The Italian Almanac

Pompeii's termopolium

Time for a Snack

A 2,000-year-old snack-bar in the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii will 'open for business' once more, with a special one-off event marking its restoration. A limited number of visitors to the Campanian archaeological site will be taken on a 45-minute guided tour of the Thermopolium (snack-bar) of Vetutius Placidus, which was previously closed to members of the public. Once inside the thermopolium, participants will also be treated to a typical Roman snack of the type once served to customers.

The shop takes its name from electoral graffiti engraved on the outside of the shop, calling on passersby to vote for the candidate Vetutius Placidus, and on three amphorae found inside the premises. Prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the thermopolium opened directly on to a main street, the Via dell'Abbondanza. One of the best preserved sites in Pompeii, it has been closed to the public for years in order to protect it from damage. But months of detailed excavation and preservation work have now finished and all visitors will soon be able to enter the thermopolium and get an idea of what a typical Ancient Roman snack-bar was like.

Inside, visitors are greeted with a typical, decorated counter, just as in modern cafes and bars, where customers stood to enjoy a quick lunch. Cylindrical holes in the bar once contained glass dolia, or jars, which were used to hold food. However, archaeologists working at this site also discovered a large quantity of coins in one of these. They believe the owner left them there in a last-ditch attempt to save his wealth as he fled the city, presumably hoping he might one day return.

The thermopolium also boasted a triclinium (dining area) with couches, for those of its customers who wanted to eat in the reclining Greek style. This is decorated with a beautiful painting showing the Rape of Europa with Jupiter as a bull. An internal garden, viridarium, included an outdoor triclinium, which excavations have revealed was once shaded by a grapevine pergola and featured flowerbeds growing herbs used in the kitchen.

Premises adjoining the snack bar were the home of the owner and his family.