It was the jewel of Pompeii’s libertines: a brothel decorated with frescoes of erotic figures believed to be the most popular in the ancient Roman city.
The Lupanare — which derives its name from the Latin word “lupa,” or “prostitute” — was presented to the public again Thursday following a yearlong, $253,000 restoration to clean up its frescoes and fix the structure.
Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79 by a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands of people — and buried the city in 20 feet of volcanic ash, preserving Pompeii for 1,600 years and providing precious information on what life was like in the ancient world.
Among the buildings was the two-story brothel with 10 rooms — five on each floor — and a latrine. Each room on the ground floor bears a fresco of a different sex scene painted over its door — possibly suggesting the prostitute’s specialty.
The upper floor was for higher-ranking clients. The stone beds were covered with mattresses and each room has names engraved in its walls — possibly those of the prostitutes and their clients.
The brothel — once centrally located near the city’s forum and the market — is open to the public as part of the regular tour of the ruins of Pompeii, east of Naples.
“The legend that Pompeii was a lascivious city is true — and not true,” said Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the site’s top archaeological official. “There was ample opportunity for sexual relations, but the prostitute in the technical sense was confined to one place.”
The building was unearthed in 1862 and has undergone several restorations since, most recently in 1949, officials in Pompeii said. The latest restoration focused on fixing leaks in the building and restoring the frescoes, which had turned yellow and had faded in parts.
Libertine habits flourished in Pompeii, and considerable evidence testifies that the city’s wealthy merchants and visiting sailors had a taste for eroticism.
The prostitutes were slaves and were usually of Greek or other foreign origin, and they commanded prices up to eight times the cost of a portion of wine, with revenues going to their owner or the manager of the brothel, officials said.