The morning of Aug. 24, 79 A.D., started out like any other, but by afternoon, clouds of ash from Mount Vesuvius completely covered the sky.
The devastating eruption spewed not just ash but pumice, rocks and hot volcanic gases into the air, crumbling and bringing ruin to the wealthy Roman city of Pompeii.
Most of the 25,000 residents fled to safety, but about 2,000 are believed to have perished in the rubble, buried beneath almost eight feet of hot ash — and frozen in time for 1,700 years.The ghostly ruins of the Roman city, long believed to be lost, were rediscovered just 250 years ago — villagers' preserved bodies (now in plaster cast) along with their homes, intricate artwork, lavish jewelry, formidable weapons and armor, and other tools and keepsakes from daily life.
Today, Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Italy's biggest tourist attractions, drawing 2.6 million visitors each year. It's considered to be one of the world's most important archaeological sites, along the lines with the pyramids, Stonehenge and Machu Picchu.
But if you can't make the trip to Pompeii in person, don't fear: OMSI's new, immersive Pompeii exhibit — which opened June 24 and runs through Oct. 22 — will transport you there and leave you filled with wonder.
Here are six big reasons to bring your kids this summer to "Pompeii: The Exhibition":
1. The 4-D film sets the stage for the story.
Vividly narrated, with 4-D effects for a virtual reality feel, the 4-D film will be a huge hit with older kids, but perhaps a tad scary for younger children. There also is a section on Pompeii's erotic art in the exhibit that may not be suitable for young children. Overall, however, there is a lot for children to learn here, and Exhibits International tells the story brilliantly, through use of audio, visual and a smartly designed two-story space that walks you through a typical Pompeii home and through their marketplace where they lived, worked, played and worshipped.
2. Quirky innovations make history stick.
Eyes from statues are made from animal bones; purple ink on a bust is made from harvested snail mucus. Coins — that look a lot like ours — were kept in vaselike piggy banks that were found alongside bodies, presumably demonstrating that people went back for their valuables, only to perish. People in Pompeii were innovative, using what they had — not all that different from how we are today, exhibit managers say. Their atrium was open-air, used to collect rainwater to water their gardens. Their tools and implements point to people who fully used what nature gave them — an abundance of fishing opportunities and fertile volcanic soil so their olives, lemon trees and grapes flourished, bringing wealth to their city. (They even ate while laying on their side, fanning themselves.) When kids learn details like this, their history lessons stick.
3. OMSI added two hands-on elements.
Known for its interactive STEM-focused learning opportunities, OMSI added two portions to the Pompeii exhibit that fit in nicely. A volcano field station — at the tail end of the exhibit, through the gift shop — lets kids see an actual head of a U.S. Geological Survey crane, used to explore volcanic activity. They get to see samples of various types of volcanic rock, and learn about volcanology in the Pacific Northwest. A mini design and engineering station sits within the exhibit, near the marketplace, giving kids a chance to build a Roman catenary arch with numbered foam blocks.
4. The Pacific Northwest sits in its own "ring of fire."
At 4,100 feet, Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano, overlooking the city of Naples on Italy's west coast. It's classified as a stratovolcano — or composite volcano — because it's built of layers of alternating lava flow, ash and blocks of stone. These volcanos have a conduit system inside that channels magma from deep in the Earth to the surface, and often erupts with great violence after pressure builds in the magma chamber. When the pressure is released, the gases explode. The famous Mount Vesuvius eruption was a pyroclastic flow, when enormous volumes of extremely hot gases, ash, and rocks rush down the side of a volcano, like an avalanche. Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens are both active stratavolcanos about 70 miles from Portland, and have experienced major eruptions, including pyroclastic flows, during the past several hundred years.
5. The chance to see priceless artifacts on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum.
These 200 artifacts are not replicas; they are the real thing, and for that reason most of the fragile, priceless pieces are under glass with motion-sensor alarms. Security cameras will keep an eye on the exhibit; and strollers are forbidden to prevent unnessary bumping. Bottom line: Look, but don't touch is the expectation here, but there's plenty of signage and even an audio tour to make it kid-friendly.
6. People haven't really changed that much at all.
There are three themes to the exhibit, OMSI president and CEO Nancy Stueber says. First, she says: "What was life like in Pompeii?" In a word, it was stunning. Archaeology is the science through which we are able to learn about these ancient worlds and apply it to what we know. Third, examining the story of Mount Vesuvius can shed light on our modern life, what we know about living in the shadow of our own active volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. Luckily, we have modern technology on our side.
For pricing and other exhibit details: http://www.omsi.edu.