Saturday, 5 September 2009

A Day (and a Night) in Pompeii.

Did you know you can take the tram to Pompeii? You can, at least to the exhibition A Day in Pompeii which is currently at the Melbourne Museum until the 25th October 2009.

We took time off from pompeiiinpictures and left our home in Western Australia to go "over east" and visit the exhibition. For those not familiar with Australian distances, this is the equivalent of going from London to Moscow.

This is a very popular exhibition, which has taken Melbourne by storm, with queues winding all around the piazza outside the Museum, waiting for their turn. This has been the case both in the school holidays with parents and families visiting and during school term with school classes coming in by the busload.

The Museum is a new purpose built building (2000) set in the parkland setting of Carlton Gardens. Our grateful thanks to Brett Dunlop and Phil Spinks of the Museum, who solved the dilemma of how we could fit in with the exhibition's popularity by opening specially at 7am for us. With the permission of the SANP, we have photographed the exhibits. We will be reuniting the ones with a provenance with their original house or location using the cyberspace of

A good variety of items were sent from Pompeii, about 270 in total, although considering the distance, we would have loved to have seen more. There were some items from Naples Museum. At this point can we air one of our favourite pleas? There must be so many items that never see the light of day, and yet the “old favourites” are in every book or exibition. Could we not let a few of the more unseen items out?

We wanted to see many items we had been trying to see at Pompeii for the past five years. Several times in the Deposits we have been unsuccessful as they were always out on loan at an exhibition. If we could not see them at Pompeii, then we would try to find them where we could, and we did!

At last we saw the beautiful wall paintings from the House of the Golden Bracelet, not just the garden paintings, but also others including Bacchus and Ariadne with Silenus which we have been chasing around the world.

The exhibition is arranged around themes such as La Citta, La Casa, Vita Religiosa, Luxus: Cosmesi ed ornamenti femminili, Vita economica, L'alimentazione, Ars medica, Il mare, Oltre la vita and La morte sotto il Vesuvio. There are Oscan inscriptions, items from religious life, gold and jewellery, paintings and statues from the houses, items from the kitchens, fast-food shops, medical arts, the public baths and tombs. There are old books and old stereoscopic photographs. A cardboard man was even filling the Fullers pot, with very realistic sound effects. A virtual tour is available on the Museum web site.

The museum has specially commissioned an excellent 3D film presentation showing the events on that last day in AD79 as Vesuvius erupted and the pyroclastic flow arrived at Pompeii. This was very impressive and unique to Melbourne Museum. The audience were noticeably quieter on their way out, they obviously had been given a lot to think about. In the exhibition there were interactive touchscreens to look at the finds or go around a typical roman house. Very popular with the adults, sometimes the kids had difficulty getting a look in.

On show was a collection of lava rocks from most of the eruptions of Vesuvius over the last 2000 years and maps of the impact of each. Curiously though, the 1631 eruption was not included. There was also a TV screen with a film on vulcanology.

And then there were the plaster casts. These are what capture everyones imagination and emotions. We liked they way they were laid out and arranged on a dome base as a group rather than each being individual or simply in a line. It had a certain "presence". A sign on the entrance gave the warning "Some visitors may find these body casts upsetting".

On the Thursday night we went to "A Night in Pompeii" to hear one of Professor Frank Sear’s series of talks, this one on Art and Culture, which was excellent. There is a whole series of lectures and we wish we could have attended them all. Still to come are talks from Doctor Philip Batty on the Gladiators of Pompeii (Sept 10th, 6pm) and Roman Erotica and the Evil Eye: Uncovering the Sexual Imagery of Pompeii (Sept 17th, 6pm, Adults 18+ only)

At the weekends you can also see documentaries on "Lost Treasures of the Ancient World: Pompeii - The Doomed City" and "Pompeii and the Roman Villa", the exhibition currently in the USA.

During the school holidays (19th Sept to 4th October) there are additional activities for the kids, including an activity room, they can try rubbing Roman coins, wearing Togas, playing with fresco and mosaic designs or taking a slaves eye view. There is a museum shop where you can buy Pompeii related reproduction items such as jewelry, ceramics, pots and childrens games such as an excavation kit with buried artefacts or a build you own Vesuvius.

We did some customer surveys while we were there.

The Melbourne Italians appreciated a bit of their homeland coming to their new land. Flags everywhere advertise it. The flags were flying in Lygon Street, the Italian quarter of Melbourne, with many Italian restaurants outbidding each other for your business. We ate Siciliano.

A couple, who live in Melbourne, who we met in Sorrento in March, had been to Pompeii on three previous occasions but had not got too much out of the visits. We pointed out a few places they could see and explained a bit about Pompeii while we travelled on the Circumvesuviano train from Sorrento. When we met up with them again in Melbourne they said our pointers had opened their eyes to a different Pompeii compared to all the previous times they had been there. As a result they had been able to get so much more than they would have thought possible out of the exhibition in Melbourne. They had really enjoyed the exhibition and had found it very informative.

We only heard positives about the exhibition:-
  • The adults found it very informative and the 3D movie of the eruption and the plaster casts very moving.
  • The school children found it very exciting.
  • The Italian restauranteurs talked enthusiastically to us about it.
  • The night time exhibition opening was packed, above and beyond those attending the lecture.
All in all a very successful exhibition that has something for everyone. If you have not yet seen it you should go soon as the A Day in Pompeii” exhibition is at Melbourne Museum, Victoria, Australia, until 25th October 2009.

When the exhibition finishes in Melbourne it then goes to Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, from 19th December 2009 until 25th April 2010.

We were told that special earthquake-proof cases will have to be made for the items going to New Zealand. The artefacts should feel quite at home.

Jackie and Bob at pompeiiinpictures

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