Echos of an Ancient Tragedy comes to the Reagan Library | Pompeii Exhibit Opens

By Debra Tash

The video at the start of the exhibition

The Reagan Library hosted an opening reception for their new Pompeii exhibit on Friday October 5th 2018.  Curator Randy Swan introduced this very special collection that will be housed at the Library until April 21 2019.

Pompeii, a prosperous mercantile city located at the foot of Mount Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples, disappeared from human experience on August 25th 79 CE (Common Era).  The inhabitants had no idea that they were living in the shadow of an active volcano.  The region had suffered a devastating earthquake 17 years before the eruption on February 5, 62 CE.  The inhabitants had nearly rebuilt the cities around the bay when they were struck with an event similar to what happened to Mount St Helen in 1980.  Explosive in nature, spewing pumice and poisonous gases, the interruption started on August 24th.  Pliny the Younger, nephew of Pliny the Elder who was commander of the naval fleet in the region, would later pen an account of what happened, and how his uncle died in the eruption as he led a rescue operation along the bay.

Pompeii, unlike Herculean, which was buried by a single pyroclastic flow (super heated material traveling 60 to 100 miles per hour), was bombard with ash and rocks all day on August 24th. People were killed by falling debris, roofs collapsed under the weight of the material piled on top of them.  The air became thick with vapors from the volcano, making it difficult to breathe. Then, finally, Pompeii suffered its own pyroclastic flow, burying the city, by then in ruins, completely.

Lost to memory and known in the region as “The City” Pompeii was rediscovered in the 16th century and excavations began in 1748.

This current exhibit, as with the one the Reagan hosted on the Titanic, shows life at the moment of its destruction.

It begins with a brief introductory video.  Doors, done up in the style of the time, open to invite the visitor to explore a snapshot of the city before it was wiped away. Gardens, shops, gladiators and even the bawdy are all represented.

The shop


The hounds attack

The tools of everyday life

Then it’s to the 4D theater where you experience the final moments of what had once been a pleasant seaside port.

From the 4D Presentation

The final visual of the tour will take you to the bodies.  As excavators dug through the volcanic matrix they found voids.  In 1860 Giuseppe Fiorelli, Pompeii’s director of excavations, determined that those voids were left by the bodies of the victims of the eruption.  They had decayed, leaving behind an impression of who they were as the ash over the centuries had hardened into their tombs. 

Believed to be the body of a woman who may have been pregnant

A pet left behind to die

The Reagan is one of the most popular destination presidential libraries in the country, clocking in over 550,000 visitors per year.  Once again the Reagan Library brings a unique experience to Ventua County with this collection of 150 artifacts from the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy. 

A must see get the TICKETS HERE

Photos by Debra Tash

Debra Tash is Editor-in-Chief of, past president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, business executive and award-winning author, residing in Somis.

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