Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Walking the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD

The Forum looking towards the Temple of  Jupiter © Kim Traynor
I have never lost my fascination of all things Roman.  

Now I know there are some pretty iffy bits to the Romans ranging from slavery to military conquest and a fairly ruthless system of government under the Empire.

But much the same can be said of many societies in the past including our own.

So with that out of the way It’s time to indulge my love of almost all things Roman and give a plug to the new exhibition opening on Life and death Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum March 28-September 29th

“AD 79. In just 24 hours, two cities in the Bay of Naples in southern Italy were buried by a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

A street in Pompeii, © Paul Vlaar
Preserved under ash, the cities lay buried for just over 1,600 years, their rediscovery providing an unparalleled glimpse into the daily life of the Roman Empire.

From the bustling street to the intimate spaces of a Roman home, this major exhibition will take you to the heart of people’s lives in Pompeii and Herculaneum.”

And if like me you don’t fancy the trip to London, then the film of the opening will be shown in cinemas across the country on June 13th introduced live by British Museum Director Neil MacGregor and featuring Mary Beard, Rachel de Thame, Giorgio Locatelli and Exhibition Curator Paul Roberts who bring extraordinary objects to life in this unique event.

“The exhibition will give visitors a taste of the daily life of the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum, from the bustling street to the family home. The domestic space is the essential context for people’s lives, and allows us to get closer to the Romans themselves. 

This exhibition will explore the lives of individuals in Roman society, not the classic figures of films and television, such as emperors, gladiators and legionaries, but businessmen, powerful women, freed slaves and children. 

The baker Terentius Neo with his wife 
One stunning example of this material is a beautiful wall painting from Pompeii showing the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, holding writing materials showing they are literate and cultured. Importantly their pose and presentation suggests they are equal partners, in business and in life.

The emphasis on a domestic context also helps transform museum artefacts into everyday possessions. Six pieces of wooden furniture will be lent from Herculaneum in an unprecedented loan by the Archaeological Superintendency of Napels and Pompeii. 

These items were carbonized by the high temperatures of the ash that engulfed the city and are extremely rare finds that would not have survived at Pompeii – showing the importance of combining evidence from the two cities. The furniture includes a linen chest, an inlaid stool and even a garden bench. Perhaps the most astonishing and moving piece is a baby’s crib that still rocks on its curved runners.

Detail from a wall in the Hall of the Mysteries © Lord Pheasant
The exhibition will include casts from in and around Pompeii of some of the victims of the eruption. A family of two adults and their two children are huddled together, just as in their last moments under the stairs of their villa. The most famous of the casts on display is of a dog, fixed forever at the moment of its death as the volcano submerged the cities.

Sponsored by Goldman Sachs”**


Pictures; the Forum looking towards the Temple of Jupiter, by Kim Traynor, July 2012, A street in Pompeii, by Paul Vlaar, June 2003, the baker Terentius Neo with his wife. Italian National Archaeological Museum of Naples (cat. no. 9058 ) & detail from a wall in the Hall of the Mysteries by Lord Pheasant November2006

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