On 24 August, 79 AD the city of Pompeii and all its inhabitants were buried alive by a violent eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano that dominates the plain.
For the past 250 years, Pompeii has been a popular destination for visitors to Italy and today it one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations with 2.5 million visitors per year. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The eruption occurred, somewhat ironically, just one day after the Vulcanalia festival dedicated to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire (including that of volcanoes).
This festival was celebrated annually on 23rd August, the hottest time of the year when crop and grain fires were most likely to break out. To placate the deity of the flame, the work day began by the light of fire (candles). People hung cloths out in the hot sunlight. Then, bonfires were lit and live fish and animals were thrown in as a sacrifice to Vulcan.
And just one day after these celebrations in 79 AD, Vulcan responded by spewing out a mass of lava that destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and others in its surrounds. Pompeii had been established in the 6th or 7th century by the Osci people, before taken over by the Romans in 80 BC. At the time of the eruption, the population of Pompeii had grown to around 11,000. Waves of lava and billowing smoke left around 4-6 meters of ash and burning stone covering the villages.
And for the following 1500 years, there it remained.
Around the beginning of the 1600s, Pompeii was rediscovered only to be left there again until the mid-1700s. After this time, excavation work revealed a city almost perfectly preserved under a layer of ash. With no air or moisture exposure, items laying beneath the ash remained intact. Pompeii’s protected ruins and relics today present an incredible testimony of everyday life from nearly two thousand years ago. Revealed from the ashes was a complex water system, including the Stabiane Terme and a port. There are the temples of Apollo and Jupiter, a gymnasium and a local market with various shops. There’s even a red-light district, evidenced by the raunchy decorations on the walls!
You can see an amphitheatre that was one of the oldest and largest of the time, with a capacity of 12,000 people. Numerous private dwellings have been found, famous for bearing frescoes that are still in excellent condition.
Most touchingly, as part of the excavation works, plaster was poured into voids left behind where the dead once lay. The result are plaster forms showing the precise position of person at the time of the eruption.