Over 2 million visitors a year pass through the dark rooms of one of Pompeii’s brothels. No, this is not a joke, but reality. Although in this case it is not at all a question of consuming the carnal pleasures usually offered in such a place, but of pure history.
Yes, there were about 25 such establishments in Pompeii. For comparison, in Rome at the same time there were about 50. But let’s not forget that one was a city of a million people, and the other with a population of about 20,000 people, which raises the question – why were there so many brothels in Pompeii? The answer is that it was a port city. At that time, sailing at sea was far from an easy job, out of 10 ships, 8-9 returned, and every returned alive sailor wanted to “catch up”. In addition, numerous merchants from all over the world flocked to the city and had to be “served”. However, this figure does not include all the other establishments where wine was offered. The usual practice was to “serve” meat on their second floor.
Today, the most famous brothel in Pompeii is difficult to get into. This is so that the exposed frescoes on it can be preserved and for this reason no more than 10 people are allowed to stay in its premises at the same time. But believe me, the wait is worth it.
Nothing new under the sun
The Lupanarium – that’s what brothels were called in ancient Rome, is located near the theater and the baths. This is not accidental, everyone would explain about the proximity to the bathroom, but for the second, we just have to guess that at that time there was no television with news channels and those for adults, instead these “programs” went right in the theater. And as for the name lupanarium, it comes from the Latin word for she-wolf, lupa. This is what the Romans called prostitutes, likening them to predators, just as today in Bulgarian we would say that a woman is a tigress in bed. Our language has changed the animal but retained the embedded characteristics. And one more touch, forget about what was written in “Messalina” or the scenes in “Caligula”. At that time they were also discreet, for this reason the front door of the lupanarium is on the corner between two small streets. To get an idea just imagine a man walking 10 meters ahead of you down a small street and at the corner with the other turn. In a minute you will also take this direction, but when you do, there will be no one in front of you, the person is simply lost to the surrounding world. Discreet, right?
One would wonder, how did a foreigner learn where this little loophole was, as well as the other 24? Well, yes, in the pre-internet era there were other ways to get such information. In this case, if you were in ancient Rome, you just had to stare at your feet. Just as today there is a special road sign, such as the one with the crossed spoon and fork and arrow, so at that time there was a phallus carved into the road. The direction it pointed indicated where to go. A similar phallus painted or carved into the stones on the facade of a given building showed that this was the sought-after place.
To discover the lupanarium today, simply pick up a map from the museum’s ticket office. She will tell you that it is an 18 object in a 7 region.
And what is in the lupanarium in Pompeii? And today everything is almost intact. Small rooms with brick beds where the priestesses received their clients. They probably had soft mats on them. The murals are interesting. In terms of content, they are frank pornography. It is not clear whether they served simply as decoration or as a kind of catalog of services offered, but they are extremely well preserved.
The cost of living in the ancient world
The graffiti left by customers is also interesting. Here you will need help from either a tour guide or the historical reference books to understand what they are referring to. And then, as now, graffiti provided valuable information. From those found in the lupanarium, one can understand what kind of profession prostitution was in ancient Rome. From the inscriptions on the walls of the Pompeian lupanarium, it is clear that for an ordinary session per client they took 2 aces, the same as 2 glasses of good wine or 1 loaf of bread. Unsurprisingly, another graffiti suggests that the price varied according to the client’s desire and the “priestess’s” streak. “Atiche asked me for 16 aces, and the gifted Fortunata for 23 aces,” another customer angrily wrote on the wall. It is very much fantasized whether it is a question of the fact that the prostitutes had made a name for themselves and were in a position that allowed them to set such large financial conditions, or whether their client saw himself as annoying and in order to refuse him they asked him for this money, and maybe he the customer was very perverted too… But the content extracted from the graffiti shows purely mathematically that the high prices were the exception, since the base price of 2 aces is mentioned in 16 of the 28 graffiti giving information about the price of the services offered. Another scribbler has immortalized “the fair Greek Eutychis” and “the sucker Lachis.” This suggests that the girls were mostly from the Eastern provinces, as is the reality today.
Between the lines
Something that is not written in the guidebooks, but has been the subject of study by historians. Based on these prices and information about life in ancient Rome, analysts conclude that the rulers of the empire tried to keep supply high so that prices were low and everyone, even a slave, could afford them. After all, their goal was to fulfill their slogan “Bread and Spectacles” with content. And they probably did.
