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July 26, 2021
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A brief visit to Pompeii

  • "Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave" installation at the Legion of Honor. Photography by Gary Sexton

By: Bill Hanson
July 9, 2021

A very satisfying day trip, the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, is a short forty-five minute drive from Rohnert Park. Traffic tip, set your GPS to turn right almost on the apron just past the toll booth complex. This way you will wind your way via the scenic, much faster route with heart stopping vistas of the Golden Gate and the Pacific. If you do miss the plaza turn-off and find yourself on the way to SFO through the tunnel and turning right on Clement St., miles of four way stops. Go the two blocks to Geary, turn right and drive towards Japan. Watch for the signs to the Lincoln Golf Course, just two streets to your right. 

Parking on the plaza in front of the Legion and along the coast-side is free, a real benefit for San Francisco. The trek up the front steps is breathtaking, stop and turn around for a glimpse of the remarkable beauty of this unique spot. Inside the plaza are sculptures by noted African artist Wangiche Mutu, bizarre and captivating at the same time. More of her works are inside meshed with the Rodin exhibit. The first display of her work in the plaza are two well-dressed customers under an automotive rubber mat, two people after they get the estimate for needed car repairs comes to mind.

Masks are required during your visit. Entrance fees can be a bit steep for a self-guided tour: Adults are $30 each, discounts are steep for the very young and the not so very old. If you are a museum member you already know admittance is free for members and one guest, membership is a great deal and lasts for a year from purchase date, senior citizens pay $70 for a full year at the Legion of Honor and the fantastic de Young museum including that important free guest. Visit the museum website to learn more: famsf.org. Do rent the audio tour for $7, used best with your own ear buds and cell phone. This day trip is not youngster friendly, really boring for little ones.

In the downstairs exhibit: The Last Supper in Pompeii slowly comes back to life. If you have never heard of Pompeii and the sister city of Herculaneum, they were buried in a pyroclastic eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius. On a fine morning in 79 A.D. the volcano erupted, first with a cloud of gaseous, choking, sandy ejecta. Those who survived the first explosion sought refuge in their house or in any basement, cave or rocky shelter they could find. In a rapid series of strong earthquakes shook much of the town to rubble. Then in a chain of eruptions, Vesuvius coughed out waves of fine gravel, still red hot from the lava. It is in this seaside, sunny vacation spot on, still beautiful, Bay of Naples, that life was quickly cut short. The remains of some of the city, parts not totally buried, were plundered over the following centuries, the seaside cities were buried deeper in eruptions in 471 and again in 512. Mostly forgotten interest was piqued by digs in the mid-1750s, more digs in the 1800s revealed the Roman city frozen in time. Occupants, their pets, food and everyday artifacts were revealed with each renewed dig. 

The peek into life on that day is a profound insight into ancient realities. The subject is wide and detailed. Many books have been written on the two cities and the surrounding villas and small towns buried on that day nearly two thousand years ago. The exhibit at the Legion of Honor is available through the end of August. Focused on the everyday food and its preparation, statuary relics, wall paintings, beautiful mosaics and carbonized food are presented for your close inspection. The last room is focused on an individual, ‘The Resin Lady.’ The remains of a woman from Villa B at Oplontis. Archaeologists discovered her body, encapsulated in fine layers of volcanic ash. They filled the cavity with epoxy resin and chipped away the solid ash shell. Seeing her in painful repose, the feeling is eerie, as though you are intruding on her privacy. She was buried with jewelry and other artifacts she carried that day. Maybe the two thousand years gives us the right to intrude on her peace. 

References; Wikipedia, Google images, Last Supper in Pompeii, a special reference book made for the exhibit, The first hand observation by one of the few survivors, Pliny the younger and other historical material.