Pompeii’s Kitchens Reveal How the Romans Cooked

“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.” – Massimo Osana, Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii.

Fullonica di Stephanus' reconstructed kitchens in Pompeii. [PHOTO: thelocal.it]

Fullonica di Stephanus’ reconstructed kitchens in Pompeii. [PHOTO: thelocal.it]

POMPEII, ITALY – A kitchen that is 2000 years old has been revamped and rekitted with historically accurate supplies to give tourists an idea of what day-to-day life was like for the citizens of Pompeii.

It’s not just any kitchen, mind you. It’s the kitchen for the Fullonica di Stephanus, a luxurious three-story launderette in the heart of the city. It would have been a popular place for the wealthy Roman patricians of Pompeii to send their laundry, including their togas, to be washed. Of course, it’s a Roman laundry system, which means they used a mixture of clay and urine to wash their clothes instead of laundry detergent like we do today.

The refurbishment was finished on July 25th, two weeks ago, as part of a new project that the Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii designed to create a real-life picture of how ancient Romans lived, breathed, played, and, of course, ate. The kitchens now look almost exactly like they did 2,000 years ago. The archaeologists and researchers have fit them with metal grills, earthenware crockery, pots, and pans.

The Roman way of cooking looked a little bit different to ours. They didn’t have gas or electric stoves to cook their food on. Instead, their kitchens were fitted with specially-designed troughs where they lit fires and filled with beds of hot coals.

From what we know of depictions on pottery and mosaics and in the writings of historians and other contemporary documents, wet foods like soups and stews were cooked in pots and pans that rested on tripods, sort of like camera tripods, that kept them up and out of the fire. Solids like meats, fish, and vegetables were usually laid directly on the coals and roasted in the coals.

The archaeologists have taken special care to present the kitchen as authentically as they possibly can. Every single piece of cooking equipment, pots, pans, pottery, tripods, was actually found in the ash at the site when it was first excavated in 1912 by Vittorio Spinazzola.

These artifacts were carefully labeled and cataloged and packed away for safe-keeping. Some were placed in glass display cabinets around Pompeii and in museums. They have since been recovered, cleaned up, and placed on display in the kitchen where they belong.

This kitchen isn’t the only example of Roman cooking now on display at Pompeii. Tourists can now see the fossilized remains of 2000-year-old bread and a bean and vegetable soup at a similar, permanent exhibition at Pompeii’s gym.

The ruins of Pompeii. [PHOTO: wikimedia]

The ruins of Pompeii. [PHOTO: wikimedia]

 Digging at the site of Pompeii extends to the street level of the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79

Everything archaeologists have found at Pompeii is immensely valuable because the ash from the volcanic eruption preserved it just as it was in a snapshot of Roman life. The forum, several houses and villas, and the baths are all extremely well-preserved. It’s been an immense help in understanding who the Romans were apart from how classical writers depicted them. From ancient graffiti at Pompeii, we learn everyday speech, and we learn about the Roman’s day-to-day life from the hundreds of beautiful mosaics and frescoes on the city’s walls and floors.

Archaeologists are working hard to keep excavating and renovating Pompeii, hoping that they will be able to present Roman life to tourists just as it was 2,000 years ago. This kitchen is just the beginning of the project. There’s much more to come!