Exhibition explores Pompeii’s art and people

A bronze statue of the god Apollo Citharist from the first century B.C. Pompeii: The Exhibition (Phoenix)

On August 24, 79 A.D., the Roman city of Pompeii was frozen in time by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, burying everything surrounding it for more than seventeen hundred years. However, the same ash and debris that destroyed the city also preserved it.
One of the most significant exhibitions ever to come to the Arizona Science Center “Pompeii: The Exhibition” is currently open and will run through May 28 with the price of tickets set at $11.95. The exhibition takes visitors back to a time when extravagance and leisure was law in the Roman Empire.
Pliny the Younger, a celebrated writer of the period, witnessed the event as a child, with his recollection being incorporated in quotes available throughout the exhibition. One reads, “You could hear women screaming and men shouting. Some raised their hands to the gods but most of them believed there were no gods.”
The exhibition features more than two hundred artifacts mostly from the Naples National Archaeological Museum, including marble and bronze sculptures, frescoes, jewelry and mosaics, as well as body casts of buried victims. When excavators began unearthing the city in 1748, they were surprised to find well preserved items under volcanic ash.
Camille Lynn-Thomas, director of engagement, said, “The importance of this exhibit cannot be questioned. These are some of the most well-preserved items in history, and it’s a pleasure to have them in Phoenix.”
The 10,000-square foot exhibit premiered in 2013 in Philadelphia and offers guests a glimpse into how people lived 2000 years ago. The objects tell a story that has fascinated people for centuries. Guests get the chance to experience Pompeii before and after the disaster making it a memorable visit.
Pompeii was a trading hub that was rich in culture and militarily powerful. The exhibit is arranged to look like a Roman city with villas, baths, theatres and a marketplace. A sculpture of Apollo and a flying priestess immediately invites visitors to immerse themselves into the life of a first century Rome. Intricate bronze statues and fountains were usually depictions of stories of mythology and folklore. Some significant public figures are commemorated in sculptures of marble including Emperor Caligula, who was assassinated in 41 A.D.

A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Caligula from the First Century A.D. Pompeii: The Exhibition (Phoenix)

Many different commodities were sold and traded in markets. Because of Pompeii’s proximity to the sea, several fishing tools were recovered, and paintings and mosaics featured images of sea life. Even by today’s standards Pompeiians were well fed. Some brittle fruits and dried wheat were on display to show the simplicity of the roman diet. Fish was an important staple as well as olive oil,  which had many medicinal and domestic uses.
In Pompeii homes expressed power, social status and wealth. Statues and frescoes decorated the walls and filled the homes because furniture was minimal. Complex images were set in mosaics which were usually placed in the foyer of a home.
Some of the furniture of the period resembles what we still use today. Tables were used for feasts with marble being the preferred stone choice. Benches and chairs were made of wood but were ornately finished with bronze. Items demonstrated superior craftsmanship that has withstood the test of time.
The set pieces bring the exhibit to life, and many are as amazing as the artifacts themselves. Since the display comes all the way from Europe, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into transporting everything. One of the marble pieces weigh almost a ton and must be transported with the utmost care.
Special care is taken to ensure everything is safely moved and set up by Italian couriers, who travel with the exhibition.
There were many paintings on display with the most interesting being the erotic images, which would’ve hung in brothels or near servant quarters. Rich Romans would also have mosaics and bronze sculptures on display in their homes to show their status.
The 4-D feature of the exhibition allows visitors the chance to relive the disaster in three minutes through a time lapse movie. The drama that is captured in this sequence allows visitors to feel like they’re looking at Mt. Vesuvius as it erupts.
Finally, body casts of some of the perished people of Pompeii are brought to life with body casts. The powerful pieces connect visitors with the population of Pompeii and capture the emotion of the dying people, which truly puts the disaster into perspective.
The Arizona Science Center is opened daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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