Showing posts with label Pompeii. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pompeii. Show all posts

October 16, 2016

Dear Tourists, Remember the motto: “Take only pictures, leave only memories.”

Its an age old adage, a memorable saying which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people: 

Always leave things a little better than when you arrived. Take only pictures, leave only memories. You'll be happy you did

But for some tourists, building memories includes acts of selfish vandalism. 

This week, yet again, tourists have tried to chip away at what remains of the city of Pompeii. As if surviving an earthquake, only to be completely enveloped by the volcanic ash of a volcano wasn't insult enough, two Dutch tourists have brazenly walked off with part of a fresco from one of the most poignant villas of Pompeii.

La Casa della Venere in Bikini 
Nicked from the House of Julia Felix aka La Casa della Venere in Bikini (the House of Venus in a bikini); the villa dates to between AD 62 and 79, and stands on the well-trafficked via dell'Abbondanza.  The villa was reopened to the public this past winter following substantial conservation efforts as the site has already been subject to disrepair and predation. 

After the earthquake struck Pompeii in 62 A.D the owner of this extravagant home, the daughter of Spurius, decided to repurpose her villa, transforming portions of it into apartments, a workshop and a public bathhouse. The home's triclinium had beds made of marble and the bathing complex included an outdoor pool, a calidarium, a tepidarium and a frigidarium.  The villa and its amenities were converted most likely to ease the housing shortage caused by the earthquake and to profit from the fact that Pompeii's Forum and Stabian Baths were undergoing renovations. 



We know the history of the villa's renovations from a notice painted on the façade which read “elegant bathing facilities, shops with annexed apartments upstairs and independent apartments on the first floor are offered for rent to respectable people”.

Its doubtful that Julia Felix would have considered momento-grabbing tourists as respectable.  

Generally speaking, marauding tourists taking more than just selfies hardly take the time to comprehend what it is they are walking away with, perhaps wondering as many do, why the Italian authorities can't seem to find a way to secure a site so beautiful, yet so vulnerable to vandalism. 

One thing is for certain, when visiting sites like these, it is already difficult enough to imagine them in their former glory.  One already has to use one's imagination to understand how spacious and luxurious the place must have been, even by Pompeian standards, when so much has had to be carted off, in part for safekeeping and preservation in part for spoils. 


The thieves probably weren't aware that at one time the villa was dramatically adorned with wall paintings, two of which are now on permanent exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris.  The statuette for which the house is nicknamed, is also long missing from the site.  It's on display in the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet) of Italy's National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The gallery houses overly-naughty objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum once considered too erotic in nature for the general museum population. 


Spotted by a tour guide, who grabbed the 8 cm by 8 cm stolen fresco fragment from the culprits and notified the authorities, the two tourists have been charged with attempted grand larceny. 

Italian Newspaper Il Mattino reports that when confronted the tourist tried to tell the authorities 


This is not the first theft at Pompeii, nor is it likely to be the last. 

3 million tourists set foot in Pompeii every year.  Visitors need to remember that they have no right to desecrate ruins for their short term gain. If everyone takes away "a momento", even if found on the ground, in one hundred year's time there will not be a Pompeii - just a pile of rubble.





March 6, 2016

A Morbid Fascination: Should Human Remains Still be on Display?


By Aubrey Catrone, 2015 ARCA alumna 

“‘Stolen from death.’ The Casts. The Photography.” main exhibit, panoramic view, Image Credit: Countdown Blog
For centuries, civilizations have been built around religion. And, with religion comes burial rituals. Yet, it is these rituals that intimate humans, as a species, are perpetually haunted by the uncertainty of what comes after death. Burial rituals spanning the mummification of the Ancient Egyptians to the funeral rights of modern day Catholics reveal a belief in afterlife for which the deceased must be prepared. However, human remains themselves serve as a reminder of the brevity of individual lives. They represent the only tangible knowledge of the afterlife: decomposition. Perhaps it is this mystery that fuels our interest in the physical remnants of life.

Hordes of tourists pour into the city of Pompeii each year to explore not only a lost city but also the havoc wreaked by the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. It is this inexplicable lure to death and destruction that elucidates a disconcerting aspect of humanity. My sojourn to the archaeological site, during the Summer of 2015, revealed patrons unperturbed by advertisements for their special exhibit, “‘Stolen from death.’ The casts. The photography.” Throughout the park, larger than life posters depicted the writhing bodies of those who died in the eruption of 79 AD. In their palpable anticipation to reach the “main event,” I witnessed tourists captivated by the plaster casts found throughout the ruins of the UNESCO site. They jeered and pointed at the bodies strewn about haphazardly or encased in glass as if taunting a circus freak show. There was no reprieve from the glorification of suffering when wandering through the city. 


