In 1912, an Italian archaeologist began to explore something spectacular in Pompeii: a two-story building graced with romantic frescoes. It’s known as the House of the Chaste Lovers, and it made a great date destination for a few lucky tourists this year. As the AFP reports, the archaeological site was kept open for Valentine’s Day before closing for a four-year-long restoration.
What’s so hot about a building once buried in the ash of a live volcano? The answer is on the walls. The home is best known for its fresco, which shows two couples hanging out on a couch during what seems to be a sumptuous banquet. The couple on the left isn’t busy with food or drink, though. Rather, they’re sharing a sweet, closed-mouth kiss that was chaste enough to give the house its nickname.
As archaeologist and Pompeii tour guide Emiliano Tufano writes on his blog, the romantic building had a prosaic purpose: it was a bakery and contains a courtyard with an oven similar to the ones used to make pizza today. (Irony alert, centuries later, police were able to recover two frescoes stolen from the villa in 2003 by tracing the thieves via the half-eaten takeaway pizza they left at the crime scene.)
Archaeologists have also found the remains of mules behind the bakery, evidence of how Pompeiians moved grain to and fro. The bakery appears to have had a dining room, too, which explains the frescoes, and as Mary Beard writes in Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, the reveling they portray is a bit less explicit than many Pompeii scenes (hence the building’s name).
Many of Pompeii’s buildings are remarkably intact given the volcanic eruption that buried it in pumice and ash in 79 A.D. But that doesn’t mean it’s been all romance and roses for the chaste lovers. In 2010, a crane collapsed on the site after heavy rains, though officials downplayed the damage.
Now, writes the AFP, the site will be restored with recreated gardens, a new roof, a raised walkway for viewing and plenty of strong supports to make sure a future collapse doesn’t cut in on the smooching Pompeiians’ eternal kiss.
While you may have missed this year’s chance to steal a chaste kiss inside an ancient bakery. But after restorations on the House of Chaste Lovers finish up, there's nothing stopping you from using it as the site for a future romantic rendezvous.