Illegally trafficked in the 1970s, the six fragments are now back in the Pompeii archaeological park.
Italy’s cultural protection police squad recovered the pieces during investigations in 2012 and 2020.
Three of the first century AD relics are believed to have been removed from the walls of two Roman villas in Stabiae. That was in the 1970s, before they were illegally imported. Stabiae is a historical site close to the main Pompeii excavations.
The frescoes portrayed a cherub playing a flute, a female dancer carrying a tray and the head of a woman. Police found these during an investigation into the illicit trafficking of archaeological objects in 2020. Antique dealers bought the pieces in America, Switzerland and the UK in the 1990s.
The remaining frescoes originated from a villa in Civita Giuliana. Police discovered those at the site, in 2012, after foiling an illegal dig.
The villa in Civita Giuliana is where archaeologists discovered the remains of two victims Mount Vesuvius eruption (AD79) last year. It is around 700 metres north-west of Pompeii’s archaeological park. Official excavations began in 2017. However, like many thieves of antiquity before them, the robbers had tunnelled in beforehand and to steal relics.
In their rightful place
Gen Roberto Riccardi, head of Italy’s cultural heritage protection squad, said: “Ancient works of great value are returning to their rightful place.”
Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of Pompeii’s archaeological park, praised his predecessor’s practice of collaboration. “Collaboration with the authorities to combat illegal excavations and the illicit trafficking of archaeological finds, which began under Massimo Osanna, will be the ‘best practice’ that the park follows in the future,” he said.