When burning hot ash rained down and swirling clouds of toxic gases spewed out of Mount Vesuvius some 2000 years ago, the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were covered and forgotten.
Early last year I was travelling through southern Italy around Naples with a group of university classmates on a study trip visiting pasta makers, pizza bakers, wine growers and cheese makers. When Vesuvius came into view and road signs directed tourists to the world famous archeological sites of the two towns now partially uncovered, there was a buzz of excitement in coach. Unfortunately our tour didn’t include a diversion to these towns but did reignite my interest in the catastrophic events of CE79.
So, when the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England advertised its blockbuster ‘Last Supper in Pompeii’ exhibition, I had to go. I squeezed in a visit just before the New Year and there pressed my nose up to the glass cabinets holding the amazingly well preserved remnants of lives lost and a showing how people lived on a typical day on the shores of what is now known as The Bay of Naples in southern Italy.
Last Supper in Pompeii explored ancient Romans’ love affair with food and wine) showing where the Romans got their culinary inspiration and how they exported sophisticated ingredients and recipes across the empire, as far afield as Britain. Many of the 300 objects, on loan from Pompeii and Naples, had never before left Italy. They ranged from the spectacular furnishings of the Roman dining room to a loaf of bread and other foods carbonized as the volcano erupted.
The ‘Last Supper in Pompeii’ exhibition at the Ashmolean closed in early January, 2020. For more information go to www.ashmolean.org/exhibitions If you don’t make it to this exhibition, the museum is also hosting fascinating shows about the history of tea and coffee.
Images (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.jpg