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Pompeii: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius

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by Joann Jovinelly (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
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On August 24 in AD 79, the ancient Roman resort city of Pompeii completely disappeared from view. A series of eruptions of nearby Mount Vesuvius, which blasted tons of white-hot stone particles upon the city, made the air acrid and toxic. Hours of raining ash followed, blinding and choking those who futilely attempted escape while the dust created a 12-mile wide cloud that eclipsed the sun for days. Many of Pompeii's residents who tried to flee the dark city died on foot, their bodies frozen in place for thousands of years.


In the 1860s, as more of Pompeii's ruins were exposed, archaeologists began the process of filling in with plaster what had essentially become vacant cavities of earth.
What was revealed showed the exact positions of those who had died, many of them in great distress. And it was only after archaeologists displayed those forms that the human tragedy of Pompeii truly came to life. Many of those casts—along with more than 250 artifacts from the ancient Roman city—are part of New York's Discovery Times Square exhibit, Pompeii: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius, which opened this month.

Although no exhibit can compare to visiting the actual Roman ruins, the New York show does a good job of explaining and re-enacting the natural disaster, complete with vibrating floors and blasts of heat that demonstrate what the Romans experienced while trying to escape. Visitors are shown an "immersive" film, which, just after the point of climax, suddenly reveals a collection of frozen plaster bodies situated just as they had been 2,000 years ago.


The exhibit also recreates aspects of the ancient city, utilizing actual wall-sized frescos to recreate rooms filled with myriad artifacts like gold coins, jewelry, pottery, statuary, and even a common loaf of bread, further detailing what daily life was like in the ancient world. Along with an audio tour that is part of the admission fee, both children and adults will be fascinated by the time capsule of information that has survived about Pompeii, an ancient city that was unexpectedly modern with heated baths, indoor plumbing, and Thermoplia, or outdoor eateries (pictured).


Pompeii: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius was curated by the Soprintendenza di Archaeologica Napoli e Pompei, a government authority that oversees the actual archaeological site in Italy. Some proceeds from the exhibit—which runs through September—will help preserve the ruins for future generations.


Photo credits:
Arboreality/FlickrCC;TyB/FlickrCC;Arnabg/FlickrCC;lyng883/FlickrCC
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Why? To see the ancient world with fresh eyes.
When: Now Through September 5, 2011
Where: Discovery Times Square, 226 W. 44th Street
Cost: $25 Adults; $22.50 Seniors; $19.50 Children
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I've always been interested in Pompeii, but seeing this exhibit was amazing. I never expected to be moved like I was, but it was absolutely incredible. It's hard sometimes to connect to past events because it happened so long ago, but they did such an amazing job of making it real and relateable.
By L.R. - senior writer
Tuesday, 3rd of May @ 03:29 am
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