Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Last Days of Pompeii

An empty cobblestone
street in Pompeii, Italy

The opening of a new exhibit entitled Pompeii and the Roman Villa at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the life, demise and rediscovery of the ancient city of Pompeii is the subject of an editorial review by Paul Richard in the City Guide section of the Washington
Post. Pompeii and Herculaneum were two Roman cities located on what is now the Bay of Naples, that were completely destroyed by volcanic activity when nearby Mt. Vesuvius erupted in August of 79 A.D.

Prior to these eruptions and some smaller eruptions in 62 A.D., Mt. Vesuvius had been dormant for a very long period of time. When the first rumblings began on 24 August 79 A.D. many of the Romans in the city failed to heed the danger and were trapped by the volcanoes dangerous fumes and ash. As a result they were suffocated in their homes and on the city streets. The two cities were totally buried and over time their location and even their existence were all but forgotten. They were finally rediscovered in the 18th century and excavations were begun.

Much of Pompeii was remarkably preserved. Colorful frescoes were uncovered, statues, pottery, fruit, clothing and all of the day to day items of Roman life were found. In addition to being a prosperous trade port Pompeii was also a popular seaside resort for the rich and powerful of the Roman Empire. Many large villas and homes were built in the city, as well as a large coliseum that could hold much of the cities estimated 23,000 people.

Today Pompeii is one of Italy's most visited tourist sites. Portions of the city are still buried under of the earth, but this is perhaps just as well. Since excavations were begun and Pompeii began to emerge into the open air, the city has suffered. Efforts are being made to preserve as much as possible of Pompeii in its "original" condition, but many buildings and especially the painted frescoes have deteriorated.

The exhibit opens October 19 and runs until March 22, 2009 at the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art is located at 600 Constitution Ave, NW Washington, D.C. Admission is free. The Museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mon - Sat and 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed December 25 and January 1.

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