If there are even more curious people, how the ancients protected themselves from sexually transmitted diseases, they can look in the work of Julius Rosenbaum from 1839 “The Plagues of Desire in Antiquity”. Based on written information, he generalizes that the most widespread sexually transmitted disease was genital herpes. The most common modern diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis were almost non-existent. His data is also confirmed by studies of the found skeletons of that time. And this means that in the ancient world they observed exceptional hygiene.
Few facts about Pompeii
In any reference book you will read that ancient Pompeii was beset by two interconnected disasters – a major earthquake in 63 AD, which greatly affected the city, and the second – the historic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, which buried it for centuries. The city began to rise again from the ashes after 1748, when the first excavations took place. Today it is one of the largest open-air museums and almost all of it has been revealed.
Definitely worth a visit no matter what season of the year. The first thing to know is that this is not a short tour – you will actually be entering a city of 20,000 people, which means allowing at least 4 hours for a tour. Usually those who want to visit it stay in Naples, and from there there are enough travel options – both train (direction Naples-Salerno) and bus, just look and decide what you like. Next, comfortable shoes – ladies, forget about heels, you’ll be walking on an old Roman road made of stone slabs with 20cm ruts carved from the old vehicles, so a pair of stilts will do a better job as long as you know how they are used (this is a wink with a sense of humor). Outside of this joke, even if you go in rainy weather, don’t worry, the ancient Romans knew how to make roads, they did a wonderful job there, they placed the stones in such a way that in the rain and barefoot, your feet will still they will stay dry. But this does not exclude carrying an umbrella – both in the rain and in the sun, it will be most useful to you, there are almost no natural shadows in Pompeii, so it is simply a mandatory attribute. It’s a good idea to have a hat, sunscreen and a water bottle. Don’t worry about carrying the smallest one, and the ancients thought of it – the old public fountains in the city have been restored and you can always fill up with water from them. In fact, this is typical of all of southern Italy to this day. And one more important tip, at the entrance ask for a map, without it you are guaranteed to get lost. In the age of the Internet, it’s available there too, but a paper card won’t drain your phone battery.
It’s a good idea to have food with you, although make no mistake, in Pompeii itself you won’t be allowed to eat as you please. That on the one hand, but on the other hand, when you’re done with the tour, you’re guaranteed to be starving. There are 2 pizzerias near the exit, but they are always crowded and, as expected, more expensive, but still affordable.
After all that has been written, do not stress, but be calm – the comfort of visitors to Pompeii has been thought through very precisely. There is a medical center inside, I have already written about the water, smokers, beware, you will not be allowed to smoke anywhere, on the map, and in places with the corresponding symbols, smoking areas are indicated. Again on the food front, there is a kiosk inside that offers a quick breakfast.
What else in Pompeii
Pompeii was an extremely important city for ancient Rome. If one was the center, the other had the exact location – on the coast of the sea, which means that what entered Rome first landed in the bay around Naples, where Pompeii is also. Yes, Vesuvius was his curse, but it was also his blessing – and to this day, he bestows the entire valley with extremely fertile soil. In fact, even now the bay is connected to Rome in a straight line, via the SS7 highway, which follows the route of the old road. In fact, it is extremely picturesque – slightly cramped for the large vehicles that today move along it, but it is lined with centuries-old pine trees, which for tens of kilometers cast a shadow on it and protect it.
Entering Pompeii, one of the first things that will greet visitors is the theater. There are actually two there, plus the arena. The moneylender’s house is extremely well preserved, in which you can see rich decoration, even surviving stone furniture. Today, the garden has also been restored. Of course the forum, the temples of Venus and Jupiter. The house of entertainment is curious, where interesting bronze statues have been found.
And if you want to make your experience 100 percent, go to Vesuvius. You will read many things on the web how to get there. The most convenient and cheapest is with some buses departing from Piazza Porta Marina Inferiore. Tickets are collected from the driver. They will take you almost to the crater itself for €3.50. Attention – at the top you will be asked for a ticket, which can only be bought online and 2 days in advance. Second, those who are afraid of heights should simply not go up. Be aware that the journey from Pompeii to Vesuvius is about an hour, but on the other hand, if you want the same cheap company to return you, their last vehicle is at 17.30. Last but not least, know where you are going. It’s a volcano, from where the bus will drop you off to the rim of the crater is 500 meters.