Looking at these erotic frescoes in a ruined brothel in Pompeii made me feel as if I’m looking at a menu in a fast food chain.
“a man doesn’t prove he’s a man by getting an erection. He’s only a real man if he can pleasure a woman. And if he can pleasure a prostitute, he’ll think he’s the best lover on the block” -Nyah”
― Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes
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I didn’t envisage discovering the erotic side of Pompeii on the walking tour that I embarked at the ancient Roman city.
It was a hot day in the Campania region in Southwestern Italy. My friends and I started our day early by catching the local train from Sorrento to Pompeii Scavi. The plan was to beat the long tourist queues and to join the morning historical tour around the ruins of Pompeii.
In the afternoon, we planned to ascend to the crater of Mount Vesuvius, ready to witness the golden hour sunset over the Gulf of Naples from the top of a dormant volcano overlooking the vast landscape of the Campania region.
As our tour around Pompeii unfolds, it was like we were travelling back in time when Pompeii was one of the main cities in the Roman empire, standing proudly with its influence and contribution in the great ancient empire that once ruled Europe.
Block by block of the ruined stone houses and the cobbled streets of Pompeii tell us the ingenuity of Roman architecture and engineering. The derelict stoned houses gave us a glimpse of the lifestyle of the ancient civilization that Pompeii once had before the destruction by Mount Vesuvius that removed Pompeii from the map in 79AD.
The city was long forgotten after more than a thousand of years underneath the thick volcanic ash and lava that smothered the city and killed everything that stands in its way.
When we reached Via Stabiana, one of the main streets in Pompeii, the guide gathered us after a few minutes walking around on the cobbled streets of Pompeii.
“If you look over here…” she said while pointing at one of the stones in the cobbled street where an embossed phallic symbol marked near the Roman public fountain.
It was then when she started to disclose the hidden erotic side of Pompeii.
The phallic symbol was believed to give good fortune and prosperity according to the old Roman traditions. We then started to notice the phallic symbols outside the ruined houses. Some phallic symbols are protruding at the façade of the ruins wall. As if it’s a flag-waving proud to each passer-by, and we even found phallic engraved symbols next to the street signs as we move on with our group.
“The phallic symbols that you can see next to the street names are markers,” said the guide. It’s the markers to point in which direction you can find the nearest brothel depending on which direction the end of the phallus is pointing.
It was the navigational tool of the Roman times in pointing out such establishments.
Just imagining phalluses near the street signs and in front of each house at the present times would rather be inappropriate and scandalous.
As we move along on to the small cobbled alley, trying to make our way to follow our guide to a house where the phallic symbol is pointing.
The guide then welcomed us to a preserved ruins of a brothel in Pompeii.
We went inside into the dim lit and dusty brothel ruins.
It was then when we saw the vivid and detailed frescoes on the wall depicting different sexual acts and positions. As if they were shown to the brothel’s patron as a menu of various services that they can offer.
I was completely blown away. I can’t believe what I have just seen and it made me chuckle a little bit when I saw it.
I can hear little giggles from the fellow tourists who were next to me, and seen some cheeky smiles of the people while taking the photographs of the erotic frescoes. As if these also tickle their mind.
I appreciated and learned that prostitution and these brothels were an integral part of the society in the Roman times that made Pompeii vibrant and interesting. Pompeii has a higher ratio per capita for brothel in the city compared to Rome considering it is a much smaller town than the capital.
Prostitution, sex and all these phallic symbols are signs how liberal and open the ancient Roman civilization were when it comes to their culture and beliefs. These reflect the Roman arts that we have today.
Growing up in Asia, prostitution and sex are taboo and should not be discussed or shown in public. On this side of the world, it’s a completely different story.
Fancy to explore the Ancient city of Pompeii?