Hall of Pentheus, a fresco depicts Hercules as a child crushing two snakes, in an illustration of an episode from the life of the Greek hero. According to mythology, Hera, the goddess wife of Zeus, sent snakes to kill Hercules because she was angry that he was born of Zeus’ union with a mortal woman, Alcmene.
Could Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus have recognized their own life story somehow in the figure of Hercules overcoming challenge after challenge in his life?
This is a question that intrigues Zuchtrigel.
After years in slavery, the men “then had amazing careers and reached the highest ranks in local society, at least economically,” judging by their luxurious home and garden, Zuchtrigel said. “They obviously tried to show their new status also through culture and through Greek mythological paintings, and it’s all about saying, ‘We’ve made it and that’s why we’re part of this elite’ of the Roman world.”
The architect and director of Pompeii’s restoration works, Ariana Spinoza, called the restored home “one of the iconic houses of Pompeii. The residence “represents the Pompeian domus par excellence, not only because of its frescoes of exceptional importance, but also because of its layout and architecture.”
Decorative marble baths and tables surround the garden.
First discovered during an archaeological dig in the late 19th century, the home was closed in 2002 for urgent restoration work, including strengthening 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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