Pompeii’s Brothel and the Secret Room in the Archaeological Museum in Naples

Pompeii.  The small town covered by a hot slurry of ash from the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is arguably the most famous roman ruin in the world.  Is there anyone that hasn’t seen a photo of the casts of some of the people that were trapped under the ash? (Note: the casts were made by pouring plaster into the hollow spaces of the ash where the people once were. They are shockingly detailed.)

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But did you know that there were (at least) 30 brothels in town – one of which has been carefully excavated and somewhat restored, and is one of the most popular places in town even to this day!

What did an ancient brothel look like you ask?  Well it was smallish – a hallway with rooms to either side – perhaps 5 or 6 rooms tiny rooms on the ground floor  (I suppose there was likely a second story that was not accessible on the tour as most of Pompeii’s buildings were two stories.)  Many of the rooms contained stone beds with a built-in pillow.  They didn’t look very comfortable.  (I don’t remember seeing any beds in the regular homes in the city.)

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Small frescoes adorned the hallway.  My guidebook speculated that the frescoes served both as a sort of “menu of services,” and Kamu Sutra.  Graffiti on the wall included tallies and exotic names for all the women – indicating that the women came from all over the Mediterranean.

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When Pompeii was excavated in the 1700s, the King of Naples ordered them to bring him the best of whatever was found.  Thankfully!  Otherwise it would have been looted a long time ago.  Most ended up in the Archaeological Museum in Naples, including some special treasures placed in the “secret room.”  In the past you needed to get a special letter from the King to allow you access to the secret room.  (Said in a soft voice:  It contains all the erotica found in Naples.)

We didn’t get to see the secret room.  We went to the museum on a Sunday (it is open every day but Tuesday) and it was open, but all the rooms with the exception of one were closed.  It’s one of those things that makes me go hmmmm.  The rooms were not closed because they were under renovation or for any understandable reason.  Perhaps museum guards were on semi-strike.  Maybe no one showed up to work.  Maybe someone just felt like closing the room.

2 thoughts on “Pompeii’s Brothel and the Secret Room in the Archaeological Museum in Naples”

  1. They have a Pompeii exhibit at the Science Museum here in LA. Lots of the casts and pictures of of the frescos and some of the artifacts. Very interesting. It really does seem like the town was full of brothels. They have identified 80 or so? Italians must have been lusty, or brothels were lucrative, or both!

    1. It was a different time – much more open about that sort of thing! There are whole sections of the town that haven’t been excavated yet – it was an incredible site.

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