An ominous soundtrack of bass drums and woodwinds thumps throughout the dimly lit exhibit.
“POMPEII: The Exhibition” is dark in lighting and mood.
It is also a hauntingly beautiful glimpse into daily life in Pompeii, an ancient Roman city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. The featured exhibit at Pacific Science Center lives up to its tagline that what nature destroyed, it also preserved.
The massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a volcano six miles from the city, killed an estimated 20,000 of Pompeii’s citizens. The city sat quietly beneath the ash for centuries, before being unearthed by a Spanish archaeological team in the 18th century.
The 150 artifacts are impressive in range and thought-provoking in subject matter.
A vast collection of paintings, ceramics, mosaics, jewelry, gladiator armor, coins, kitchen utensils and elegant marble sculptures seem untouched by time. The artifacts preserved by the layers of ash are a testament to the impressive skills of their craftsmen.
The Romans had an eye for design. Even the smallest details remain visible in their work, from the tiny etches on jewelry, coins and candle-holders to perfectly symmetrical patterns adorning massive porcelain sculptures, tableaus and fountain bowls.
The Pompeiians created masterful art and architecture. They entertained guests in lavishly decorated open-air rooms. They ate well, drank too much, made jokes about drinking too much, went to the gym and enjoyed shows at the amphitheater.
The artists of Pompeii were candid about their vices. Artwork from the period reveals the society’s alcoholism and unabashed promiscuity. From the bathhouses to the brothels, the exhibit doesn’t exclude any corner of the city.
Most of the displays are suitable for kids. There is a posted warning for parents before the erotic artifacts.
The exhibit never loses sight of the human tragedy caused by the eruption. Most of the 20,000 victims were asphyxiated by extreme heat and noxious gases.
Preserved by volcanic ash and filled with plaster when first unearthed, their bodies replicate the same poses held when killed by the eruption.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors can be heard whispering to each other about “the bodies,” though they are not actual bodies. Displayed behind glass, they are plaster models of the original casts made of the victims.
The bodies are memorialized by their will to live: Figures of men, scrambling up a flight of stairs together. A pregnant woman. A young child.
The exhibit comes to a close with a five-minute time-lapse film of Pompeii’s destruction, complete with computer-generated imagery, strobe lights, fog machine and surround-sound of buildings crumbling.
Living that terror is a gripping way to come to terms with the vulnerability of every society, including our own, when faced with the powerful forces of nature.
You may not have to run for your life, but don’t drag your feet.
Seattle will be the last stateside stop for the Pompeii exhibit, which runs until May 25 before returning permanently to Italy.
If you go
“POMPEII: The Exhibition” continues through May 25 at the Pacific Science Center, 200 Second Ave. N, Seattle.
Tickets: Monday through Thursday, ages 16 to 64 are $29; ages 65 and older, $27; $20 for ages 6 to 15; and $17 for ages 3 to 5. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays, ages 16 to 64 are $32; ages 65 and older, $30; $23 for ages 6 to 15; and $20 for ages 3 to 5. Free for 2 and younger.
Advance purchase is recommended to secure your ideal date and time. Buy tickets online at www.pacificsciencecenter.org, by phone at 800-664-8775 or at the box office. Timed entries are every 15 minutes. First timed entry into the exhibit is 10:15 a.m. daily.