I’m a huge fan of author Steven Saylor’s thrillers set in ancient Rome, was thrilled by the HBO series “Rome,” and was excited to learn more about the city of Pompeii because in Roman times, it was best known as a vacation resort for Roman nobility.
I remember learning in high school World History class that in A.D. 79, Pompeii was frozen in time by the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, burying everything in its path for more than 1,700 years. The same ash and debris from Vesuvius’s unpredicted eruption that destroyed the city, is also what preserved it. It’s rare for an ancient city to be found so complete and intact; free from centuries of change and modernization. That’s what makes the exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, A Day in Pompeii, so powerful and an experience not to be missed.
A Day in Pompeii starts with a brief video providing background on the city and leads you right into the exhibit which gives you a glimpse of what life in Pompeii was like as a vibrant city and showcases a collection of more than 250 priceless ancient artifacts perfectly preserved in volcanic ash from Pompeii and its surrounding areas. Artifacts include wall-sized frescos, gold jewelry, marble and bronze statuary, gold coins and other dazzling examples of ancient Roman artistry.
Other artifacts from frying pans, fishhooks, and merchants’ scales to ceramics, oil lamps, and carbonized barley capture aspects of daily life. I laughed because while I knew they had dry cleaners in Rome, I was stunned to learn that they also had restaurants and loaded dice.
The flow of the exhibit going from brief videos to timelines to artifacts throughout kept me engaged. I found it enlightening that the artifacts not only had individual identification plaques, but many also had larger description panels sharing a broader story such as the role of graffiti in Roman times. In addition, I used the audio tour for adults (a family version is also offered).
The most impactful portion was an intense, immersive video experience depicting a time-lapsed representation of Vesuvius’ explosion that leads you right into a room full of body casts of the victims eerily preserved in their final moments.
The closing portion of the exhibit tied in to present day natural disasters and offered interactive stations where a seismograph measured how hard you can jump or tested your ancient construction techniques building a Roman aqueduct.
I felt lucky to catch this national touring exhibit because Pompeii's archaeological treasures rarely leave Italy and this is the only stop in the Midwest. Be sure to see it at the Cincinnati Museum Center before it closes Aug. 12, 2012. Don’t forget to pick up your Roman soldier gear or a book on Pompeii in the gift shop.
Single exhibit tickets or combo tickets to Pompeii, the OMNIMAX Theater film Hidden Hawaii: Born from Volcanoes, or other museums at Cincinnati’s iconic Union Terminal including the Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, and the Museum of Natural History & Science are available.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the highlights of my visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center was that I got to meet Whirl and Twirl, the mascots of the 2012 World Choir Games. They were on-hand the day I visited promoting the 2012 World Choir Games being held in Cincinnati, July 4-14, 2012.