New Roman Frescoes Discovered at Pompeii

Buried under volcanic debris for nearly 2,000 years, well-preserved wall art was uncovered by archaeologists in the ancient Roman city.

Apr 11, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Fresco depicting the god Apollo and prophetess Cassandra at Pompeii, photographed by Tony Jolliffe, via BBC News


Shockingly vibrant against darkly painted walls, a new pair of well-preserved fresco paintings was uncovered this week in Pompeii. Helen of Troy, the god Apollo, and other recognizable figures from mythology are depicted in what archeologists say are some of the finest frescos to be found thus far at Pompeii, the ongoing excavation of which has lasted nearly two centuries.


The ancient Roman city was buried beneath layers of ash and pumice after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 C.E. Its ruins are among the most important and well-known archeological discoveries in the world.


Pristine Pompeii Frescos Depict Greek Mythology

Fresco depicting the prince of Troy and Helen at Pompeii, photographed by Tony Jolliffe, via BBC News


An active dig at Pompeii revealed a large banqueting hall that has a white mosaic floor and towering black walls with two colorful fresco paintings. The dark dominant color of the aptly nicknamed “Black Room” was most likely selected to avoid visible smoke stains from lamps. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” park director Dr. Gabriel Zuchtriegel told BBC News.


Surprisingly in pristine condition after two millennia, the two frescos bring Greek mythology to life in vibrant colors on the imposing walls. In the first fresco, the Greek god Apollo attempts to seduce Cassandra, a prophetess gifted with the power of foresight. After rejecting the god’s sexual advances, Cassandra is cursed so that nobody believes her prophecies, although they are always accurate. Continuing the myth, the second fresco depicts Paris, the prince of Troy, meeting the legendarily beautiful Helen—a fateful interaction that Cassandra futilely warns will start the Trojan War.


Pompeii’s Last Frescos?

The newly-uncovered banqueting hall at Pompeii, photographed by Tony Jolliffe, via BBC

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The “Black Room” is part of a large house that has been under excavation for the past year. The home belongs to a residential and commercial block, likely owned by the same wealthy individual, in an area of Pompeii known as Region 9. The house was seemingly undergoing renovations at the time of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, indicated by the construction tools and stacks of tiles that were found inside. The “Black Room” had likely just been redecorated, making the newly-discovered frescoes some of the last artworks to ever be created in the ancient Roman city.


Archeologists are carefully removing artifacts from the house for study and preservation off-site. For frescos that cannot be removed from the walls, plaster glue is being applied to keep them safely in place. Masonry is also being reinforced with scaffolding and temporary roofing is being installed over the site.

The Ongoing Excavation of Pompeii

Reception hall with renovation materials in Region 9 at Pompeii, photographed by Tony Jolliffe, via BBC


Pompeii dates back to around the 7th century B.C.E. in what is now the Campania region of Italy, near Naples, at the base of Mount Vesuvius. Once a bustling ancient Roman city, Pompeii was buried under several meters of ash and debris after the volcano erupted at the start of the millennium. The devastatingly fast burial hid and preserved Pompeii’s ruins for centuries, making it a rich source of information about the people and culture of the ancient Roman world.


Pompeii was not rediscovered until the late 16th century, and excavations did not officially begin until the mid-18th century, marking the advent of modern archeological science. Over 150 years later, a third of the ancient Roman city still has yet to be uncovered. The current archaeological dig at Pompeii, which yielded the discovery of the “Black Room” frescoes, is considered the largest dig in a generation.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.