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What We Can Learn from the Homes in Pompeii and Herculaneum

Explore my recent travels to Naples, Italy, and my visit to the ancient homes in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

In October 2023 I traveled to Naples, Italy. This was a trip I wanted to take for many, many years. I visited Pompeii and Herculaneum, two ancient cities destroyed in 79 AD by an eruption from Mt. Vesuvius. The residents’ everyday life was preserved by the ash (Pompeii) and pyroclastics (Herculaneum) for generations to see almost a thousand years later. 

Life in Pompeii and Herculaneum

I was amazed to discover that life in Pompeii and Herculaneum was just like ours. There were some differences, of course, but as I explored these homes, I saw so many artifacts of everyday life such as gorgeous mosaic floors, murals, and even spas like the one below.

Photo by M. Marceny, Herculaneum floor mosaic in a spa, with benches and cubbies for belongings in the back room.
Photo by M. Marceny, Herculaneum floor mosaic in a spa, with benches and cubbies for belongings

I realized that what we all have in common is that we are trying to make a home out of a house. For me, this trip proved that the human condition doesn’t change, just the setting and time in history.

Main street in Herculaneum
Photo by M. Marceny, Main Street in Herculaneum

I’m not an archaeologist, geologist, vulcanologist, or historian. I’m also not a travel blogger. But I wanted to share what I learned on this magical trip: that as people, we all live our lives in similar ways, with joy, laughter, good food, tears, and even the inevitable. We all want homes that make our lives comfortable and happy.

I love to travel and I always learn so much about the way other cultures live and use color in their homes. 

The homes of Pompeii and Herculaneum are the focus of today’s post. Home is, after all, what makes The Color Concierge who we are. I was inspired by their use of color, texture, and material and I hope you’ll also be inspired by these gorgeous artifacts.

Photo from House of the Faun, taken in Pompeii
Photo from House of the Faun, taken in Pompeii by M. Marceny

History of Pompeii and Herculaneum

In modern history, Pompeii is famous as a city frozen in time in 79 AD when Vesuvius erupted. By that time, Pompeii had already been a city for hundreds of years. It was settled by the Opics in 700 BC, where they farmed in the fertile volcanic soil on the flanks of Mt. Vesuvius. In the next 800 years, Pompeii was strongly influenced and/or invaded by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Samnites. It finally became part of the Roman Empire.

Pompeii was an industrial town, with wine production and olive oil as its primary revenue source, with many support industries.  Herculaneum was a resort community for wealthy families from Rome.

In 62 AD, Pompeii was almost destroyed by a big earthquake. The emperor Nero’s wife Poppaea Sabina was from Pompeii. The Empire funded reconstruction, but it was never completely rebuilt before the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed and buried the city in 79 AD.

Herculaneum was also buried at the same time.

Explore Artifacts from Homes in Pompeii and Herculaneum

Before we toured Pompeii and Herculaneum we visited the Naples Archaeological Museum and learned so much!  We discovered just how much the people of these ancient cities were just like us! 

Over the years, many of the artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum were sent to the museum. As I walked through the many displays, I was struck by how many of the items in the museum exist in our modern homes. Usually, ancient museum artifacts are elegant and ornate, but many of the artifacts below are from everyday middle-class homes.

Ancient Pompeii Door Knocker

Look at the door knocker below.  I know I’ve seen these before on houses and in stores.  Even though we mostly have doorbells on our homes today, we still see them occasionally, especially in more elegant homes.

To me, this looks like a lion.  Forgive the poor photography, but I took a photo in the plastic case at the museum.

Bronze knocker in the Naples Archaeological museum
Photo by M. Marceny, Bronze knocker, Archaeological museum, Naples, Italy

Pompeii Dice

Below were dice, found in Pompeii.  They look pretty modern to me, other than their size. It’s wild to think that people played with dice in 79 AD just like we do today!

Pompeii dice
Photo by M. Marceny, Dice, Archaeological Museum, Naples, It

Ancient Pompeii Housewares

My favorite items at the museum were all of the home products preserved from the homes in Pompeii. There were so many that I could picture in the homes of my clients and friends!

