A thriving seaport town buried by volcanic debris, Pompeii’s tragic disaster is one that still intrigues and frightens mankind in the modern age. Classic Roman architecture, highly-detailed works of art, homes, businesses and over 10,000 human lives were all lost within 24 hours after the blast of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, becoming one of the worst volcanic eruptions in history. As with most ancient civilizations, the passage of time has made it difficult to identify a human element or connection. One of the greatest aspects of A Day in Pompeii at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the reminder that it was not just a town that was destroyed, but thousands of individual lives as well.
I was able to tour A Day in Pompeii on opening weekend, not expecting its impact to be so profound. The beginning of the exhibit gives you a bird’s eye view of the town and its physical environment – a beautiful seaside town, bustling with activity and thriving with culture. About half the size of Denver’s City Park, Pompeii displayed some of the greatest art and architecture of the Roman Empire. Frescoes and mosaics adorning resident’s homes are still unbelievably intact, showcasing their attention to fine details and adoration for their gods. Video monitors project recreations of the styles of homes, with wide open doors into outside courtyards. Beds and chaise-style lounges brought on the sense that Pompeii residents enjoyed a more lavish, comfortable lifestyle.
It was not until I wandered further into the exhibit that I began to realize that these artifacts all belonged to an individual. Ornate jars of cosmetics, beautiful jewelry, mirrors ,and even a small comb reminded me that Pompeii was made up of people just like me, leading an independent life with similar behaviors and possessions. Due to the volcanic ash and its composition, artifacts are preserved almost as if they were made yesterday. A loaf of bread, some olives and even a single walnut has been carbonized capturing the small details of everyday life in Pompeii.
The end of the exhibit is quite somber as details regarding the volcano are presented. A 5fiveminute video recreates the blast over a 24 hour period which shows that it did not happen in an instant as I had thought previously, but developed in a time span long enough for people to realize and fear what was happening. Body casts created to show the exact details of the deceased complete the exhibit, once again reminding patrons that Pompeii was more than just a volcanic disaster – it changed and ended the lives for thousands of people.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205
WHEN: On display now through January 13, 2o13.
Daily: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.