Suomen kansallismuseo

Escape from Pompeii – a snapshot of a rich culture in a moment of devastation

Opening at the Maritime Museum of Finland, the Escape from Pompeii exhibition highlights the splendour of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the everyday lives of their residents and their fate in the face of the natural disaster. The exhibition also tells the rarely heard story of the Roman fleet’s daring attempt to save the cities’ residents from destruction. The exhibition will be open at Maritime Centre Vellamo in Kotka from 31 March to 1 October 2023.

The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The ash that buried the two cities and their residents ensured that Pompeii is one of the best-reserved archaeological sites in the world.

This year marks 275 years since the start of the cities’ archaeological excavations. Beneath a layer of pebbles and ash several metres thick, new evidence of advanced culture and life as it was almost 2,000 years ago is still being discovered today.

“Pompeii is exceptional because it has given us a wealth of insight into the everyday life of an ordinary city and a snapshot of the life of the Roman middle class in the moments before the disaster,” says Head of Exhibitions Minerva Keltanen.

A bread left in the oven and plaster casts of the victims buried under the ashes

The exhibition includes a total of 160 original items from the museums of Naples and the collections of the National Museum of Finland. They include marine archaeological findings, jewellery, murals, mosaics and sculptures, all of which give evidence of a rich culture and a glorious lifestyle.

There are also plaster casts of some of the victims burier under ash. “The bodies are in the position they were in when Vesuvius erupted. In 1863, Giuseppe Fiorelli, who led the excavations, came up with the idea of pouring plaster into the cavities left by the bodies. Once the ashes were removed, the shapes of the bodies and even the facial expressions could be captured,” Keltanen says.

“What is interesting is how well all the details have been preserved to this day. The exhibition even includes bread that was baking in the oven when the volcano erupted,” says Curator Erik Tirkkonen from the Maritime Museum of Finland.

The collections of the National Museum of Finland include items brought by Finnish sailors and researchers. One of these is a small phallic amulet donated by a collector. Its protective power was associated with fertility and vitality, but at the same time, obscenity was thought to cause shame and ridicule, thus turning the evil eye away from its bearer.

Marine archaeological finds are also on display, such as the rostrum, a ramming head at the front of a ship used in warfare. “In practice, this worked by steering a warship towards an enemy ship and ramming into it, which caused the enemy ship to sink,” Tirkkonen says.

Daring sea operation to rescue residents

The Escape from Pompeii exhibition also tells the rarely told story of the Roman fleet’s daring attempt to save the people of Pompeii.  

”The rescue operation, involving some 12 ships, was started by naturalist and soldier Pliny the Elder. Although the operation turned out fatal for Pliny, the story is still remembered thanks to his nephew Pliny the Younger,” Tirkkonen says.

Guided tours, the archaeologist’s sandbox and Pompeii’s ornate gardens

During the exhibition, guided tours and public lectures will be available for visitors.

Postdoctoral researcher Samuli Simelius will give a lecture on the decorative gardens of Pompeii and the research on them on 19 April at 17:00. The lecture will also be streamed online.

Lunch meetings on Thursdays 20 April and 18 May at 11:30–12 will include a tour of the exhibition, providing an insight into everyday life in Pompeii.

The programme also includes activities for children and schools. In the summer, all children aged 7 to 12 can attend a guided workshop in the archaeologist’s sandbox, where they will explore the sand for bones and artefacts. The archaeologist’s sandbox is open every day from 5 June to 28 July at 11:00 and 14:30. Free-of-charge remote tour for schools will take place on 15 May at 12.

Between 27 June and 13 August 2023, guided tours are available from Tuesday to Sunday at 12:00–12:30. The rest of the exhibition programme will be updated later.

Guided tours and public events are included in the entrance fee. Entry is always free for those under 18.

The exhibition was produced by the Italian Expona and Contemporanea Progetti in collaboration with the National Museum of Finland, and it is implemented as a collaboration between the Maritime Museum of Finland and Kymenlaakso Museum. The exhibition is based on an exhibition concept designed for the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The Escape from Pompeii exhibition is open from 31 March to 1 October 2023 at Maritime Centre Vellamo (Tornatorintie 99, Kotka).



– Until 14 April: Curator Erik Tirkkonen, Maritime Museum of Finland, tel. +358 (0)295 33 6494,
– Head of Exhibitions Minerva Keltanen, National Museum of Finland, tel. +358 (0)295 33 6463,
– From 15 April: Curator of Education Johanna Aartomaa, The Maritime Museum of Finland +358 (0)295 33 6486,



About Suomen kansallismuseo

Suomen kansallismuseo on valtakunnallinen kulttuurihistorian museo, joka ylläpitää ja kehittää kulttuurihistorian kokoelmiaan, edistää kulttuuriperinnön tutkimusta ja käyttöä, sekä tarjoaa näyttely- ja yleisöpalveluja museokohteissaan ympäri maan: Kansallismuseo, Seurasaaren ulkomuseo, Tamminiemi, Suomen merimuseo, Langinkoski, Hvitträsk, Louhisaari, Vankila, Hämeen linna ja Olavinlinna. Yhteiskunnallisena keskustelijana ja alan kansainvälisenä vaikuttajana toimiva Suomen kansallismuseo on osa opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön alaista Museovirastoa.

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