John Hooper in Rome
Thursday October 26, 2006
The "wolves' lair" - ancient Pompeii's biggest, best planned and most richly decorated brothel - yesterday reopened to the public after extensive restoration.
The two-storey building, which was built at about the time Spartacus was leading his slaves' revolt, had been closed for almost a year. Its explicit wall paintings have long been a popular attraction for tourists visiting the site of the classical world's best-preserved city.
The busy port of Pompeii was packed with bordellos. At least 25 have been identified. But most occupied a single room, usually above a wine shop. Though sited, like all the others, at the junction of two side streets, the "Lupanare", was different.
Archaeologists believe it was the ancient city's only purpose-built whorehouse. So-called because, in Latin, lupa (she-wolf) was a common term for a prostitute, it consisted of 10 rooms and a latrine beneath the stairs. Set into the wall of each of the women's rooms was a stone bed covered with a mattress.
Researchers believe the Lupanare's celebrated wall paintings, each depicting a different position, were intended to advertise the various specialities on offer. The more elaborately painted upper floor, which had a separate entrance, is thought to have been reserved for better-off clients. The prostitutes were slaves, usually of Greek or Eastern origin. Their earnings were collected by the owner or manager of the brothel.
The Lupanare is known to have been built just a few years before the city's violent destruction. The plaster in one of the rooms bears the imprint of a coin dating from AD72.