The intricate model of ancient Pompeii made from 190,000 Lego bricks.

Pompeii in plastic

Museum rebuilds ancient history in Lego

Dr Craig Barker

With more than 25,000 genuine artefacts from Egypt, the Middle East and the Mediterranean it might seem surprising that the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney would seek to display replicas of any sort.

Since 2012, however, the museum has commissioned professional Lego-builder Ryan McNaught to create three models of ancient sites from Lego blocks: the Colosseum of Rome, the Acropolis of Athens, and now the largest and most ambitious model: Lego Pompeii.

The museum has always been interested in exploring ways of engaging with new audiences, and this 2.4m x 1.8m model depicting Pompeii and our enduring fascination with it proves museums and fun need not be mutually exclusive.

The 190,000-brick work will be displayed at the Nicholson Museum throughout this year.

The museum’s Lego models are a joyous mixture of ancient and modern, with figures from antiquity standing next to representations of archaeologists and modern
sightseers.

Lego Pompeii has been constructed with students specifically in mind. The cities of Vesuvius are the core study of the Ancient History syllabus so the model can be used by visitors as fun way of entering into the ancient world before they explore the displays of genuine Roman archaeological material.

Students are offered the opportunity to access the city of Pompeii through the model in three ways: the Roman city as it stood before the fateful day of destruction in AD79 when the Vesuvius volcano exploded; the story of archaeological excavation from the 18th century until today; and the legacy of Pompeii in popular culture from Bulwer-Lytton’s novel The Last Days of Pompeii to the 2014 Hollywood film Pompeii.

Students will be able to explore key syllabus areas with Latin graffiti, Roman architectural elements and the differences between a slave and a patrician in Roman society — explored in the model.

The history of the rediscovery of the site is represented by archaeologists such as Fiorelli, Spinazzola and Maiuri along with contemporary researchers, some of whom have written the students’ textbooks. The model will ask students to ponder why this city destroyed almost 2000 years ago continues to fascinate not only historians and archaeologists but also writers, film-makers and the three million tourists who visit the site each year.

Craig Barker is the Manager, Education and Public Programs, Sydney University Museums.