“Stolen from Death’s" main exhibit was housed within a temporary, wooden pyramid constructed in the community’s amphitheater. Patrons, corralled by metal railings leading directly inside, were forced to enter the structure. Recessed into the floor, visitors walked around nearly twenty casts. The centerpiece: a family huddled together in fear. The parents and two children clung to each other, forever frozen awaiting their horrific fate. And, while most of the facial expressions of their contemporaries were muddled by the materials in which they have been preserved, if one looked closely enough, a few found their way through time. Their pain and fear are etched into eternity. Visitors could not tear themselves away, enthralled by the history of destruction set before them. 

Special exhibition centerpiece, Image Credit Jess Kamphuis.

The manner in which the deceased were arranged throughout the site raises a number of ethical questions. In the case of Pompeii, the very process of creating the casts provides archeologists with another clue into the life of Pompeii during 79 AD; yet, it must be examined in relation to the current international policies regarding the exhibition of human remains. 

According to The Guardian article from October 2010, entitled Museums avoid displaying human remains ‘out of respect,’” “Museums are increasingly getting cold feet about exhibiting human bodies and body parts - despite surveys showing the public is fascinated and quite untroubled by such displays.” This assertion is primarily rooted in the 2009 English Heritage survey, entitled “Research Into Issues Surrounding Human Remains,” which sought to gain a greater understanding of popular opinions. The article also contends that pagan groups, such as Pagans for Archaeology and Honouring the Ancient Deadare largely responsible for advocating the proper treatment of human remains. In response to such advocation, museums and institutions have been known to amend their exhibits as well as repatriate remains, in an attempt to satiate the cultural needs of the deceased. However, if taken to the extreme, it could ultimately hinder research and scientific study. As museums, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to reevaluate their policies, the general public persists in their morbid fascination with the dead. 

The aforementioned survey seeks to understand the phenomena of our fascination with the dead. Of the 864 British citizens surveyed, ages eighteen and older, 91% of participants believe human remains should be displayed. The same 91% also agree that remains should be retained by museums for research purposes. However, these numbers begin to vary when the age of the remains is brought into question. Polling reveals participant approval decreases when the deceased can be “identified by name” or if their direct descendants are still living. Perhaps it is the age of the remains that dictates the current policies regarding their presentation to the public. This is further illustrated by the Museums Association’s page, “Ethical Debate: Human Remains.” While acknowledging that there is little published regarding visitor opinions, they draw from data that suggests visitors are comfortable with seeing properly preserved human remains. For, the Museum Association also confirms visitor comfort directly correlates to the age of the remains on display. The younger they are, the more likely one would have to grapple with the idea of living descendants as well as cultural traditions for burial and finding peace that have been overlooked.

Pompeii’s special exhibit, temporary pyramid, Image Credit: lablog


This trend towards restricting the exhibition of younger remains is particularly exemplified by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). According to the NMAI’s website, they believe “that the respectful treatment and disposition of human remains is a basic human right.” The institution is committed to returning all remains to “their lineal descendants, regardless of geography and sociopolitical borders.” At the same time, the British Museum’s July 2013 “Human Remains Policy” requires the museum to justify the retention of remains that have living relatives or hail from an existing cultural community. However, the British Museum policy also enumerates the “benefits of retaining human remains.” Through the study and display of the long dead, we are afforded a glimpse into how other societies interpreted death. We are offered the opportunity to compare their rituals to our own. Also, if the remains have been physically modified, they may provide context to other artifacts within the Collection.

Ultimately, human remains have the power to advance the understanding and study of past cultures, particularly when held by museums and other cultural institutions. However, at what price does man’s morbid fascination come? The entire civilization of Pompeii was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. There are no identifiable, direct descendants. No one is left to advocate that their cultural beliefs be upheld. Rather, their anonymous and collective pain is immortalized in the plaster casts molded from the holes in which they died. Does mere anonymity signify that we have less of a moral obligation to those whose names have been lost to time? If this is the case, then I hope my name lives long enough to prevent me from becoming just another set of bones encased in glass, laid bare for the world to see. 

Sources Cited:

British Museum. “British Museum Policy: Human Remains in the Collection.” Accessed January 31, 2016. https://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/Human%20Remains%20policy%20July%202013%20FINAL.pdf.

British Museum. “Human remains policy.” Accessed January 31, 2016. http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/management/human_remains/policy.aspx.

