A Tale of Two Pompeii – British Museum exhibition draws huge crowd, original site struggles with restorations, staying open


In 79 CE, in just 24 hours, the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum – two bustling Roman cities in the bay of Naples, were buried by a catastrophic eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius.

It took nearly 1700 years for the ancient sites to be “re-discovered” by archeologists. What they found was a remarkable snapshot of daily life in Roman cities in the first century – as it was “frozen in time” by the pyroclastic blasts of hot ash and debris.

Flash forward to today: The British Museum hosts “Life and Death in pompeii and Herculaneum” an exhibit of artifacts on loan from museums in Naples, and around the world, multimedia events, school outreach programs, lectures, films and even dedicated apps – and the exhibition is hailed as the show of the year, breaking attendance records. Meanwhile Pompeii – the archeological site, and one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites – struggles with a lack of funds for the preservation of the ruins, and with even staying open for visiting tourists. The site, which draws 2.5 million visitors a year, has suffered from the collapse in recent times of some of its most famous structures, and Italy seems unwilling to commit to a plan of preservation and development of one of its most famous cultural resources.

True, the economic crisis is trying Italy on all fronts; some archeological sites have been threatened with re-burial due to lack of funds for upkeep and preservation. It’s as if the politicians charged with protecting and managing Pompeii – and Italy’s amazing cultural heritage – over the last twenty years have adopted the mentality of the residents of the ancient city. Unable to accept the consequences of inaction, ignoring signs of impending collapse, focusing on Bunga Bunga … er, la Dolce Vita, unwilling to secure their own survival, or that of their culture.

The British Museum exhibition is sponsored, in part, by Goldman Sachs (!) experts in collapsing Mediterranean economies (see Greece) … proving that irony is indeed dead and buried under mountains of hot ashair. The archeological site was closed recently due to a poorly announced “Union Assembly” … which caused hour-long waits for the visitors who ultimately turned back and went home.

Just another example of how Italy seems unable – if not outright unwilling – to manage its inestimable patrimony of culture to its favor.


“Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”
British Museum
Until the 28th of September, 2013
“Advance Booking Essential”

Visit the British Museum site for more information on its myriad initiatives in place to visit, explore, research, learn about, and support the star exhibition.
We link to the museum site here.

Read more about the history of the ancient city of Pompeii on the Wikipedia article, linked here.

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