Frozen in Time

images courtesy of Arizona Science Center

Forgotten for centuries after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and then rediscovered over 250 years ago, POMPEII: THE EXHIBITION at Arizona Science Center features nearly 200 artifacts, including frescoes, mosaics and precious items belonging to the residents of ancient Pompeii.

Stone roadway in Pompeii, Italy. © Danilo Ascione/Fotolia

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town located near modern-day Naples, in the Campania region of Italy. When neighboring Mount Vesuvius erupted, the town and villas in the surrounding area were mostly destroyed and buried under approximately 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice.

Historians believe that Pompeii was founded in the late 6th century B.C. and became a Roman colony in 80 B.C. At the time of its destruction, the town’s population was estimated to be 11,000 people. By all accounts, the city plan was quite advanced; complete with a complex water system, an amphitheater, a gymnasium and a bustling seaside port.

On August 24, 79 A.D. the city of Pompeii was frozen in time. The catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius decimated the city, burying all its inhabitants and their belongings under tons of ash. The volcanic debris remarkably provided a sealant, blocking out air and moisture, leaving objects buried beneath the town well-preserved for almost 2,000 years. Once excavated, these artifacts provided a wealth of source material and evidence for analysis, giving an extraordinarily detailed insight into the daily life in Pompeii.

Today, Pompeii has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, drawing over 2.5 million visitors every year.


Arizona Science Center invites guests to travel back in time. POMPEII: THE EXHIBITION will transport you to the bustling commercial port and strategic military and trading center of ancient Pompeii. Opening on November 18, this blockbuster exhibit examines life in Pompeii both before and after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Chevy Humphrey, the Hazel A. Hare President and CEO of Arizona Science Center says,”POMPEII: THE EXHIBITION promises to be one of the most significant and immersive international exhibitions to fill the Science Center’s Sybil B. Harrington Galleries.”

Over 200 precious artifacts are on loan from the unparalleled collection of the Naples National Archaeological Museum ( MANN). On view will be wall-sized frescoes, mosaics, marble and bronze sculptures, jewelry, statues, helmets, weapons and ancient Roman coins. These authentic treasures will help guests to visualize how Pompeii’s residents lived, loved, worked, worshipped and celebrated.

Also included, in perhaps the most powerful portion of the exhibition, are exquisite body casts of adults and children that vividly communicate the emotions of the victims.


POMPEII: THE EXHIBITION begins with a video that introduces visitors to the ancient town. Guests will journey through Pompeii where they will encounter scenes from a Roman villa, explore the busy streets and crowded marketplace, visit a temple and theater, and, of course, stop by the town’s Roman baths.

Then, in an immersive 4D theater, complete with vivid sights, sounds and shaking ground, visitors will witness the fury of Vesuvius to truly experience the impact this natural disaster had on Pompeii.

The exhibition will culminate with the reveal of authentic full body casts of human forms, poignantly dramatizing the impact of the extreme heat and noxious gases that left them forever frozen in time. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position in which each person died.

“POMPEII: THE EXHIBITION has received rave reviews across the country and we are thrilled to be able to introduce it to our community in Arizona.” said Humphrey. “From the authenticity of the Roman town to the emotional impact of the body casts, this exhibition is truly unforgettable.”


In 1819, King Francis( Ruler of the Two Sicilies) visited the Pompeii exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN) with his wife and daughter. He was so embarrassed by the erotic artwork that he ordered it locked away in a so-called secret cabinet (gabinetto segreto), a gallery within the museum accessible only to “people of mature age and respected morals”.

Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, the Naples Secret Museum was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s and was finally re-opened for viewing in 2000. Minors are still allowed entry only in the presence of a guardian or with written permission from an adult.

A separate portion of the exhibit will feature several works of this erotic art that depict a replica of a Pompeiian brothel. Parental guidance is advised for this separate section of the exhibition, which is not suitable for all ages.


A world-class museum located in the heart of the city, MANN houses one of the most important collections of classical archaeology in the world. A large number of artifacts from the Pompeii are preserved there.  Set in the massive 16th century palace Palazzo degli Studi, the Museum was founded by Ferdinand IV in 1777. Formed from the discoveries from the Vesuvian excavations and his family’s extensive collection of art and Roman antiquities, the museum now holds over three million objects of archaeological and historic importance.

Through May 28
Arizona Science Center