Cincinnati Museum Center: An Ancient City, Perfectly Preserved 18 Universal Values

Cincinnati Museum Center: An Ancient City, Perfectly Preserved 18 Universal Values
Photography provided by Cincinnati Museum Center

When asked about the city of Pompeii, what image springs to mind? If the answer is an explosion of lava and ash, you’re not alone. The city’s claim to fame is the volcanic eruption that buried it for centuries. But what, exactly, was buried under all that rubble and debris? A new exhibit coming to Cincinnati Museum Center will transport you to ancient Rome and answer that question, along with many others.

“Pompeii: The Exhibition” examines the lives of the residents of Pompeii before and after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius on Aug. 24, 79 A.D. Museum guests will learn how the people of Pompeii lived, loved, worked, worshipped and found entertainment.

To bring the story of Pompeii to life, curators needed to uncover some artifacts.

“As luck would have it, we have a strong relationship with our partners in Italy,” explains Jason Simmons, Executive Vice President of World Heritage Exhibitions. “They are connected with a few Italian museums that have artifacts from Pompeii. When our executive team wanted to borrow some of those artifacts and bring them to the U.S., our partners were happy to help make it happen.”

“Pompeii: The Exhibition” will feature more than 150 artifacts, some touring the U.S. for the first time. Highlights include everyday cooking utensils, jewelry, beautiful frescos and a stunning marble statue of the Roman goddess Venus, that will greet guests as they arrive.

“Pompeii is a more immediate city than other ancient Roman metropolises we’ve excavated — it’s frozen in time,” says Dr. Steven Ellis, Associate Professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Cincinnati. “So much of what we find, such as the wall paintings, are as bright and as vibrant as they were back then. We’ve discovered glass vessels that could be filled with wine today, as well as cups and plates that look as at home in a modern household as they would have 2,000 years ago.”

“It’s the closest thing we have to time travel,” Simmons adds. “We want people to feel as though they’re walking through the same streets people walked through two centuries ago, seeing objects the way Pompeiians would have used them.”

Walking through the streets of Pompeii is an important focus of the exhibit, which examines how daily life may have looked prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Guests will tour a wealthy Roman home and then roam the streets, exploring various markets and forums.

“Pompeii was a well-populated, cosmopolitan city. They had shops, bars and restaurants — it was the apex of urban living in Rome during the first century,” Dr. Ellis says. “Pompeiians lived a complex lifestyle.”

Sadly, that complex lifestyle was cut short.

A 4D Eruption Theater recreates the volcanic blast that both destroyed and preserved Pompeii, providing guests with a first-person view of how the destruction may have looked.

“The Eruption Theater dials up the anticipation before the experience, then makes it real through a shaking floor, and wind and fog effects,” Simmons says. “We want people to understand this was a tragedy,”

“It was a catastrophe Pompeiians hadn’t even imagined before,” Dr. Ellis explains. “Today, we have experience with natural disasters like hurricanes, fires and floods. For Pompeii, it was the explosion of a mountain that they never dreamed would occur. It was the end of their world.”

Simmons and Dr. Ellis hope guests will leave “Pompeii: The Exhibition” with a deeper understanding of the ancient world and how it connects to today’s society.

“There are cultural differences, but it’s amazing how similar people were 2,000 years ago compared to today,” Simmons says.

“By looking at these artifacts, I hope visitors recognize the incredible immediacy they have to an ancient world … an ancient person … an ancient city,” says Dr. Ellis. “They will come face to face with objects that were used by real people. People in Pompeii ate dinner off these plates and walked past these wall paintings every day. For us to see such extraordinary, real objects is quite special.”

Would you like to explore the ancient Roman city of Pompeii? “Pompeii: The Exhibition” opens Feb. 16 and will run through July 28. Visit for more information.

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