Pompeii street scenes
Updated: Mar 27, 2021
When you wander the streets of Pompeii, you get a glimpse of what life was like two thousand years ago. Put that together with the frescos depicting daily life, and a colourful picture starts to emerge... All of this was invaluable when I set about reimagining the ancient town for my upcoming historical novel The Wolf Den. Here is a brief visual tour.
Eating and Drinking
Some of the most evocative sights in Pompeii are the thermopolium (fast food restaurants) and bars. Here is the thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus. You can see the marble counter, with sunken jars to hold the food. On the back wall a lararium has been painted of the household gods, with Bacchus and Mercury. Most people in Pompeii would have eaten take away food from thermopolia - kitchen facilities and dining areas were the preserve of the wealthy.
A small bar on the Via di Mercurio gives a sense of what some of the taverns must have been like - this one is pretty cramped. The paintings on the walls show various drinking scenes - on the left people are dicing, on the right a customer is being served by a waitress. Respectable women were not found in bars - though prostitutes like my characters in The Wolf Den, might be.
Food that the Romans in Pompeii would have eaten can be seen in the frescoes of dining rooms - here are game and soft cheeses, and below that fruit and nuts. Though all this fresh fruit and meat might have been a little grand for the hot stew sold in a thermopolium.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a food store and a shop, as it's not always clear what the counters are for. At night wooden doors would slide across grooves in the stone, closing off the entire shop front, which in the day stood open. You can see the grooves in the photo below, along with the edge of a marble counter. When open, shop fronts were exposed to the street, the front wall open.
A remarkable plaster cast has been taken of the cavity of a wooden front in Pompeii (see below) which lets you see what the street looked like at night, when everything was shuttered up.
The outsides of buildings would have been decorated with paint and plaster work. Red and yellow were common, though in Herculaneum there is even a chess board style design on the outside of a house. The doorways to grander homes were also incredibly tall - about twice the height of modern doorways. Walking along the street you would be able to steal a glimpse inside, through half opened doors, along the narrow hallway decorated by mosaic and into the atrium.
Directly below is the painted front of 'Asellina's bar'. There is electoral graffiti all over it with Asellina, Maria, Aegle and Zmyrina, endorsing a political candidate. Women could not vote, but traditionally this has been interpreted as the landlady and her barmaids voicing an opinion on the outcome. An alternative view is that the candiate's adversary was smearing him by suggesting he was the pick of tavern women!
The sliding photos below show: a fresco in National Archeological Museum in Naples showing how the ancient style of tall door may have looked on the street, a Pompeii doorway at dusk, the remnants of plaster and brick decoration on the side of a building (high up in the middle of the wall), the huge imposing front of the House of the Faun.
Another glimpse through a doorway... the sign above the mosaic of a bear says 'welcome'