Where is Pompeii?
Located on the west coast of Italy, along the shores of the Bay of Naples, south of the present-day city of Naples-ancient Greek settlers made Pompeii part of the Hellenistic sphere in the 8th century BC An independent-minded city, Pompeii came under the influence of Rome in the 2nd century BC, and eventually the Bay of Naples became an attraction for wealthy vacationers from Rome who relished Campania. littoral.
At the turn of the first century AD, the city of Pompeii, located approximately five miles from Mount Vesuvius, was a thriving resort for the region’s most distinguished citizens. Roman Empire. Elegant homes and elaborate villas, many filled with exquisite artwork and sparkling fountains, lined the cobblestone streets.
Much of the city’s wealth came from its rich volcanic soil: the region was a center of production of olives, grapes and other crops, and Pompeii wine was tasted in some of the most fashionable houses from Rome.
Tourists, townspeople, and slaves moved in and out of small factories and artisan shops, taverns, cafes, brothels, and public baths. People gathered in the 20,000-seat arena and lounged in open-air squares and markets.
On the eve of the fateful eruption of 79 AD, researchers estimated that around 12,000 people lived in Pompeii and almost as many in the surrounding region.
Coroner’s Report: Pompeii
Of course, Vesuvius was not formed overnight. Vesuvius is part of the Campanian volcanic arc that extends along the convergence of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates on the Italian peninsula. It has been erupting for thousands of years.
For example, around 1995 BC, an unusually violent eruption (known today as “Avellino eruption“) threw millions of tons of lava, ash and superheated rock about 22 miles into the sky. That Bronze Age The disaster destroyed almost every village, house and farm within a 24 kilometer radius of the mountain.
The villagers around the volcano had long since learned to live with their unstable neighbor. Even after a massive earthquake struck the Campania region in A.D. 63—an earthquake that, scientists now understand, offered a warning rumble of coming disaster—people were still flocking to the shores of the Bay of Naples, and Pompeii was becoming more and more populated every year. .
Sixteen years after this revealing earthquake, August or October 79 AD, a number of small earthquakes shook the Pompeii area. Locals ignored the tremors because they “were not particularly alarming as they are common in Campania,” according to writer and eyewitness Pliny the Younger.
Then, shortly after noon on that fateful day, Mount Vesuvius erupted again. The explosion sent a plume of burning ash, rock and volcanic gas so high into the sky that people could see it for hundreds of miles.
Pliny the Younger, who observed the eruption from across the Bay of Naples, compared this “cloud of unusual size and appearance” to a pine tree which “rose very high on a sort of trunk then divided into branches. (Today, geologists call this type of volcanic explosion a “Planean eruption.”)
As it cooled, this tower of debris drifted toward the earth: first the fine-grained ash, then the light pieces of pumice and other rocks. It was terrifying – “I believed that I was perishing with the world,” writes Pliny, “and the world with me” – but it was not yet fatal: most of the Pompeians had plenty of time to flee, and many did. did.
Herculaneum and Pompeii
For those who remained in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other cities, conditions quickly worsened. As more and more ash fell, it clogged the air, making breathing difficult. Buildings collapsed under overloaded roofs, but some people remained in the city, now covered by several meters of ash.
Then, the next morning, a “pyroclastic flow” – an explosion of superheated gas and pulverized rock at a speed of 100 miles per hour – poured down the mountainside and vaporized everything and everyone on its passage.
By the time the Vesuvius eruption ended on the second day of the eruption, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash.
Some people returned to town in search of lost loved ones or belongings, but there was almost nothing left to find. Pompeii, along with the neighboring town of Herculaneum and a number of villas in the area, were abandoned for centuries.
Body of Pompeii
Around 2,000 Pompeians died in the city, but the eruption killed a total of up to 16,000 people in Pompeii, Herculaneum and other towns and villages in the region.
The bodies of men, women, children and animals were frozen where they had fallen. Many bodies later discovered were still holding valuable household items that they hoped to transport safely out of town. Some bodies were found with their arms poignantly wrapped around children or other relatives.
Later, archaeologists even discovered jars of canned fruit and loaves of bread. Most of the city’s buildings were intact and everyday objects and household items still littered the streets. The volcanic ash powder that buried Pompeii proved to be an excellent preservative.
Pompeii remained virtually untouched until 1748, when a group of explorers searching for ancient artifacts arrived in Campania and began digging. They discovered that the ashes had acted as a wonderful preservative: beneath all that dust, Pompeii looked almost exactly as it had looked nearly 2,000 years before.
Many scholars cite the Pompeii excavations as an influence in the neoclassical revival of the 18th century. Europe’s wealthiest and most fashionable families exhibited artwork and reproductions of objects from the ruins, and drawings of Pompeii’s buildings helped shape the architectural trends of the time.
For example, wealthy British families often built “Etruscan rooms” imitating those of Pompeian villas. Today, many preserved works of art, frescoes and other objects are on display at the Pompeii Antiquariumlocated among the ruins of the city.
Excavations at Pompeii, which have been going on for almost three centuries, continue today and the entire site has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Scholars and tourists remain just as fascinated by the city’s eerie ruins – as well as the artifacts and bodies buried on that fateful day more than 2,000 years ago – as they were in the 18th century.
“Many disasters have befallen the world,” wrote the German philosopher and poet Goethe after visiting the ruins of Pompeii in the 1780s, “but few have brought so much joy to posterity.” »
History of Pompeii. Pompeii online.
Resurrect Pompeii. Smithsonian Review.
Archaeological areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata. UNESCO World Heritage Convention.