A Day in Pompeii, Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton

As part of this year’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, the Melbourne Museum, in conjunction with Italy’s leading archaeological authority, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei, is presenting an exhibition on the fascinating buried city of Pompeii ‘A Day in Pompeii‘.

Having been lucky enough to visit the real location twice and being a regular visitor to the British Museum, I was initially unsure as to what new insights the exhibition could offer me. At the beginning I was a little disappointed by the paucity of artifacts (some replicas) but the museum did a commendable job in placing the objects within the context of everyday Roman life through pictures, dioramas and interactive computer reconstructions (did you know that public laundries used to put pots out on the street for men to urinate into so that the ammonia could be used to bleach togas?). The short 3D film was also effective in bringing to life the devastation caused by Vesuvius’ eruption over 24 hours and the body casts were a somber reminder that thousands of real people – rich poor, young, old – were killed by the eruption. As I walked through the exhibition I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the recent experience of the Black Saturday bushfires. For me that tragedy really highlighted the human toll behind this fascinating time capsule.

The exhibition then moved onto other aspects of the disaster – the science of volcanoes, modern monitoring methods, the vulnerability of Naples if another eruption occurred and the history of archeology.

I recommend the exhibition especially if you have school-age kids as it’s a well set out introduction to Roman history with enough interactive displays to keep them entertained (and in fact it was very busy with school groups). As an adult, it was still entertaining and informative enough to warrant a two hour visit and the $20 entrance fee.