Exhibiting Pompeii

02 October, 2008

Pompeii rooftops
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.”


Comments (4)

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Bruce Parker 17 May, 2009 19:56
Julie and I visited Pompeii last September and were impressed with the Roman city and just how advanced the people were in every aspect of their life style.We will be visiting Melbourne in the middle of July and look forward to seeing your Pompeii exhibition.
Dallas Ketexas 5 August, 2009 10:14
we are studying this at school and it is fascinating! this is cool! whoo!!!!! they were very clever. why didn't they make any more stuff? they should have kept building the city! are they dead or something?
Discovery Centre 5 August, 2009 14:26

As you've probably learned in school, the city of Pompeii was buried in 79AD by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. The city was not dug up and after a few hundred year, the exact location was lost. People did rebuild nearby and over the centuries the modern town of Pompei has developed. The clever things that the Roman's built and made did not die with the destruction of ancient Pompeii. Throughout the rest of the large Roman Empire people continued to build and create for several centuries. For lots of information on the Roman Empire see this website.

Brod 17 November, 2011 18:58
Pompeii is like what cabbage is to gardening in terms of archological resource value.It remains for science to vindicate the garden beds chemistry and how it can help with modern questions,can coastal ash dampen the radiation of coastal Fukashima, as a garden bed of chemical balance and restoration.These wonderful places serve to help the regeneration in other hurt or damaged coastal city environments.Don't close the door on Japan we need it open.
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