Pompeii’s House of Lovers Reopens to the Public After 40 Years

The building, one of three newly restored painted houses, is named for a Latin inscription that reads, “Lovers lead, like bees, a life as sweet as honey”

House of Lovers
Pompeii's House of Lovers, first uncovered in 1933, was severely damaged in a 1980 earthquake. Courtesy of Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism

Pompeii’s House of Lovers has reopened to the public 40 years after an earthquake rendered the structure unsafe to enter, Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism announced earlier this week. Two other buildings, the House of the Ship Europa and the House of the Orchard, are also ready to welcome new visitors.

Researchers restored the three domus dwellings, or private family residences, as part of the Great Pompeii Project, a $140 million campaign funded chiefly by the European Union. The initiative strives to restore the city, which was famously buried by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 A.D., to its former glory.

Since excavations at the site began in earnest during the mid-19th century, the ruins have faced ongoing problems, including feral dogs, flood damage and vandalism. As Franz Lidz reported for Smithsonian magazine last September, Pompeii has, in recent years, suffered from “age, corruption, vandalism, climate change, mismanagement, underfunding, institutional neglect and collapses caused by downpours.”

In 2013, three years after Pompeii’s House of Gladiators suddenly collapsed, Unesco threatened to place the ancient Roman city on its World Heritage in Danger list. At that point, only ten of the city’s buildings were open to the public—a far cry from the 64 open in 1956, reported National Geographic’s Frank Viviano in 2016. With the launch of the Great Pompeii Project in 2012, however, the situation has vastly improved.

The House of Lovers is considered one of the jewels of Pompeii due to its unique second floor and well-preserved decorations, including what Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) describes as frescoes and mosaics of “mollusks and fish in idyllic landscapes.” First unearthed in 1933, the building derives its name from an inscription found near an image of a duck. Written in Latin, it reads, “Lovers lead, like bees, a life as sweet as honey.”

The deadly Irpinia earthquake of 1980 caused severe damage to the home’s structure. In the years that followed, the building became too dangerous for even experts to enter, per the Ministry of Culture statement. But now, following the completion of restoration efforts such as roof and floor stabilization, the suspected brothel is safe for all to explore. Artifacts discovered in the House of Lovers, from a basin to a bronze lamp and bone hinges, are on view in the building’s first-floor atrium.

The other two newly reopened houses were built in a similar style to the House of Lovers. The House of the Ship of Europa is named after an image of a large cargo ship flanked by smaller boats; its structure shows evidence of a series of modifications and extensions. The House of Orchards, meanwhile, underwent restoration to address safety issues and improve the state of its painted gardens, fruit trees and wildlife.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister of culture, described the houses’ reopening as “a story of rebirth and redemption,” according to ANSA.

The Great Pompeii Project has yielded numerous finds, from a fresco depicting the myth of Leda and the Swan to a “fast food” counter, a preserved horse still in its harness and the skeleton of a man who was crushed by a massive rock while trying to escape the eruption. As the project continues, Italy hopes to make the site more accessible to visitors and beneficial to the surrounding area.

“We’re completing the plan for a railway hub, but there are still problems to be solved around transport and hospitality,” said Franceschini during a press conference, as quoted by the Telegraph’s Anne Hanley. “This is a huge opportunity for growth in the area and we need to invest.”

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