A Day in Pompeii at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. (Photo by Chris Schneider)
I am a museum junkie, and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is one of my favorites. I love the smell of a museum, the lighting, and the sense that I am learning something new just by being in the building.
Ancient history has never had a big draw for me, so I wasn’t particularly overjoyed to hear that the Pompeii exhibition was coming to Denver. But, of course, I had to see it, and in doing so I have developed a new fascination with ancient history.
“A Day in Pompeii” takes the visitor on a trip through the ancient city of Pompeii, a city of 20,000 that was covered in volcanic ash in AD 79. Ninety percent of the population was able to make it out of the city, but 10 percent were not, and the thick, wet ash from Mount Vesuvius encased them where they stood, sat or lay.
As a writer, I truly appreciate how the story of Pompeii unfolds as you walk through the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s newest exhibit.
Historical re-enactors at "A Day in Pompeii" at DMNS. (Photo by Chris Schneider)
First, you meet the people of Pompeii and discover how they worked, shopped and played. You get to know them, through high resolution videos that take you through their homes, through the numerous artifacts on display and through the historical re-enactors that stroll through the exhibit, ready to impart the story of their daily life with you.
The beginning of the exhibition is cheerful and there’s a sense that life in Pompeii was pretty good, and although these people lived thousands of years ago, we have much in common. The Pompeiians loved creature comforts, enjoyed the theater, and would grab food from a street vendor and meet friends at a local bar where they played dice games.
As I walked through the exhibit with my husband, a furniture designer and builder, it occurred to us that the Romans may have discovered interior design. Their frescos and highly ornate furniture could have graced the pages of Roman Fine Living, if such a magazine existed in the early part of the 1st Century. Check out the pair of ornate curtain tie backs on display and you will truly understand our train of thought.
(Photo by Chris Schneider)
“A Day in Pompeii takes a 21st Century approach to the 1st Century,” says Dr. Steve Nash, exhibit curator.
Ancient Greece has influenced today’s culture in many ways, and it’s interesting to keep this in mind as you walk through “A Day in Pompeii.” From architecture to everyday living, many things in the exhibition feel strangely familiar.
Once you get to know Pompeii and its people, things get somber. You learn how the Roman’s worshipped, how they buried and honored their dead, and then the volcano erupts. Don’t miss the five minute video of the eruption in the room right before the part of the exhibition that houses the body casts from Pompeii. This sets the scene in a sobering fashion.
The body casts are probably the most famous artifacts from this exhibit, and most of us have seen photos of them at some point in our lives. As people huddled in their homes, or tried to outrun this natural disaster at the last moment, they were covered by volcanic ash. Over time, the bodies disintegrated leaving an empty cavity for archæologists to find centuries upon centuries later. In 1860, archæologist Guiseppe Fiiorelli poured plaster into these cavities, creating the first versions of the casts.
(Photo by Chris Schneider)
Ironically, seeing these body casts in person made these people even more real to me. The poses are so human; hands to the mouth, an arm covering a lovers head, friends (possibly sisters) in an embrace.
I left “A Day in Pompeii” with a newly sparked interested in ancient Roman history, and I think that’s the best review a museum exhibition could receive.
This exhibit opened at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on September 14 and leaves on January 13, 2012. There are programs and events planned for both adults and children around “A Day in Pompeii” – see the list here.
Go to DMNS.org for ticket information.