Back in 79 AD, life for the sophisticated people of Pompeii was pretty good. They lived at the foot of Mount Vesuvius and ran a bustling, vibrant city that was rich both agriculturally and culturally. They attended sporting events and relaxed at luxurious public baths.

But on Aug. 24, their world was rocked - literally. Mount Vesuvius erupted and smothered Pompeii beneath 12 feet of ash and rubble. Some 16 centuries later, explorers unearthed the city and discovered artifacts that included household items, frescos and human remains.

"Pompeii The Exhibit," which opens today at Discovery Times Square, transports visitors to the Italian city for a glimpse of life before and after the eruption - moments in history that are equal parts fascinating and chilling. (Part of the proceeds will go to preservation of the site.)

Here are four must-see parts of the exhibit:

1. Model of a brothel room

Government-run brothels were common, and erotic frescoes were among the discoveries at Pompeii. Enter a small cubicle-type space that includes an elevated platform bed and a fresco depicting a pygmy threesome (yes, seriously). Such frescoes appeared in almost every room of a brothel, and often illustrated the sexual act reserved for said room.

2. Eruption theater

The most visceral experience here is a 4-minute time-lapse film that re-creates the day of Vesuvius' eruption. At 8 a.m., Vesuvius is just beginning to get cranky. Soon the floor is vibrating amid loud rumbling and flashing lights; the landscape rapidly deteriorates; and by 6 a.m. the following morning, a tidal wave of thick gray ash engulfs what is left of the city. Though it's brief, the film really puts you there.

3. Cast of a child

When bodies decomposed, they created cavities in the ash. Archaeologists poured plaster into the voids to create perfect replicas. "Pompeii The Exhibit" features the largest collection of body casts ever presented. You'll see figures in the fetal position, on their elbows and covering their mouths. The cast of a 4-year-old is particularly startling: The drape of this child's tunic, the curve of its chin and the slits of its eyelids are all eerily reproduced.

4. Loaf of bread

The prosperity of Pompeii is reinforced toward the end of the exhibit, where actual everyday household items are displayed. Among the bronze furniture, gold jewelry and alabaster urns is a cast of a round loaf of bread. Its simplicity is a quiet reminder of a society going about daily life before a violent act of nature wiped it out.

Pompeii The Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius

WHEN | WHERE Daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., at Discovery Times Square, 226 W. 44th St.

INFO Adults $25, children 4 to 12, $19.50, 888-988-8692,

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