The term Secret Museum or Secret Cabinet (Gabinetto Segreto) principally refers to the collection of erotic or sexually explicit finds from Pompeii, held in separate galleries in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy, the former Museo Borbonico. The British Museum also contained secret rooms.
Throughout ancient Pompeii, erotic frescoes, depictions of the god Priapus, sexually explicit symbols, inscriptions, and even household items (such as phallic oil lamps) were found. Ancient Roman culture had a different sense of shame for sexuality, and viewed sexually explicit material very differently to most present-day cultures. Ideas about obscenity developed from the 18th century to the present day into a modern concept of pornography. Although the excavation of Pompeii was initially an Enlightenment project, once artifacts were classified through a new method of taxonomy, those deemed obscene and unsuitable for the general public were termed pornography and in 1821 they were locked away in a Secret Museum. For good measure, the doorway was bricked up in 1849. At Pompeii, locked metal cabinets were constructed over erotic frescos, which could be shown, for a modest additional fee, to gentlemen but not to ladies. This peep show was still in operation at Pompeii in the 1960s. The cabinet was only accessible to "people of mature age and respected morals", which in practice meant only educated males. The catalogue of the secret museum was also a form of censorship, where engravings and descriptive texts played down the content of the room.
The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, were mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Pompeii was lost for about 1500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by the Spanish engineer, Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person was in when they died. Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years and today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.