By combining archaeology with 3D computer modeling, European researchers have digitally reconstructed a house in Pompeii, showing how lavish and colorful these structures truly were before they were destroyed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption.

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When we try to conjure images of the ancient city of Pompeii, we often think about the stark and tortured casts left over from one of Europe’s worst natural disasters. Over 1,000 people were killed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, destroying several Roman settlements. As a new 3D reconstruction from researchers at the University of Lind in Sweden reveals, this ancient civilization had an eye for architecture and interior design.

The reconstruction includes a large house that belonged to a wealthy man named Caecilius Lucundus.(Lund University)

From 2011 to 2012, Italian archaeologists excavated and scanned the remains of a well-preserved city district buried after the disaster. These findings were integrated with 3D modeling technology to show what life was like for the people of Pompeii just before the eruption.

The researchers managed to reveal floor surfaces, perform detailed studies of the building’s development over time, and investigate the remains of a tavern, a laundry, and a bakery. Other architectural discoveries included aqueducts, interior pools, intricately decorated alters, statues, and stunning skylights. Many of the original color schemes could also be inferred.

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In one of the many gardens discovered , the researchers uncovered evidence of a lavish water fountain that was running at the time of the eruption—that it was still gushing when the rain of ash and pumice was falling over the city.

The reconstruction also shows the Pompeii Romans’ integration of plants and trees in their dwellings, and their masterful use of color (ancient Greeks had the same proclivity).

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While watching this 3D reconstruction, it’s important to remember, however, that these decadent dwellings were the homes of Pompeii’s most affluent residents, and are not indicative of how most of Pompeii’s citizens—and slaves— actually lived. If anything, it’s like an ancient version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

[Lund University]