English Heritage. “Research into Issues Surrounding Human Remains.” June 2009. Accessed January 30, 2016. www.babao.org.uk/index/cms-filesystem-action/eh%20opinion_survey_report.pdf.

Honouring the Ancient Dead. Accessed February 1, 2016. http://www.honour.org.uk.

Kennedy, Maev. “Museums avoid displaying human remains ‘out of respect.’” The Guardian, October 25, 2010. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/oct/25/museums-human-remains-display.

Museums Association. “Ethical Debate: Human Remains.” Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.museumsassociation.org/ethics/12695.

Museums Association. “Human remains in museums.” Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/8125.

National Museum of the American Indian. “Repatriation.” Accessed January 29, 2016. http://nmai.si.edu/explore/collections/repatriation/.

Pagans for Archaeology. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://archaeopagans.blogspot.com/.

February 26, 2015

Pompeii frescos found in garage in Southern California to be returned to Italy

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Editor

San Diego, California - The 10News Digital Team for ABC's 10 News reported yesterday "Stolen art recovered in Del Mar among objects being returned to Italian government". Three frescos and an asks from a private collector (the Allen E. Paulson Trust" were discovered by the U.S. Immigration and Custom's Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in 2012: the current owner "forfeited the items" to the US government to be returned to the Italian government, Channel 10 reported. The items were likely illegally dug up in Pompeii and then sold to an American buyer, according to the US government.


September 26, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - ,, 1 comment

Review of theater screening of "Pompeii from the British Museum": expert guides provide insight to exhibit

by Eleanor Edwards, Special Contributor

Last night, September 25, theaters all around the United States screened "Pompeii from the British Museum", an 'exclusive private view of a major exhibition'. The show was excellent and in many ways better than the “in person” experience.

This special screening did not include the shoulder to shoulder crowd experience of visiting the British Museum in person. Instead the audience was shown around the empty exhibit space by leading experts in various fields related to the study of the Roman Empire.

The exhibit emphasizes the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The objects exhibited are meant to evoke an appreciation of both the ordinary working people and the more privileged. What did these people think about, how did they get ready for the day, what did they eat, how did they pass their leisure hours, how did they live in their houses? The exhibit itself is laid out like a typical home of a more privileged Pompeiian.

The introduction to the exhibit was made by Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, who pointed out the interesting motif of the dog that runs throughout the exhibit and serves as a common reference between the viewer and the residents of this ill-fated household.

Mary Beard, Classicist from Cambridge, took us around the the cubiculum (bedroom) and discussed the more intimate thoughts, dreams and desires of the residents. This provided a brief look into the possible ways of looking at particular objects of art displayed in the home (much made of the propensity for “willy waving” among the men of the time). But what Professor Beard brought to this experience was her unbridled enthusiasm and excitement for the subject. It was great fun to look at the exhibit with her.

At the British Museum in August, I found it was almost impossible to see and take in the relevance of each object so one tact was to choose a few favorites to swoop in on when there was a break in the crowd. For me those were the kitchen items. This behind the scenes presentation certainly added to my previous enjoyment of those objects when taken around by the Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli. We could really appreciate the beauty of everyday objects like a colander and the ferocity of the dormouse, a favorite delicacy.

One area that I completely missed was the display of items found in the drains of Herculaneum. Being show these items by the resident drains expert, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, brought real immediacy to what had been an overlooked display. He also brought up the controversial question regarding the continued excavation of the site versus the view that, for now, the focus should be the conservation of what has been already uncovered.

In 90 minutes, through both reenactments and expert analysis, Pompeii from the British Museum provided an engaging look at this exhibit. While not every item is examined, and a few favorites are notably missing, this event is well worth attending whether of not you have been to the British Museum exhibit.

The British Museum also has an application for iPhones and iPads, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Here's a link to the museum's exhibit which closes on September 29.

Fathom Events will show "Vermeer and Music" at theaters on October 10, 2013.

September 25, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - ,,, No comments

Fathom Events Presents "Pompeii from the British Museum" in US Theaters Tonight Only

"Pompeii from the British Museum" will be screened in dozens of theaters throughout the United States tonight. Here's a link to Fathom Events to purchase tickets. The British Museum produced this film about their exhibit, "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum" (closing September 29). Here's a link to the worldwide listings of this event.

August 9, 2013

Report from ARCA in Amelia: More on the Pompeii field class, Napoli, and courses by Valerie Higgins and Dick Ellis

Painting of Amelia
 by A. M. C Knutsson
by Sophia Kisielewska, ARCA Intern

Extremely early on Sunday morning a large proportion of the ARCA class gathered outside the town walls of Amelia to wait for the bus that would take them to Pompeii. 

