Two men freed from enslavement came to live a life of luxury in ancient Pompeii. Now their ornate home, dubbed "Pompeii's Sistine Chapel," has fully opened to the public for the first time in 20 years. The House of the Vettii—built in the second century BC, then buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79—was discovered in the late 1890s and has undergone extensive renovation work in recent years, revealing "absolutely astonishing" treasures, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the archaeological park, tells the Guardian. One fresco at the entrance to the single-family dwelling "depicts Priapus, the god of fertility and abundance, with a large penis balancing on a scale next to a bag filled with money, thought to have symbolized the wealth accumulated by the men," per the outlet.
"The house is one of the relatively few in Pompeii for which we have the names of the owners," says Zuchtriegel. The names Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva suggest the two men were former slaves who had the same master, Aulus Vettius. "If they were from the same family the first two names would have been different and they would have the same surname," explains Zuchtriegel, who guesses the two men "were buddies during their time as slaves and then set free." Previous research has shown that formerly enslaved people could flourish in ancient Pompeii, and Restitutus and Conviva appear to have done the same. They reportedly made a fortune in the wine trade.
The home features Greek and Roman sculptures of bronze and marble, marble baths, an open courtyard, an elaborate garden, and a small room decorated with erotic frescos that was thought to have been used as a brothel, per the BBC and AP. There's also a frieze running around the wall of what is believed to be a dining room, showing cupids selling wine. "You can stand before these images for hours and still discover new details," Zuchtriegel tells the AP. "It's all about saying, 'We've made it and so we are part of this elite.'" He describes the home—which was closed in 2002 for much-needed restoration work, partially reopened in 2016, and closed again in 2020—as the one site all visitors to Pompeii should see. (Read more Pompeii stories.)