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Inside Pompeii’s newly opened residence


The upper-class residence gets its name from a fresco depicting two couples reclining on dining couches during a banquet. The young lovers on the left steal a moment for a gentle kiss. (Pasquale Sorrentino)

In antiquity, the street now known as Via dell’Abbondanza was the busiest thoroughfare in Pompeii, lined with shops, bars, and houses. Today it teems with tourists weaving in and out of the remains of these buildings, looking at the walls, mosaics, frescoes, and gardens. Now, for the first time, visitors can actually enter the House of the Chaste Lovers, one of the elite homes along the Abbondanza.


One of the few buildings in Pompeii to have retained its second story, the House of the Chaste Lovers opened to the public for the first time this year. (Pasquale Sorrentino)

Pompeii was discovered in the mid-eighteenth century, and excavations began almost immediately thereafter, uncovering nearly two-thirds of the ancient city over the course of the next 250 years. Because the site has thousands of buildings, it has been nearly impossible to properly conserve Pompeii’s remains and to counteract the damage inflicted by exposure to the natural elements and more than two million visitors per year. The result is that only around 30 percent of the city is open to the public, while the rest has been declared unsafe, structurally unsound, and off-limits. And because the emphasis in Pompeii has shifted to preservation and conservation and away from excavation, in recent years there has been only limited work in the unexplored areas of the ancient site. The House of the Chaste Lovers, which takes its name from a wall painting found within the property depicting a couple in a gentle embrace, was discovered by an Italian team in 1987. Working with conservators, archaeologists have been excavating the exceedingly well-preserved residence for the last two decades.

Jason M. Urbanus is a doctoral candidate at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University.