Other members of the class had taken a train two days earlier to enjoy at the great sights of Naples. High on everyone’s agenda seemed to be the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli; Caravaggio’s spectacular ‘The Seven Acts of Mercy’ at the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia; Napoli Sottoterranea (underground); and above all a pizza from one of the three classic Neapolitan pizzerias: Da Michele, Di Matteo and Sorbillo.

The class caught up with these students at the gates of Pompeii at around 11 a.m. After a much needed cup of coffee, the reunited class entered the site and met up with Crispin Corrado, ARCA’s academic director and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Classical Archaeology at The University of California, Rome Study Center. Dr. Corrado led the students around the site, successfully keeping everyone distracted from the desert heat. She explained how the inhabitants of Pompeii had been living at the time of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 AD and the history of the site since its discovery in 1748 by Spanish Engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. Later in the afternoon we visited the villa at Oplontis situated in the heart of the Mafia district, but a beautiful spot regardless. After this we all hopped back on the coach to return to Amelia. It was perhaps both the most beautiful and the most exhausting day yet.

Walking in Pompeii
Monday morning saw the arrival of the first British lecturer of the week, Valerie Higgins, the Associate Professor and Chair of Archaeology and Classics at the American University of Rome. Dr. Higgins teaches courses in Roman archaeology and history; ancient art; archaeological method and theory; funerary archaeology and human remains. Her personal research focuses on the role of archaeology in contemporary society covering aspects such as trafficking of antiquities; contemporary approaches to human remains; heritage in conflict situations; and the role of heritage in contemporary Rome. Her ARCA course, Antiquities and Identity, touched upon many of these topics. The primary focus of Day One was to assess how far the current issues of repatriation and disputed legal ownership are the result of the archaeology practices of the past and how contemporary attitudes to heritage are consequently changing, bringing new challenges to the field. To fully understand this problem, we were required to know a little more about the history of the field and this began with a lecture on the growth of antiquarianism and collecting from the time of Raphael. 

With a limited number of archeology trained students this summer, everyone was captivated by Day Two’s lectures in which Dr. Higgins explained the different archeological methods. A run through of the controversial debates that surround archeology in today’s climate was the heart of discussions during Wednesday’s lectures.

Mark & Laura renew vows at Palazzo Farrattini
Midway through this intense series of lectures, ARCA students and staff joined their classmate Mark and his wife of five years, Laura, at a ceremony to renew their marital vows at sunset in the beautiful garden at Palazzo Farrattini. It was a fantastic event and a welcome opportunity to relax and forget the murky world of art crime.

After lunch on Wednesday, Richard "Dick" Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad and current Director of Art Management Group, began the last course of the program, Art Policing and Investigation. Mr. Ellis brings an unparalleled level of expertise and field experience to the ARCA classroom. In his first class, Mr. Ellis directed the non-law enforcement figures in the room through the structure of police services around the world and their differing contributions towards the protection and recovery of stolen art.


The following two mornings, through a series of case studies, often ones that Mr. Ellis was closely involved in, the class learned the common reasons why art is targeted by criminals. We also understood, through such case studies, how large a role the global art market plays in aiding these criminals. The myth that art is stolen by the order of Thomas Crown-figures was immediately dismissed, and any sense of glamour evaporated as we were instantly made aware of the rather more sinister figures that govern the illicit art trade.

August 2, 2013

Report from ARCA in Amelia: Dorit Straus teaches "Insurance Claims and the Art Market"; Erik Nemeth finishes course on cultural security; and students visit Pompeii and Oplontis with Acting Academic Director Crispin Corrado

Dorit Straus
by Summer Kelley-Bell, ARCA Intern

This week brought us the amazing Dorit Straus, who taught "Insurance Claims and the Art Market".  Until her recent retirement, Ms. Straus worked as the Worldwide Fine Art Specialty Manager for Chubb Personal Insurance. Prior to that, she studied archaeology at Hebrew University and worked in a variety of different museums. The combination of these two careers meant that Ms. Straus was able to offer us a truly unique classroom experience. Her class was shorter than most, a mere two and a half days to the usual five, but by the end the students were clamoring for more time. Through her, we learned about the complexities involved in insuring different types of collections and the steps that are taken in the event of a loss. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that her class was the sleeper hit of the summer. Who would have guessed that art insurance could be so fascinating? In this case, I think we owe a lot to our professor. Ms. Straus was able to distill the important concepts of the art insurance world in understandable and interesting ways. Towards the end of her section, she had the class split into groups to create our own insurance situation. This process helped to solidify the ideas we had been presented with in class and was an excellent means of studying for Straus’ final test. 

