From its earliest inhabitants, LGBTQ+ love has had a prominent place in Italy’s rich history and as we will see, has been recorded on rocks and walls throughout the years.
In Addaura, a small town near Palermo, pre-historic caves discovered in the 1940’s, contain hieroglyphs from about 10,000 years ago illustrating a group of people dancing around two men, both with obvious erections. A possible depiction of a caveman queer love ritual? A few thousand years later, the ancient people in the Val Camonica valley, who inhabited the northern region of Lombardy, carved hundreds of petroglyphs all over the area, more than a few of them also featuring homoerotic scenes.
Tarquinia, an important city of the Etruscan League that dominated central Italy around 500 BC, has a very important necropolis with thousands of tombs. Some have beautiful painted interiors, including the Tomb of the Bulls which is decorated with several scenes of Greek mythology. In a wall frieze above two doors, the god Achelous, a bull with human face, endowed with a large phallus is approaching two men who are clearly engaged in the sexual act, while nearby two men and a woman enjoy a threesome. This seems to illustrate the legend of bisexuality of Achilles, who can be seen in another panel in combat with Troilus. In the Tomb of the Lionesses, lounging male couples are painted near the ceiling, displaying how common same sex activities were in Ancient Greece.
From around the same time, in the Magna Graecia, the culture that dominated the coastal area south of Naples, the Tomb of the Diver near Paestum has wall decorations that depict a Symposium, an event where only men could participate. They would gather to read, play music, sing, eat, drink and indulge in other carnal entertainment. The paintings show men in recliners, engaged in different activities, including some couples caressing each other.
Fast forward a few centuries later to the vast and decadent Roman Empire. Stories abound but some of the best examples of heterosexual, homosexual and group love illustrations from this era are in Pompeii. In the embellished walls of the Lupanare, the house of pleasures, well preserved frescoes of show descriptive scenes which historians have interpreted to be a menu the establishment had on offer.
So, the next time you are in Italy, be sure to see some of these relics of Italy’s rich and diverse LGBTQ+ history and let your imagination travel back in history.