I went to see A Day in Pompeii at the Science Museum of Minnesota last Sunday. It’s paired with an IMAX movie: Greece, Secrets of the Past
I’ve already joked on my livejournal about a display of a small statue of Venus which had in its plaque lyrics from the epynomous Bananrama song. This amused me and got me on the right foot to enjoy this look into the most perfectly preserved Roman city that we have…for the most tragic of reasons.
A Day in Pompeii has a couple of hundred artifacts from the lost city, from the statue of Venus to a lararium complete with the small devotional statues, to a recreation of a themopolium, the Pompeiian equivalent of a fast food joint. I especially loved the lovingly cleaned and polished coins, so beautifully restored that I could read “Nero Ceasar” on one particular aureus. The preservation of the ash was such that there is even a cast of a loaf of bread eaten by the Pompeiians.
All of this is accompanied by a free audio tour, with an adult track with fairly good context, and a family friendly track geared toward children and the more casual viewer. I strongly suggest that if you are going to visit the exhibit that you take advantage of the tour.
There is also a short excerpt from a computer recreation movie of what a couple of the houses of Pompeii looked like in their heyday.
The crowning room in the exhibit, however, is the room with the body casts. After going through several rooms of the artifacts, the exhibit takes a dark turn as it describes in the words of Pliny the Younger the eruption of Vesuvius on that fateful day in August 79 AD. The room with the body casts is low lit, and has a background ambient sound of destruction and devastation that provides a creepy feel. The body casts themselves are displayed on small piles of charcoal, in the positions that they were found in. It made me shudder to gaze at them, and imagine the horror of their final moments. Particularly poignant was a cast of a dog, struggling to escape the rope or chain that held it in place.
If the exhibit intended to bring home the emotional impact of the eruption, it succeeded.
After this room, the exhibit turns toward a more general look at Volcanoes. This mostly was not very interesting, except for a live exhibit I managed to catch where the demonstrator showed us some lava (melted basalt and some impurities to lower the melting point). As we watched, he poured it and it cooled to a pool of obsidian. That was neat to see and I wish I had taken pictures of the process.
Overall, I think the exhibit was well done, if a bit pricey on top of regular museum admission to see. There was a good variety of artifacts, well documented, and a honesty about what we know and don’t know about the artifacts and the life of Pompeii. I think the souvenir book was skimpy and I eschewed buying that, although I may want to pick one up at some point on a second visit.
I don’t think the exhibit is so strong as to be worth to cross state lines, for, but if it should come to a museum near you (the exhibit is slated to visit Birmingham, Charlotte, San Diego and Houston), I recommend the exhibit to anyone with an interest in the subject, so that you, too, might spend a Day in Pompeii.
I liked it enough that I intend to see it again before it leaves Minneapolis at the end of December.
Paired with the exhibit is an IMAX movie: Greece, Secrets of the Past. Hosted by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), the movie focuses on a bronze age Proto-Greek culture on the island of Santorini, site of the Thera volcano eruption in the 17th century BC that may be an inspiration for the legend of Atlantis. It also touches on the Golden Age of Athens, including the building of the Parthenon.
While the digital recreation of the Parthenon at its height and the views of Santorini were beautiful to look at, I was not that impressed with the movie as a documentary. I don’t think it hung together all that well. If it had focused exclusively on one of its subjects, I think it would have been stronger. Skipping back and forth weakened it, I think.
When I see the exhibit on Pompeii again, I don’t intend to see this film again, although the movie, if it ever comes on DVD, would be nice to screencap for its views of Santorini.