Pompeii: A Roman town frozen in time

"... they are human beings seen in their agony. This is not art, it is not imitation;
these are their bones, the remains of their flesh and their clothes mixed with plaster,
it is the sadness of death that characterises body and form. I see their wretchedness.
I hear their cries as they call to their mothers, and I see them fall and writhe..."
Luigi Settembrini (1813-76)

The haunting words described the emotions and struggles of the Pompeiians that had been frozen in time since 24 August 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii. The plaster casts of the victims of the volcanic eruption evoke a sense of helplessness, and it seemed appropriate that we shared some thoughts for the victims that died almost 2,000 years ago - for the volcanic eruption that buried their city, their homes and themselves provided a snapshot of Roman life in the first century.

The National Museum of Singapore presents a special exhibition, Pompeii: Life In a Roman Town 79CE, from 16 October 2010 to 23 January 2011. It provided an introduction to the fateful day of the volcanic eruption through a 3D short film. Thereafter, a section of the exhibition showed the economy and activities in the town.

What struck me was that after 2,000 years, we really have not changed that much. We still keep our wine in barrels, we gamble with dice, we use coins and scales, and stamp our names to promote ourselves and our businesses. Well, the only difference is that they have gladiators who engaged in dangerous combats to entertain audiences! There was a full gladiator gear in the exhibition. Then again, we send our armies to fight unnecessary wars, gearing them up with all the protection and weapons. But, I digress.

And of course, what would an exhibition of a Roman town be without statues - big and small? There were many - from small statues made of metals to marble-carved statues.

There were apparently many luxurious villas in the town, and many of them were adorned with frescoes, some of which were shown in the exhibition. Reading more about town after the exhibition, I read that there were also some erotic frescoes and items with sexual themes. When the King of Naples saw the exhibition in the 1800s, he ordered the items to be kept in a Secret Cabinet in the Naples Museum. Only gentlemen of certain classes are allowed to view the items for an additional fee. Of course, no women and children are allowed.

There was also a mosaic fountain that was once part of a garden. Together with the marble statues, I am sure that the gardens must have been breathtaking during those days. Many of the buildings in Pompeii are still intact, so it is not surprising that Pompeii was added into the UNESCO's World Heritage Site.

The exhibition inspires me to visit Pompeii one day. Just visualise - walking on the cobble stone street the Romans walked on 2000 years ago and imagine how life was like for them then. When I was in Ephesus, the town blew me away and I simply love the idea that I was at the very same place where the Romans used to live their everyday lives. Well, me and the thousands of tourists that visit the area every day, but I can just erase them from my imagination.

In the meantime, let me continue dreaming and planning my trip to Italy.

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