On the upper right corner, is that a deviled egg platter?  They may not have had deviled eggs back then, but this could be some kind of egg dish. There are also all kinds of frying and baking pans on the bottom. They look like beautifully aged cast iron pans!  I bet they would still work today.

Photo by M. Marceny, Cooking tools, Archaeological museum, Naples, It

Below is a pasta strainer. It’s prettier than the one I got at the grocery store – just look at the pattern of the drainage holes!

Cooking tools in the Naples Archaeological museum
Photo by M. Marceny, Cooking tools, Archaeological museum, Naples, It

This photo below truly blows my mind. These are drinking glasses…made of glass.  When I ran a search on Amazon, I found several versions that looked similar. These are just beautiful!

Drinking glasses, Archaeological museum
Photo by M. Marceny, Drinking glasses, Archaeological museum, Naples, It

This glass is my favorite, it has hearts and paisleys.  It was made almost 2,000 years ago, and we still drink water from glasses like these today.

Drinking glass, Archaeological museum,
Photo by M. Marceny, Drinking glass, Archaeological museum, Naples, It

Bronze Statues from Pompeii and Herculaneum

At the museum in Naples, I also learned that the Romans made their sculptures from casted brass, not stone like the Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo. A forgotten master sculptor created the statue below with just as much skill as the Renaissance masters.

Bronze statue, Archaeological museum,
Photo by M. Marceny, Bronze statue, Archaeological museum, Naples, It

These cast bronze statues were found in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Most other cast bronze statues of this era were melted down over the millennium to create weapons. But these were preserved in Pompeii and Herculaneum.  

The statue above was created around 79 AD. This skill disappeared until Michaelangelo sculpted David more than 1500 years later.

Here is the back:

Photo by M. Marceny, Bronze statue, Archaeological museum, Naples, It

Dental Hygiene Tools

On the way out of the museum, we saw these tools to clean teeth, much like the ones in dentist offices today. Herculaneans and Pompeiians had nice teeth!

Dental tools, Archaeological museum, Naples, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Dental tools, Archaeological Museum, Naples, It

Floors, Mosaics & More in the Homes of Pompeii

The day after the visit to the Naples Archaeological Museum we visited Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii had a population of 10,000-20,000 people around the time of the eruption.

One of my favorite parts of this trip – especially as a color designer – was all the mosaic floors, wall art, and other unique architectural details in the homes and city streets of Pompeii. 

Here are a few of my favorite things in Pompeii:

Faun House Mosaic Floor

One of the most famous homes in Pompeii is the House of the Faun. The home’s mosaic floor was moved to the Naples Archeological Museum and a reproduction remains in Pompeii. This was done because at the time of excavation in the 1700s they didn’t know how to preserve it.

This floor is truly timeless. You could recreate this floor in a high-end home anywhere in the world, and it would look perfect.

mosaic tile floor in Naples Archeological Museum
Photo by M. Marceny, Mosaic tile floor in Naples Archeological Museum

Our tour guide told us the floors were based on a Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical formula that has been used by artists and architects since ancient times to create aesthetically pleasing patterns. 

Today, some investors even use algorithms based on the Fibonacci sequence to pick stocks.

Faun House Reproduction Floors

This floor from the House of the Faun is a reproduction of the original, housed in the Naples Archaeological Museum, but still so beautiful. I could see this floor on my back deck, maybe without the gorgeous Faun statue.

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Geometric Patterned Floors

This ancient but modern-looking floor features a geometric pattern reminiscent of the work of famous Dutch artist M.C. Escher, known for his fascination with mathematical art. This is an ancient, ancient pattern that is still popular in mosaic tiles today. I almost installed a backsplash with this pattern on white subway tile in my kitchen!

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Patterned Floor from a Home in Pompeii

The gorgeous floor pattern below was from one of the houses in Pompeii. The small white marble tile specs on the top (in the adjacent courtyard) were meant to reflect the moonlight at night, a form of sustainable light in ancient times.

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Excavated Wall Mural

This excavated and restored mural was found in one of the houses of Pompeii. This kind of beautiful wall art was everywhere in the city! I love the earthy, warm colors!

