Pompeii: view looking over protective roofs towards the south west.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
Melbourne Museum staff travelled to the Pompeii site near Naples as part of their research and planning for the forthcoming A Day in Pompeii exhibition.
Although A Day in Pompeii does not open until June 2009, exploration and preparation, such as the selection of important objects and the development of exhibition themes, is well underway.
Members of the project team visited the historic site in 2008 to continue discussions with the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei, and to see first-hand extraordinary sculptures, frescoes and mosaics.
Rosaria Zarro is an Italian-speaking Education Officer with Museum Victoria. During her trip in May, she viewed grand houses, public baths, and the Great Palestra where young people once engaged in gymnastic exercise and underwent their schooling. She was impressed by the majesty of the Great Theatre, which would have been capable of holding 5000 spectators, and the significance of the arts for the “lost city”. Zarro observed that the ruins reveal “evidence of culture and lifestyle” – including insights into daily life, religion and the position of women – in the ancient city.
Artefacts and items that survived the catastrophe were buried for close to 1700 years after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some structures are still being unearthed and restored. Zarro adds. “I was struck by the size of the city: about 66 hectares. One can visit two-thirds of the city, which has been uncovered, whilst another third remains buried.”
Dr Patrick Greene, CEO of Museum Victoria, has visited Pompeii twice. He acknowledges: “my appreciation and knowledge of Pompeii was very much influenced by my work as an archaeologist.”
Greene imagines excavations and analysis in Pompeii “could go on indefinitely” both because of the size of the site and because, where excavation has occurred previously (sometimes centuries earlier) it has often been performed “hurriedly and to standards we would not now regard as good”.
For Greene, the Melbourne Museum exhibition will be characterised by its capacity to offer the visitor an “immersive experience, rather than simply looking at a series of objects.” He adds that this methodology has helped create many of the museum’s popular projects and defining culture.
“Our approach to exhibitions is one where people are involved in it: they are immersed in it. Just as the Melbourne Story takes people into the different houses, and the carriage from Luna Park, so we have developed skills here: using both a theatrical approach and all the opportunities offered by our expertise in multimedia and digital photography, we can produce something that’s really evocative.”
A Day in Pompeii is promising to be popular, connecting with a centuries-long fascination with a city once lost, now found. Greene has no doubt about the significance of the exhibition he has secured for the museum: “Pompeii, from the moment of its discovery, seems to have captured the imagination of the world.”