Ms. Straus’ class was offset by the end of Dr. Erik Nemeth’s section on cultural security. For the end this class, we looked at the idea of legalizing the trade in antiquities as a possible way of stopping destruction of sites. This sparked intense debate among the students and led to some rather entertaining class discussions. Dr. Nemeth’s class finished up with an epic exam where students were asked to find a way to encourage different groups of people to care about art crime. We were told to come up with a project and try to find funding for it in sectors that do not usually work within the art world. It worked well as a way to sum up everything Dr. Nemeth had been teaching us about interdisciplinary collaboration and how it can be used to help protect art.

"Ducks" of Oplontis
We finished out the week with a trip to Pompeii and Oplontis, led by the always amazing Dr. Crispin Corrado. Dr. Corrado, an archaeologist based out of Rome, gave us a guided tour unlike any other.  We learned about Pompeii: from its humble beginnings, to its fiery end. A few of the students even took a side trip to the House of the Fawn and the Villa of Mysteries. The villa especially was a big hit as it is so beautifully preserved. After a brief break for lunch, we head over to the villa at Oplontis, where I had a minor fit over some very small paintings of ducks. The villa is filled with fantastic frescoes—the reds and golds remain so vibrant that it almost hurts your eyes to look at them. For me though, the most amazing paintings were the hallway frescoes. These simple paintings, which were made to look like marble, have an unassuming boarder of small animals: deer, panthers, and ducks.  The ducks, while of no real importance and placed so high on the wall as to be almost invisible, illustrated for me the love that went into decorating this house.  It was a home, one to which people surely wanted to return.   

For years scholars believed that this sea facing villa was uninhabited at the time of the eruption as there were no human remains found in the Villa "A" portion of the structure.  Even so, walking through its many rooms gave me a very real sense of their presence.  This viewpoint changed dramatically when researchers discovered 54 skeletons in one of the large ground-floor rooms in the Villa "B" portion of the site, an area that opens onto the southern portico.  Here, men, women and children, some rich, others apparently not, had gathered to wait, perhaps hoping rescue from the unfolding tragedy would come from the sea.

The fact that we can still learn new things from a site such as Oplontis over the course of many years  underscores why we need to not only protect sites such as this from decay, but to continue studying them.  We can learn many things about our past from Oplontis and its marvelous ducks and if we teach people about the importance of preservation instead of just herding tourists through by the thousands, we might be able to protect our cultural heritage long enough to uncover even more important discoveries about our past.   

I have learned to love the villa at Oplontis and I will never look at ducks, or those who painted them, the same again.

August 12, 2012

Back to the Ancients: A Class Trip to Oplontis and Pompeii

 The villa at Oplontis
By Kirsten Hower,
 ARCA European Correspondent

 Last Sunday, the ARCA class of 2012 ventured south of Rome to explore two ancient Roman archaeological sites that are currently preserved and used as tourist attractions: Oplontis and Pompeii. Of the two, Pompeii is the more internationally recognized by a broader audience, whereas Oplontis is one of the best kept secrets of Torre Annunziata. Both make for practical and interesting trips for the ARCA students: both are archaeological sites that the Italian state is preserving while also keeping them open to the public for educational purposes. This was a chance for the students to see, in practice, the different circumstances of sites that are viable both scholastically and economically.

Pompeii, 1900, Brooklyn Museum Archives
We were incredibly lucky to have an amazing guide for both sites, Dr. Crispin Corrado who is the founding instructor of the Brown University program in Rome, who gave a historical background of anything and everything pertinent to both sites: a brief history of Rome and these two sites, background for each site, explanations of the architectural structures, etc. A veritable font of information, Crispin was very animated and informative, bringing the sites to life while leading the students around under the hot summer sun.

Though Pompeii is always a popular spot for students, Oplontis has, perhaps, deeper connections with what the students study during the semester. Not only is the villa important for examining practiced methodology of preserving a ‘functional’ cultural site, but it also has ties with a now famous controversy of the Medici dossier. One of the rooms at Oplontis, which features some of best preserved Roman walls paintings still in situ, had a fresco detached from the walls in the 1970s which then entered the illegal art market, where it found a place on the Medici dossier. In 2008, the same fresco was recovered by police at a private residence in Paris.

First century Roman wall paintings
 were removed from a room
much like this one at Oplontis
The trip to Oplontis and Pompeii was a great success, giving the students a day to wander through archaeological sites and to gain an on-site perspective of the pros and cons of preserving a site of historical importance for the interest of both scholars and the public. Hopefully this site visit will continue to be a success in future years of the ARCA summer certificate program.