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Pompeii's Frisky Frescoes Revealed
Sexy Wall Art Uncovered at Archaeological Site
 Related Resources
• Italian Culture/Traditions
• Italian Travel
 From Other Guides
• Baths at Pompeii
• Last Days of Pompeii
• Pompeii Archeology
• Pompeii Frescoes
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Ancient Pompeii
• Pompeii Reconstruction
• Pompeii: The Brothel

You may have to learn a whole new set of Italian vocabulary words if you plan on traveling to southern Italy. After years of excavation and restoration, archaeologists have unveiled a series of frescoes with explicit sex scenes in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Part of a restored public bath, the titillating paintings can be viewed at one of the world's most-visited tourist sites, near Naples.

Vesuvius Heats Up
Pompeii was destroyed in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the entire city in ash. But the volcano wasn't the only hot spot in the resort city. In an ancient thermal bath just outside the old city walls, an astonishing series of erotic frescoes were discovered in the 1980's. The 2,000-year-old structure had elaborate mosaics, a stucco ceiling, and an indoor waterfall. The extant frescoes were painted in gold, green, and red, and show graphic scenes of various sex acts.

There is a lively debate among scientists regarding the purpose of the erotic frescoes. Some claim they are advertisements for sexual services available on the upper floor of the baths. Others believe the explicit paintings were meant to entertain, and theorize that they could even have been used to label lockers underneath them. Regardless of their ultimate significance, many visitors will certainly enjoy the eye-popping erotica.

Hot, Hotter, Hottest
House of ill-repute or not, the thermal baths of Pompeii were certainly steamy. Past the changing room was a cold-water pool called the frigidarium, where bathers could swim in a pool surrounded by sumptuous mosaics and frescoes. Then a series of hot rooms followed, each slightly warmer than the last: the tepidarium, the laconium and the caldarium. The water was heated by furnaces stoked by slaves also known as fornacatores. The word derives from "fornax," Latin for "furnace" and also the root for "fornix," which is Latin for "brothel."

Red Light Spa
Taking advantage of the "scandalous" Roman art, tourist brochures will refer to the bath as the "Red Light Spa", although they say it was most likely not formally a house of prostitution. According to an official of the Pompeii archaeological heritage department, even though the frescoes depict lively sexual activity involving numerous partners, "there is no element that would make one think the upper floor of the Terme Suburbane was a brothel." It's likely that eroticism in Pompeii, as portrayed by the diverse array of sexual activities depicted in the frescoes, reflected the ancient Romans' much more relaxed attitude toward sex. Whether it be the Villa of Mysteries, the House of Vettii, the tomb of Vestoria Prisco, or the Pleasure Spa, there is plenty to suggest that the citizens of Pompeii were a sophisticated, cultured people who enjoyed fine art, architecture, and the pleasures of the flesh.

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