Allegrini 2018

During the holiday lockdown, Pompeii revealed the antique beauty of conviviality to the world

The discovery of a Thermopolium (Regio V), a street food shop before its time in the neighborhood square, tells us about the tastes of our ancestors

The discovery actually dates back to excavations made over the last few years, in one of the most important and plentiful archaeological sites in the world. Choosing to reveal its existence during this new lockdown Italy is experiencing over the holidays, due to the Covid-19 emergency, is perhaps not accidental, or so we would like to think. The re-emergence of the thermopolium in the Regio V, intact from lapilli, which, on October 24, 79 CE submerged Pompeii as Mount Vesuvius erupted, reveals all the antique beauty of that conviviality that we now must do without. It is new and further testimony of daily life in Pompeii, and, “the possibilities of analyzing the thermopolium are exceptional”, said Massimo Osanna, CEO of the Archaeological Park, “because for the first time, an entire environment has been excavated using cutting-edge methodologies and technologies, which are returning unpublished data” of this place in the square that was the center of life for the neighborhood, and the most recent excavations have revealed its liveliness. Next to the counter where the image of a sea nymph on horseback is depicted, there are slaughtered animals to be sold, in the room - mallard ducks, roosters, a pig, fish, goats, and land snails. The colors are so bright they seem 3-dimensional. There is an illustration of a trade sign, probably of the same shop, and paintings of amphorae for wine - local - perfectly preserved. What is amazing is the discovery of the Thermopolium containers, the dolia (the jars recessed in the counter) and earthenware pots, with traces of food from the delicious dishes that were sold on the street and consumed at the precise moment of the eruption. In one, they found fava beans used to correct the taste and the color of the wine, bleaching it, as Apicius narrates in De re Coquinaria. They found traces of a sort of “paella” of fish and meat together. The custom of the people of Pompeii was to consume hot food and drinks outdoors (in Pompeii alone there are about eighty thermopolia). So, it was like a forerunner of a grocery shop selling street food, consumed at the counter, standing up, which will allow us to broaden our knowledge on eating habits, of very rich and varied ingredients and preparations, in antique times.

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