Pompeii exhibition brings doomed town to life
Casts of a family of two adults and two children who died together in an alcove in Pompeii, made by filling plaster in the void left by their bodies, are seen during a photo call for the upcoming exhibition entitled 'Life and death Pompeii and Herculaneum', at the British Museum in central London, Tuesday, March 26, 2013. The exhibition about the two Roman cities, buried by a catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vezuvius in 79 AD, will run at the museum from March 28 to Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
LONDON (AP) — Pompeii is the little Roman town that became a byword for sudden, violent death.
A new exhibition at the British Museum wants it to be equally famous for raucous, exuberant life.
Most visitors will know how residents of Pompeii and its neighbor Herculaneum died — in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The volcano, long thought dormant, belched out a superheated cloud of fast-moving gas and debris that incinerated residents where they stood — and preserved the towns as museums of Roman life, frozen in time.
"Pompeii and Herculaneum were ordinary towns, but it was an extraordinary disaster," said Vanessa Baldwin, assistant curator of the exhibition. "It was a tragedy, but it preserved them for us."
Pompeii's extraordinary end still fascinates, making it one of the world's most-visited ancient sites. "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum," which opens Thursday and runs to Sept. 29, looks set to be one of the museum's biggest-ever hits. It has sold 50,000 advance tickets, and will reach an even bigger audience when a live event in June is broadcast to hundreds of movie theaters across Britain.
A cast of a woman, one of more than 70 people who died in the basement of a villa in Oplontis, near Pompeii, is seen during a photo call for the upcoming exhibition entitled 'Life and death Pompeii and Herculaneum', at the British Museum in central London, Tuesday, March 26, 2013. The void her body left in the ash was filled with clear epoxy resin, and he resulting cast reveals her skeleton and the jewelry she was wearing. The exhibition about the two Roman cities, buried by a catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vezuvius in 79 AD, will run at the museum from March 28 to Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
It aims to un-freeze the picture, bringing to life a vibrant society completely unaware that disaster was about to strike.
Many of the 450 objects in the show have never left Italy before. They have been loaned by Italian archaeological officials, who have themselves come under fire for the fragile state of the ancient site on the Bay of Naples.
The exhibition aims to give a vivid sense of how the towns' ancient residents lived, through artifacts including mosaics, paintings, carbonized furniture and even the charred remains of residents' meals.
"We want people to take a fresh look at the Romans," Baldwin said Tuesday. "We want them to come away feeling a bit closer to them, feeling like they can relate more to them. They can go into their kitchens and recognize things that they have in their own kitchen."
The exhibition is structured around the rooms of a typical wealthy resident's house, from the shops at the entrance to the atrium, bedrooms, kitchen and garden — and even the latrine. Among the items proudly displayed are the contents of a cesspit: broken jars, lamps and perfume bottles, coins and jewelry — though not, thankfully, the 700 bags of ancient excrement also found there.