Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Walking through the streets of Pompeii in Taipei

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

Stefano Vanacore unpacks artifacts earlier this month, prior to the opening of the A Day in Pompeii exhibition in Taipei at the National Taiwan Science Education Center.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

For someone who grew up reading National Geographic each month, the stories on Pompeii were a favorite. I haven't made it to Italy yet, but a bit of Pompeii has found its way to me. On display until the end of October at the National Taiwan Science Education Center in Shihlin is the small traveling exhibition from Italy entitled A Day in Pompeii.

The city of Pompeii was found in the 6th century BC near the base of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. The eruption of Vesuvius, which began on Aug. 24, 79, buried the city, and much of the surrounding area under 6m of ash and rock, forever preserving a slice of first-century Roman life.

Pompeii slumbered in its volcanic grave until 1748, when the first excavations began and archeologists have been busy ever since.

Maria Assunta Accili of the Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office, said in a telephone interview that exhibitions about Pompeii have been very popular around the world. This exhibition was in Barcelona, Spain and will head to the US after leaving Taipei.

"This exhibit has a very educational approach. It is pretty basic, explaining what [everyday] life was like for common people," Accili said.

"There are 260 items, including jewels, pieces of furniture, tools, remains of food," she said.

The exhibition also includes five of the casts of the petrified bodies that have made Pompeii so famous. The bodies of many of those who died in the streets became encased in a mix of ash and rain, which hardened as the ash dried.

Giuseppe Fiorelli, who became the director of the Pompeii archeological project in 1861, came up with the idea of pouring plaster into the cavities of the casts in the hopes of discovering what the people looked like and what they wore.

"The majority of the people [of Pompeii] were able to leave on time," Accili said. "Those who stayed were afraid to leave their homes, their valuables or were trapped for some other reason."

While the figures of the people often look quite peaceful -- including the man in this show, who is sitting on the ground, his knees drawn up to his chest and his hands covering his nose and mouth -- the cast of the dog tells a different story.

"The cast of the dog, chained so it couldn't escape, is very dramatic," Accili said. "It had a terrible death."

Terrible doesn't begin to describe the agony that the dog went through. Its body lies twisted on its back, hind paws in the air and head bent toward its body, the collar that kept it pinned to its death still visible around its neck.

The exhibition is divided into 10 areas: The City, Ocean Life, Furniture and Decorations, Cosmetic Ornaments, The Economy, Religious Life, Food and Drink, Medicine, The Victims and The Afterlife.

While the show is small, each item is exquisite. The colors in the frescos and wall paintings are still vivid, while most women I know could easily see themselves wearing the gold earrings and bracelets on display.

The objects run the gamut from the mundane -- a collection of fishing hooks, pots and what looks like a small frying pan -- to the luxurious -- a marble statue of Aphrodite, a three-legged marble table with a mythical lion-headed creature carved onto each leg -- and bas reliefs of four Roman gods, including Vulcan, the god of fire.

While English signage is at a minimum -- basically just the titles of each of the 10 areas, for those who don't read Chinese it is still pretty easy to figure out from the Italian labels what the items are.

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