Lonely Planet Writer

New exhibition shows how ancient Romans cooked in Pompeii

Curators at the Pompeii archaeological site have returned ancient pots and cooking utensils to their rightful places in a Roman kitchen, in a bid to give visitors a better idea of how food was prepared 2000 years ago.

Ancient ruins of Pompeii.
Ancient ruins of Pompeii. Image by Lisa G./ Budget Travel

Archaeologists used an inventory from the original dig, which happened in 1912, to identify which artefacts on display in museums or in storage had originally belonged in this specific kitchen. They then set the metal grills, pots, pans and crockery out in the kitchen as it would have been before the volcanic eruption in AD79 that destroyed the city.

The new exhibition reveals that Romans cooked their food over troughs of flaming charcoal, not dissimilar to a barbecue. Meat, fish and vegetables were placed on metal grills directly over the charcoal, with pots and pans on tripods used to cook stews and soups.

Pompeii, with Mount Vesuvius in the background.
Pompeii, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Image by Shutterstock RF

The Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii, Massimo Osanna, said, “We’re delighted the pieces have finally been put back on display where they were found and we’re certain they will be appreciated by modern tourists, eager to learn how people lived in antiquity.”

Pompeii, Italy.
Pompeii, Italy. Image by Carlo Mirante / CC BY 2.0

The kitchens are part of an ancient launderette, known as the Fullonica di Stephanus, where Pompeii’s rich would have sent their togas to be cleaned. The three storey building had running water and huge vats where clothes could be washed using clay and urine. After washing, the garments were rinsed, dried and pressed before being returned to their owners.

Fullonica di Stephanus, Pompeii.
Fullonica di Stephanus, Pompeii. Image by Dave & Margie Hill/Kleerup / CC BY-SA 2.0

In addition, there is a new permanent exhibition about ancient Roman cuisine in Pompeii’s athletics field, the Grande Palestra. The exhibition includes a 2000-year-old carbonised loaf of bread and a metal pot encrusted with the fossilised remains of a bean and vegetable soup.