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HISTORY

IN PHOTOS: ‘Enchanted garden’ discovered at Pompeii

The latest treasure to emerge from the ruins of Pompeii is what's been dubbed an 'enchanted garden', a courtyard lined with images of mythical beasts.

IN PHOTOS: 'Enchanted garden' discovered at Pompeii
The director of Pompeii, Massimo Osanna, in the newly unearthed 'Enchanted Garden'. Photo: Ciro Fusco/Parco Archeologico di Pompei

The courtyard, which stands in a house in one of the less explored areas of the ancient city, is believed to be a lararium – a shrine to the Lares, Roman gods who were believed to protect the home and family.

While such shrines were a common feature of Roman houses, this lararium, covered in vividly coloured frescoes, is one of the finest examples discovered in Pompeii to date, according to archaeologists.

They believe that the walls once enclosed flowerbeds, where real flowers would have mingled with the plants, peacocks and other birds lining the panels.

Elsewhere, more fantastical creatures appear: two coiled serpents surrounding offerings of pinecones and eggs, and a figure that appears to be half man, half dog. The snakes are thought to represent protective spirits.

One wall, a vivid Pompeiian red, depicts a boar attacked by what appear to be lions and other other animals, which archaeologists say could be an allegory of good triumphing over evil.

There is also a decorated niche, presumably an altar, where they discovered the remains of offerings burnt to honour the Lares, as well as what may have once been a pool.

It is “a wonderful, enigmatic room that deserves to be studied in depth”, Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, told Ansa.

The courtyard was unearthed in a house that was partially excavated around a century ago, but had lain untouched until archaeologists began a new project to explore the area earlier this year. They have made several stunning discoveries since then, including the House of Dolphins, a villa painted with animal frescoes, and the Alley of Balconies, some rare examples of buildings whose upper storeys survived the volcanic eruption intact.

Other recent finds include the complete remains of a horse, a child's skeleton, and the bones of a man seemingly decapitated by a large rock while trying to flee.

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All photos by Ciro Fusco for the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, via Facebook.

HISTORY

Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists in Pompeii who discovered a room which likely housed slaves. 
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots.  Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.

READ ALSO: 8 things you probably didn’t know about the Romans

“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.

READ ALSO: Four civilizations in Italy that pre-date the Roman Empire

Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.

While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.

Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”

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The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.

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