SAN DIEGO, CA.- Beginning February 15, 2008, the San Diego Natural History Museum will transport visitors back in time 2000 years to experience life and death in one of the wealthiest resort cities of the ancient Roman Empire. The exhibition A Day in Pompeii presents more than 250 art objects and artifacts, including fine marble sculptures, bronzes, frescoes, mosaics, and jewelry. Filling an exhibition space measuring 10,000 square feet, A Day in Pompeii brings these priceless artifacts, along with body casts of eight victims of Mount Vesuvius’ fury, across the Atlantic to the West Coast for the first time.
Among the exhibition highlights are two elegantly carved marble sculptures of the goddess Aphrodite based on 5th-century BCE Greek models, an exquisitely cast bronze of the god Bacchus, a bronze sculpture of the hand of the cult god Sabazius, and a large garden fresco from the entire back wall of the triclinium of the House of the Gold Bracelet. These artworks are accompanied by a multitude of other examples of ancient Roman artistry and craftsmanship, such as fine jewelry, gold coins, decorative lamps and furnishings, as well as garden and funerary sculptures. Many of the works have never been on public display before 2007.
Pompeii and neighboring cities were buried—frozen in time—after the fateful eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 CE. The city lay forgotten until 1748 when archaeologists began to excavate at the site. What they discovered, piece by piece, were extremely well-preserved objects that offer a glimpse into what the day-to-day life of this ancient city may have been. Amazingly, archaeologists have also been able to piece together the final moments of the people of Pompeii . By pouring plaster into cavities in the volcanic ash left by the victims’ bodies, archaeologists were able to create molds of the final moments of life in this once-thriving seaport.
“Rarely do we see such stark and dramatic evidence of people’s final moments. But the exhibition goes far beyond that. The casts of human bodies certainly provide a personal connection with the victims of this natural disaster,” says Jim Stone , Museum vice president of public programs. “However, the startling level of preservation of the objects in the exhibition transports the visitor almost two millennia back in time and captures the essence of daily life in ancient Pompeii . It’s absolutely remarkable.
“These artifacts were preserved in a virtual time capsule beneath the layers of volcanic ash that covered Pompeii . Museum visitors will see the jewelry that the women wore, the beautiful frescoes and statuary they commissioned, the gold coins they used as currency. They’ll even see a cast of a loaf of bread that had been baking at the time of the eruption. It’s startling evidence that the city was frozen in a moment in time.
“What’s really beautiful, though, is that these different objects, which are amazing on their own, also work together to paint a very rich portrait of what life was like in ancient Italy 2000 years ago,” continues Stone.
The Exhibition - The exhibition takes visitors through an average day in Pompeii ; visitors will walk a Pompeian street complete with storefronts and ambient sound, step into a tavern and see samples of food items carbonized by the eruption, explore a home and garden setting from Pompeii , and see how the people of Pompeii expressed their spirituality.
In addition to an extensive variety of artifacts—from beds to lanterns to hairpins to an exquisitely preserved 15-foot-long garden fresco—A Day in Pompeii also features hands-on build-a-mosaic and build-a-Roman-arch activities.
The showpieces of the exhibition are the body casts, made from the cavities left in the ash after the bodies of those buried decomposed. These figures are caught in their last moments, shielding their faces, clinging to each other. Even a dog impression was preserved.
A Day in Pompeii will also give visitors an opportunity to discover volcanoes from around the globe. A 12' x 21' floor map, featuring a satellite image of Earth, will map out the locations of all of Earth’s active volcanoes. A photo gallery will transport visitors to 20 notable volcanoes where they will discover the stories of famous eruptions. Visitors will learn what creates volcanic activity, as well as experiment with seismic activity.
The San Diego Natural History Museum partnered with several other museums around the country and received special permission from the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei (SAP), the official archaeological authority that governs the archeological site, to display these invaluable artifacts. San Diego is only the fifth city in the United States to host an exhibit of authentic Pompeian artifacts. Other cities include Chicago , IL ; Boston , MA ; Mobile , AL ; and St. Paul , MN .
Admission to A Day in Pompeii is not included in general Museum admission. A Day in Pompeii tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for seniors, and $14 for children 3–12. Members receive more than a 50% discount on tickets. Tickets are timed and dated—visitors will choose a date for their visit and a specific entry time for A Day in Pompeii. An audio tour of the exhibition, available in English and Spanish, is included in the ticket price. All other exhibitions and films in the giant-screen theater are included in admission. Purchase tickets at www.sdpompeii.org or 877. 946.7797. For information regarding groups 10+, call 800.290.4616.
SAP is a branch of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali, which oversees the safeguarding and enhancement of Italian cultural heritage. The SAP has responsibility for a territory made up of 23 municipalities in the Vesuvian area and runs four archaeological sites ( Pompeii , Herculaneum , Stabiae, and Oplontis). A Day in Pompeii is a collaboration of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei and the host American institutions: the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center , the Science Museum of Minnesota, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and Discovery Place .
Celebrating its 133rd year, the San Diego Natural History Museum is the second oldest scientific institution in California ; third west of the Mississippi . A binational Museum, its mission is to interpret the natural world through research, education, and exhibits; to promote understanding of the evolution and diversity of southern California and the peninsula of Baja California and to inspire in all a respect for nature and the environment. Located in Balboa Park at the intersection of Village Place and Park Blvd., the Museum is open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Phone: 619.232.3821. Website: www.sdnhm.org.