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Pompeii Brick Oven

Below is a pizza/bread oven. I’ve seen many similar set-ups in some of the outdoor kitchens in high-end homes today.

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Streets of Pompeii

Below was one of the major streets in Pompeii. Yes, those wide stones as you cross the street are pedestrian crosswalks! If you look closely you can also see chariot ruts in the stone.

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Many diverse people lived here and one of the homes in Pompeii had this welcome outside the front door. Our tour guide said that it was a form of “welcome”, but not in Roman. He thought it was one of the other cultures that settled in Pompeii.

Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Pompeii, It

Tile Mosaic Floors and Tools from Homes in Herculaneum

The same day we visited Pompeii we also traveled to Herculaneum. Herculaneum was smaller than Pompeii with a population of about 5,000 people. It was a seaside resort for wealthy Romans.

We saw more beautiful floors and other home items in this city that would be just as lovely in a home today!

Floors in the Homes of Herculaneum

This is one of the floors we saw. I could certainly see this in a modern kitchen or bathroom! I love that the classic black-and-white color palette has some pops of earthy beige.

Photo by M. Marceny, Herculaneum, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Herculaneum, It

This floor was thought to have been damaged in the earlier earthquake, in 64AD.

Photo by M. Marceny, Herculaneum, It
Photo by M. Marceny, Herculaneum, It

Key Learning Points

Preserved Pompeii and Herculaneum show that so much was the same then as it is now. They were in an enlightened age of master sculptors, painters, and mosaic tile craftsmen, and even mathematicians.  

While the world of ancient Pompeii was very different from the modern world today, this trip made it clear that people are the same everywhere. We have the same needs – we cook our food, strain our pasta, clean our teeth, and cross the street. 

Similarly, anything can happen to change the course of our lives, and for that reason, we need to find the joy in our lives. This is a message I think we can all get behind!

Thank you so much for reading this. While it is a departure from my usual content about paint colors, it does show that for most of us, our homes are a place to retreat, rest, and live our lives.

And if you need help to make your house into a home with the perfect paint colors, you can always explore the rest of our content.

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15 Responses

  1. Michelle – This is so very fascinating! Thanks for sharing your experience. Observing how similar we live to now to those so far away and so long ago, somehow presents a strong, human connection, and we need more of that these days!
    Thoroughly Enjoyed It!
    Cindy Stader

    1. Hi Cindy,
      Thank you so much for reading this. I’ve been fascinated about these ancient civilizations most of my life. I’m glad you enjoyed it too!

  2. Yeah, thank you for sharing! I have visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum, however I never visited the Naples museum. I will make sure I do that the next trip to magic Italy!

    1. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend it. We also hired one of the tour guides to walk us through.

  3. I was there this summer, it’s amazing to see in person, but your photos really do a great job capturing how unique and lovely the homes and businesses were.

    1. Thank you for sharing. I visited both cities earlier this year and had exactly same mind blowing experience as yours. personally I preferred Herculaneum than Pompeii somehow, as everything was preserved in a better condition. I spent nearly all day in Herculaneum despite the recommended 2-3 hours even by the official website. When I was walking on those ancient streets, for a moment or two I felt confused. As you said, there were so many similarities between their houses, lives, food and ours. There are of course lots of differences which however are so disproportionate to the 2000 years of time lapse. Everything looked so real and it was just yesterday. Thanks for sharing again.

      1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I wish we could have spent a full day in Heerculaneum too. I also connected deeply. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Had a wonderful day visit to Pompei in fall 2007. Want to return someday to see the Archeological Museum in Naples and Herculaneum.

    1. Hi Glynn,
      The museum was amazing. I recommend that you hire a guide. It’s expensive, but really worth it. They can really bring that ancient world to life.

  5. Fantastic article. We were there in September 2023 and Pompei was one of the highlights of our 3 weeks we spent in Italy. I wish we had taken the the time to go to Herculaneum.

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Meet Michelle

Driven to help clients fall back in love with their homes with intentional paint color schemes. She started the company based on her passion for color and its ability to make a house a home.

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