The restored remains of an opulent house in Pompeii which belonged to two former slaves who became rich through the wine trade has opened to the public.
The House of Vettii was formally unveiled after 20 years of restoration, offering visitors an exceptional peek at details of domestic life in the doomed Roman city.
Given fresh life were frescoes from the latest fashion in Pompeii wall decoration before the flourishing city was buried under the volcanic ash spewing from Mount Vesuvius in 79AD.
The unveiling of the restored home is yet another sign of the rebirth of Pompeii, which followed decades of modern bureaucratic neglect, flooding and pillaging by thieves in search of artefacts to sell.
“The House of the Vetti is like the history of Pompeii and actually of Roman society within one house,” Pompeii’s director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said.
“We’re seeing here the last phase of the Pompeian wall painting with incredible details, so you can stand before these images for hours and still discover new details,” the archaeological park’s director told The Associated Press.
“So, you have this mixture: nature, architecture, art. But it is also a story about the social life of the Pompeiian society and actually the Roman world in this phase of history,” Mr Zuchtriegel added.
Previous restoration work, which involved repeated application of paraffin over the frescoed walls in hopes 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 fresco restoration. But the wax did serve to preserve them remarkably.
Mr Zuchtriegel said that the fresh “readings” of the revived fresco painting “reflect the dreams and imagination and anxieties of the owners because they lived between these images”, which include Greek mythological figures.
The Vettis were two men — Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus. In addition to having part of their names in common, they shared a common past — not as descendants of noble Roman families accustomed to opulence but rather, Pompeii experts say, almost certainly as once enslaved men who were later freed.
It is believed that they became wealthy through the wine trade. While some have hypothesised the two were brothers, there is no certainty about that.
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 Greek hero’s life.
According to mythology, Hera, the goddess wife of Zeus, sent snakes to kill Hercules because she was furious that he was born from the union of Zeus with a mortal woman, Alcmena.
Mr Zuchtriegel said that after years in slavery, the men “then had an incredible career after that and reached the highest ranks of local society, at least economically”, judging by their houseand garden.
He added: “They evidently 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 so we are part of this elite’” of the Roman world.
Pompeii’s architect director of restoration work Arianna Spinosa called the restored home “one of the iconic houses of Pompeii”, saying the residence “represents the Pompeiian domus par excellence, not only because of the frescoes of exceptional importance, but also because of its layout and architecture”.
Ornamental marble baths and tables surround the garden.
First unearthed during archaeological excavations in the late 19th century, the house was closed in 2002 for urgent restoration work, including shoring up roofing. After a partial reopening in 2016, it was closed again in 2020 for the final phase of the work, which included restoration of the frescoes and of the floor and colonnades.
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