Sunday, January 15, 2017
Pompeii: The Exhibtion
Pompeii exhibit offers a glance at ancient life frozen in time
As part of the exhibit, several casts are shown of people and animals in the last positions they held when Mount Vesuvius erupted Aug. 24, 79 A.D. Here, the cast of a man with a child in his arms is displayed.
One of the most magical happenings in this world is that nature both can destroy a piece of land dramatically and preserve it in some way that astonishes us later.
It was this feat that fascinated us as we explored “POMPEII: The Exhibition,” which will run through spring at Union Station in Kansas City.
Even before entering, we were given a taste of what to expect. The hallway walls toward the entrance featured reproductions of paintings and frescos that once adorned walls of the Pompeii Romans, a level of art sophistication not to be achieved again for centuries.
In the waiting area, a short film showed the comfortable lifestyle of richer citizens and their complete lack of foresight what was to happen to their city and its 11,000 people on Aug. 24, 79 A.D, when Mount Vesuvius erupted.
The exhibit doors opened and we were introduced to first-century Roman Empire life. The exhibit’s first three quarters details Roman citizens’ lives — made more comfortable by the large number of slaves taken captive as Rome conquered Europe and Africa. Slaves earned their freedom by selling their services as cooks, doctors and gladiators.
The area’s soil was richer than in the rest of Italy, enabling a steady diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and other seafood.
One poster on display shared a recipe that used a favorite seasoning of Pompeii citizens, garum. Made from fermented crushed tuna and the intestines of moray eels in salt, the seasoning was enjoyed throughout the Roman Empire.
Artifacts loaned from the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy illustrated the Pompeii artisans’ sophistication. Original weapons, lamps, jugs, furniture, medical instruments and tools used in their everyday life were shown. The fine work on the clay and metal lamps, and an accompanying audio tour also detailed the items and lifestyle of Pompeii citizens.
As part of the exhibit, several casts are shown of people and animals in the last positions they held when Mount Vesuvius erupted Aug. 24, 79 A.D. Here, the cast of a dog is displayed as he defends the doorway to a house.
Romans flaunted their wealth with elegant frescos on walls, mosaics covering floors and comfortable dining areas with sofas. They had a rule that dinner was always taken in groups of at least three and never more than nine, a tradition modeled after their relationships with their many gods.
A wall-sized film showed drone footage of Pompeii, giving us a good idea of the size and condition of the present site that had been forgotten soon after the destruction. It was only 250 years ago that the site became a tourist destination.
Another film showed how Mount Vesuvius erupted — the 24 hours of destruction began with earth shaking and rumbling, followed by spilling ash. Later, lava and more ash flowed, followed by rocks, gas and smoke. The finale was a dead city buried under 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice, burying the site for 1,500 years.
We walked into the room of the remains, where casts have captured the last moments of several Pompeii citizens and animals. The eruption happened so fast that people were captured while moving, creating long-lasting images of their final movements on Earth.
When experts excavated the site, they used plaster to fill the voids in the ash layers that held the bodies in the positions they were in when they died. We saw a man on his back holding up a child, another sitting and covering his face with his hands, and a dog curled as if ready to defend the door he was guarding.
The section also covered the gladiators of Pompeii, who seemed to function under less deadly rules of combat than those in Rome. There were fewer battles to the death and, if a gladiator was good enough, at some point he could buy his freedom.
Other rooms introduced us to some of the secrets of the city, including prostitution, both legal and widespread. Many men preferred prostitutes since they often married for financial reasons, family connections and to have children. The prostitutes largely were slaves, and pornography was common.
Watching nature destroy an entire city saddened us but learning the lifestyle of the ancient citizens was extremely interesting.
In 1979, when our family was stationed in Italy with the U.S. Air Force, we visited Pompeii and Wayne was allowed, for a small fee, into a room where scenes of intercourse filled the walls.
Our guide said all women, including Carla and her sister, were considered too sensitive to see such scenes.
On the door of the Union Station gallery a warning was placed, telling families about what they were about to see and suggesting children should not be allowed in. Carla laughed that now women were allowed — another glass-ceiling broken.
We enjoyed the “frozen in time” exhibits at both Union Station and in Pompeii, where 2.6 million people visit every year to see one of Italy’s main attractions.
Carla Anderson stands in front of a mosaic from Pompeii
A wall sized street scene from present day Pompeii