Pompeii: What Nature Destroyed, It Also Preserved


For years, I have wanted to visit Pompeii. The idea of being able to wander around the excavated city and see all of the things that have been preserved by the ash is an incredible draw for me. I haven’t made it to Italy yet, but did have an opportunity to go see the Pompeii exhibit at the Pacific Science Center this spring.

Like many of the special exhibits there, it was timed entry, but it wasn’t hugely busy the day we were there. We got there a bit ahead of our time, and were allowed to go in early.

A statue from Pompeii.  He probably originally had a wooden staff that burned in the eruption.

A statue from Pompeii. He probably originally had a wooden staff that burned in the eruption.

The exhibit was set up with each exhibit room presenting artifacts from a room in the Pompeiian home. For example, one room had dining room artifacts, one had bedroom items, kitchen, etc. They also had sections of exhibit rooms dedicated to occupations or sections of society – theater, engineering, and even brothels!

A Pompeiian bathtub - these folks were shorter than me!

A Pompeiian bathtub – these folks were shorter than me!

A wall decoration showing a troupe of theater actors.

A wall decoration showing a troupe of theater actors.

The artifacts were beautiful; it is amazing to think that these pieces of ceramics, jewelry and glass had been buried under layers of ash for almost 2,000 years. They are remarkably intact, given what these pieces of history have endured.

A mirror, a perfume bottle, and other glass items from upper glass life in Pompeii.

A mirror, a perfume bottle, and other glass items from upper glass life in Pompeii.

A gold necklace from Pompeii.  A lot of residents died clutching their jewelry; they grabbed it before trying to flee the eruption.  I am so amazed by the detail of this piece!

A gold necklace from Pompeii. A lot of residents died clutching their jewelry; they grabbed it before trying to flee the eruption. I am so amazed by the detail of this piece!

It was also interesting to get a glimpse of how people lived during the period. The exhibit mostly focused on the lives of the wealthy, because wealthy people typically have more stuff. More stuff = more stuff to be preserved…  The exception was the room that showed several murals that were on the walls in the brothels.

The exhibit also had several copies of body casts on display, after a brief interactive experience designed to let us experience what it might have been like to be caught in the eruption. It was so hot and fast that victim’s bodies disintegrated and left a space in the hardening ash. Plaster was poured into these gaps and it captured a likeness of the victim in the moment they died. It was chilling to see how suddenly the victims died – lying down, sitting up, protecting children, etc. – it was a poignant reminder of the tragedy.

A photo of the actual excavation in Pompeii, showing the image of three people who died.

A photo of the actual excavation in Pompeii, showing the image of three people who died.

The body cast of a man who died in a semi-upright position.

The body cast of a man who died in a semi-upright position.

The exhibit was well done and we appreciated our time there – the artifacts were so neat to see! And the body casts were extremely powerful to see. A humbling reminder of the power of the natural world.  And someday – I’ll get to the actual city!

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11 thoughts on “Pompeii: What Nature Destroyed, It Also Preserved

  1. Great photos of the exhibit. The three bodies on the stairway are exceptionally moving to see. If the exhibit ever comes my way, I’ll be sure to try to get there. In the meantime, thanks for the tour.

  2. I’m glad to see that person died in a semi upright position. That says to me that they died quickly and without much physical suffering. There’s, the mental anguish of knowing that it was coming their way. But at least for the clueless, death probably came quickly.

    Pompeii is on my bucket list too. Been to Italy a few times but have never been to Pompeii.

    • The exhibit explained how they died. There used to be the theory that they suffocated due to the ash in the air. However, they have now determined that the people died by “flash-heating”, basically where the bodies got superheated (up to about 300 degrees), and died instantly. I hope it really was instantly.

      I have so many other places I want to go in Italy too!

  3. Pingback: Toilets of Yesteryear… | Wine and History Visited

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