“Pompeii: The Exhibition” at Pacific Science Center gives visitors a glimpse into the everyday life of Pompeiians, whose city was frozen in time, untouched for centuries, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
The floor shakes in the Pacific Science Center and smoke creeps through the dark room, rising as the volcano on screen spews ash over the city in its shadow. The screen rises. A ghostly cast of a man, leaning on his right arm and trying to rise before being immobilized forever by heat and ash, greets visitors at the end of “Pompeii: The Exhibition.”
Twelve feet of volcanic ash and rock managed to preserve items in the Italian city of Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that day in 79 A.D. “Pompeii: The Exhibition” features some of the many well-preserved artifacts discovered where the city once stood, including soldiers’ shin guards, full-color frescoes, coins and other everyday objects that offer a snapshot of daily life.
“These people did not prepare, they were not leaving, they weren’t worried about what history would think about,” said Jason Simmons, of Premier Exhibitions, which is producing the show. “This is exactly how people lived 2,000 years ago in a Roman city.”
‘Pompeii: The Exhibition’
Opens Saturday, Feb. 7, and runs through May 25, Pacific Science Center, Seattle; $17-$32 (800-664-8775 or www.pacsci.org). Note: Tickets are for timed entry. Buy ahead to ensure you get the time/day you’d like to visit.
Mount Vesuvius’ eruption caused a pyroclastic surge (a fast-moving mass of rock and poisonous gas that reached up to 570 degrees Fahrenheit) that engulfed the city. The extreme heat is believed to have killed nearly 2,000 people, and it froze their bodies right as they fell. The exhibition contains six body casts, which are copies of the originals. They were made by pouring plaster into hollowed volcanic ash and contain no human remains; they include a man lying facedown on some stairs and a prone woman covering her face. The features are opaquely defined, putting a chilling human face to the event.
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“You still get these very sobering pictures of life,” said Katelyn Del Buco, the Pacific Science Center’s public-relations manager.
Before the eruption, life in Pompeii mirrored modern times. Devices to facilitate indoor plumbing are in the exhibit. There is gold jewelry; marble tables with mosaic tops and legs carved to look like lions’; and measuring instruments that look like today’s rulers and compasses. Also unbelievably well-preserved: a brothel. (This part of the exhibit contains pictures of couples and statues that may not be suitable for younger visitors.)
Art of the bustling port city was preserved under the volcanic ash. A statue of the goddess Venus has shades of red and blue accenting white marble. A large fresco shows a drunken Hercules in a woman’s robe, wearing shoes that resemble modern tennis shoes with laces.
Although Pompeii has become a popular tourist destination, Simmons said, those who visit the Italian site will not get to see artifacts like those on display in Seattle.
“When people go to Pompeii, they typically go to see the ruins,” Simmons said. “You won’t see these in the ruins. They’ll see some of these, but they’re not as brilliant because they took the best work and put them in museums to protect them for all time.”