Buried in Mt. Vesuvius’ volcanic ash, Pompeii is a tragic snapshot of ancient life, including the Roman pastime of wine appreciation. Archaeologists have dug up everything from an ancient wine exporter to a vino list featuring Rome’s legendary Falernian wine to, most recently, a counter service “diner” packed with snacks and sips.
Archaeologists found evidence of the thermopolium, a standard hot-food counter not unlike Italy’s modern-day tavole calde, in February 2019, but it wasn’t fully unearthed until December 2020. The Archaeological Park of Pompeii recently released photos of the colorful still-intact decor, with hopes of opening it to visitors as soon as possible. The counter features frescoes of hanging mallards, a rooster, a leashed dog and a Nereid, one of the nymphs in sea god Poseidon’s entourage (fitting for a coastal city). “The presence of the rich [decorations] on the three sides of the counter makes [it] unique in the panorama of thermopolia [discovered] in Pompeii,” official site archaeologist Teresa Virtuoso told Unfiltered via email. There’s even a painting of the snack bar itself, which park officials think might be a logo, given that it appears on unearthed amphorae as well.
In total, nine amphorae were found at the site, plus two flasks, a ceramic pot and a shallow bronze bowl. Two large dolia (“jars”) were built directly into the service counter. “One of the two must surely have contained wine,” Virtuoso said. “Inside, in fact, [we found] a bottle used for mixing and the remains of broad beans.” Romans reportedly used ground beans to give their reds lighter color and extra flavor, per 1st-century Roman cookbook Apicius.
Virtuoso tells us that first-century eruption observer and wine writer Pliny the Elder gave a thorough rundown of the wines Romans made near Pompeii, in the southern Italian region now known as Campania. “The wines produced in the Vesuvian area enjoyed great fame, especially in the period of Emperor Augustus,” she said. “The wine, diluted with water, was served with jugs and flasks and poured into terra-cotta or blown-glass mugs.
The Archaeological Park of Pompeii remains closed until further notice due to Italy’s COVID-19 restrictions, but park officials hope that the newly unearthed and remarkably preserved thermopolium, one of more than 80 such eateries that have been found in Pompeii, will be ready for visitors come Easter. No word yet on whether any of that epic Falernian wine will be on tap.
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