Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pompeii comes to the National Gallery of Art

The art of Pompeii has always fascinated me. The beautiful frescoes, marble statues and mosaics are what started my love affair with ancient Rome and with ancient art in particular. Pompeii and the surrounding area gives us some of the best examples of Roman art from any period. The disastrous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE was a tragedy for the inhabitants of the Bay of Naples, but a goldmine of art and culture for historians.

I saw a similar Pompeii exhibit in Chicago years ago, but the current exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C sounds even better than what I experienced. Pompeii still holds sway over people today because of the tragedy of life as well as the eerie completeness in which the city was preserved. I am glad to hear that Pompeii and the Roman Villa is more than strictly an art show; it tries to bring visitors into feeling like they are in a roman villa. Adding features to art museums to give patrons a more enriching experience is an issue I have talked about at length, and I feel that the success of Pompeii and the Roman Villa will only help reinforce my point.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ancient Cologne goes digital

Like many European cities, Cologne has a rich Roman history that lives more in the mind's eye than in actual physical form. A city like Cologne has been in constant occupation since Roman times, so the monuments left standing are usually few and far between. Most people associate Cologne with the Dom as opposed to the Roman-German Museum across the street. The latest project to come out of that museum hopefully will let visitors see ancient Cologne in a new, digital light.

Cologne, or Oppidum Ubiorum (Settlement of the Ubii) was founded in 39 BCE as a military base and Germanic colony. The settlement grew, eventually being renamed Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis (Colony of Claudius and the altar of Agrippina) during the reign of the emperor Claudius and was adorned with all the trappings of a Roman town. Perhaps the most infamous event in the history of ancient Cologne is the fact that it became the capitol of the short lived Gallic Empire.

The digital views of ancient Cologne are very impressive; be sure to check out the video. Using advanced technology in the study of the ancient world is nothing new, but it seems that new and innovative uses for technology are happening more and more in the fields of archaeology, history and related disciplines.

Another great project just announced is the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri from Duke University; again we see technology put to use for the study of the ancient world. This project is geared toward scholars as opposed to museum patrons, but the use of technology, especially the Internet in this case, is a great step in the right direction. I consider the Internet to be one of the greatest inventions of all time. Never in the history of mankind, has so much information and knowledge been so readily available to millions. The Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri is a great way to bring scholars together from around the world and spread knowledge, and the digital ancient Cologne project is a great way to bring people to the world of the past. Technology and ancient studies definitely have the ability to work together, and who knows what next great project we will see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Port of Rome gets a new look

Ostia, the port of Rome, has long been a tourist destination, if somewhat obscure. Though only a short trip from Rome, Ostia lacks the prestige and jaw dropping monuments of the Eternal City. It doesn't have the mystique and tragic aura of Pompeii. Nor does it have the imperial dignity and ostentatiousness of Tivoli. What Ostia lacks in tourist appeal is definitely made up for in its rich history, and anyone who ventures there will surely not be disappointed. Ostia is wonderfully preserved, mostly due to it's fading from history. There you will find an theater, beautiful frescoes and seemingly acres of mosaic floors. Rome, being too far up the Tiber to make it a port city, had Ostia as it's gateway to the sea. Ostia maintained it's position as the port of the largest city in the world until the construction of Portus just to its north, in the early second century CE. From then on, Ostia slowly declined until its eventual abandonment. Therefore, Ostia lacks the romance of the Pompeii disaster, but that doesn't mean it isn't an amazing site with wonderful architectural remains. That the Italian government has spent the money to restore the four buildings mentioned in the article below is great news. Judging from the slide show, the money has been well spent. As anyone who has studied Pompeii or even recently read a newspaper knows, open air sites like Ostia and Pompeii and extremely difficult to take care of. The elements take a huge toll on ancient sites, and constant maintenance and repair is required to keep them from disintegrating. Efforts like this restoration in Ostia is a great step, but only a small step towards protecting the past for the future. Recent news from Pompeii has shown us just how bad things can get when lack of funds and over site bring ruin upon an archaeological site. Perhaps the recent efforts at Ostia are a sign of things to come.