Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ancient Rome in London

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, The British Museum, London. June 2013.

The European ancient world has long fascinated me.  I think I was in the first or second year at primary school when we studied the Ancient Greeks, I know we'd already 'done' the Egyptians and while it was fun learning to write hieroglyphs it took the Greeks to really capture my interest.

Visits to Greece and Italy in the decades since, plus a love of historical fiction (for children and adults) has kept the love alive and although a trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum is high on the to do list we weren't going to miss the chance to see this exhibition in the Reading Room at the British Museum.

We picked an early timed entry slot but even then the exhibition was busy.  We snuck past the introductory film - we've watched a lot of BBC documentaries on this bit of history and wanted just a little bit more room to look at everything!

The exhibition is very cleverly laid out, you start with a general idea of what 79AD life in the area was like  - things like inn signs, graffiti and murals as well as shopping artifacts are all displayed and then slowly you realise that you are entering a Roman house. You take a tour around the house popping in and out of rooms and the garden and each one is fully of frescoes, mosaics and household items which really bring the period to life.  Mr Norfolkbookworm had read the accompanying catalogue in advance of our visit and so it was like having my own private guide - I'm afraid my point of reference were the Roman Mystery books by Caroline Lawrence.  Both references really did complement each other and the exhibition.

Once you've wandered around the house the exhibition becomes a little darker - it is like the ash cloud from Vesuvius is descending over the exhibition. The first things you see are some of the molten and burned items then there are some of the preserved bodies from the area.  There aren't many but they are incredibly moving and one that has been preserved in resin not plaster and in that you can see the tendons, muscles and bones.

Despite there being lots of people in the space I didn't feel cramped and could always see the items I was interested in. In such a small place the exhibition organisers have done a great job in bringing Ancient Rome to life and now I really want to visit the 'real thing' more than ever.

Plaster cast of a dog
(NB for the faint hearted some of the 'restricted' items are on show including the infamous Pan and Goat statue)

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