I saw the Pompeii exhibit in NYC, if anyone is curious. It was fascinating, beautiful, ancient, humanizing, informative, and I felt priviledged to do it.
There were a wide variety of luxury carvings, paintings, and also some common utensils, all of them ancient and you could have an up-close look at each one. There were several videos and audios that discussed the history of some of the artifacts and the context of the times, attempting to really bring the people to life, they even had an actor playing the part of a boy from Pompeii in the children’s version of the audios. The frescoes were beautiful and grand works nearly the size of a wall, the paint placed on the plaster while it was still wet, depicting garden scenes and some other placid scenes. All the larger items were displayed in open air and came with an earnest appeal not to touch the artifacts despite how tempting it may be, what a wonderful privilege they offered .
Presented by the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei (SANP), an agency with the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attivit� Culturali, and Discovery Times Square museum there were over a dozen casts from the archeology site. As Mt. Vesuvius quaked and erupted the inhabitants were entombed in the volcanic ash and debris, and their bodies cast an impression in the ash. Archaeologists digging these remains tried to preserve them using plaster to take a mold from the ash casts, and these plaster people and animals were on display. Its very sad that a thriving and creative city was buried under the hot ash.
All the artifacts were impressive for their artistry, history, age, and recovery. A few that stood out were the headstone of a man, this five foot tall memorial was realistically carved, the carved head was so detailed that you could almost have a conversation with the stone, he almost seemed alive! A wonderful mosaic fountain was displayed, with colorful tiny chips forming borders and pictures of sea forms, even with some whole clam shells, the piece was over six feet tall with a half-domed ceiling, you could just step inside of it which gave a wonderful uplifting feeling, there was even some water in the basin at the bottom which only enhanced the experience. One very dramatic stone relief depicted buildings quaking and falling, a record of an 62 C.E. earthquake from just a few years before Vesuvius’ 79 C.E. eruption, the people never connected that earthquake or the 64 C.E. earthquakes to the mountain.
Among the artifacts found were common household items. Bread loaves, cannellini beans, pork, the very valued fermented fish sauce called “garum”, wine, and more foods and drinks. They had dishes and kitchen tools of ceramic, tin, and bronze. Some of the dishes had lovely decorations, and some of it was plain. They had two-chamber terracotta ovens, one chamber below was open in the front for the fire, and the other chamber above was open on top for cooking. They used coins of bronze, and silver for trading, they saved gold coins, the Emperor increased his popularity by standardizing the money system and placing his image and the images of other politicians and military leaders on the coins. They wore jewelry such as necklaces and earrings. They worshiped many gods and kept their images in their homes as small status called “lares” to beckon favors from them, everyone wanted the goddess Fortuna to visit their home, Bacchus was a popular god of wine and drink (like the Greek god Dionysus), Venus, Sabazius, Aphrodite, and more. They kept their sexuality out in the open with many brothels, like the Lupanar which was decorated with a menu of sexual activities and phallic symbols, some carved into the streets perhaps to point people in the right direction.
The history of the destruction is that on August 24-25, 79 C.E. Mount Vesuvius did erupt. Small eruptions came first in the morning, by 1:00 p.m. the mountain launched volcanic ash high into the air forming a mushroom cloud, within thirty minutes a dark swirling vortex extended about nine miles above the mountain, ash begins to cover the ground. By 3:00 p.m. white pumice with some stones, lapilli, and ash are accumulating rapidly, clogging the Sarno River and the ports, many people flee but some take shelter in the buildings and under porches, seismic shocks rock the buildings. Between 5:00-6:00 p.m. roofs collapse and roads are clogged, the plume from the mountain now huge reaching sixteen miles up and blocking the sunlight and flashes of lightning striking with their glare and shriek, so now how are the people supposed to flee? By 8:00 p.m. five feet of volcanic material cover Pompeii and near-by lands and towns, the column erupting from Vesuvius becomes more dense and the pieces become larger, and then the pyroclastic flows begin down the mountain side, an unstoppable force.
August 25th 1:00-2:00 a.m. the plume surges to an amazing height of twenty miles, out from Vesuvius flows the volcanic debris mixed with steam down to the ground level quickly extinguishing all life to the north, south, and west including the towns of Herculaneum, Oplontis, Boscoreale, but not Pompeii. In Pompeii nine feet of debris burying the city, crushing the roofs, falling into the windows, trapping and suffocating anyone inside. Around 5:00 a.m. no Sun light rises up, the ash cloud clogs the air, breathing is difficult, walking on the debris is hard, strong earthquakes shake, many had apparently seized this opportunity to flee. By 7:30 a.m. more series of pyroclastic flows overwhelm Pompeii suddenly trapping the people who are still hiding, those who are fleeing, and those at the ports, the majority of people who did not survive did not survive after this phase.
Then Pompeii was forgotten, buried, lost. Until scientists in modern times decided to dig at Pompeii there it lay under the ashes. Scientists chose to dig at Pompeii because the ground was softer there now that the volcanic mud had hardened to stone at the other towns.
Now-a-days Italy has opened the site to tourists, the city is rising from the ashes and new life is breathing in Pompeii.
Scientists are monitoring the volcano, and with that difficult work they are not certain about many things, but they are sure about one thing… that volcano Vesuvius will erupt again some day. Many people live in the shadow of the volcano today.