Pompeii, Italy - The Lost City
Pompeii -- the living city
Books on ancient Pompeii
In the fateful year of 79 AD, the city of Pompeii (Italy) was a thriving city of about 20,000 inhabitants. This was during the heyday of the Roman Empire, and Pompeii was a popular place for wealthy Romans to visit on holiday.
The city was already historic. Some homes in the city center had been there since at least 300 BC, so by 79 AD, these homes were already older than the United States is now.
During those years, progress had come to Pompeii. There were small theaters and one grand amphitheater. The city and many of its buildings had running water brought by a Roman aqueduct. There was a central swimming pool, a gymnasium, and at least 4 public baths. There were temples, a forum, a hotel, and numerous restaurants.
This was nearly 2,000 years ago, and life wasn't as different from today as you might expect. In the city center, upper stories were built onto some of Pompeii's elegant houses.
"Everyone -- social climbers particularly -- wanted a house in the town center: the problem was to find space. ... Surviving advertisements have a surprisingly modern ring: ‘To let from the fifteenth of next July, shops with their stalls, high-class second-story apartments, and a house. Prospective lessees may apply to Primus, slave of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius.'" (from "", by T.W. Potter) Roman Italy
Discoveries about life in ancient Pompeii, Italy
- Ancient Pompeiians preferred fast food
Excavations show that most of the population ate on the run, grabbing a bite at some of Pompeii's numerous fast-food restaurants.
- Rare silver Pompeii dinner set discovered
A stash of silver plates and goblets, beautifully engraved and polished, was found in Pompeii.
- Pompeii reveals ancient luxury hotel
Excavators have discovered an ancient "five-star hotel" just outside Pompeii, with central heat and a private spa complex.
Destruction of Pompeii (Leonard Nimoy)
Pompeii - The Last Day (entire)
Pompeii - the dying city
August 24, 79 AD. Vesuvius, the massive mountain that loomed over the city, had been rumbling. Residents took it in stride, much like Californians today do with earth tremors. After all, they'd seen this plenty of times before.
This was different, though. In early August, springs and wells began drying up, then a swarm of small earthquakes began. Aug 23 was Vulcanalia -- the feast day for Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. The next day, the volcano (namesake of the same god), erupted furiously.
This time Vulcan meant business.
First, there was a Plinian eruption, a type of eruption named after an eyewitness to the explosion whose written accounts survived to tell the story. A column of smoke and ash rose about 20 miles high from the volcano, then spread out and rained ash and pumice stone over the area. Pompeii was buried in rock and ash about 9 ft deep .
Hours later, this was followed by a pyroclastic flow, when a cloud of superheated gas, ash, and rock poured forth and roared down the side of the volcano. Scientists estimate that the cloud had a temperature close to 350 degrees Celsius when it reached Pompeii. Any stragglers who escaped the first phase of the eruption were burned and asphyxiated by the second.
This was the last day for Pompeii and thousands of its inhabitants. Buried in thick layers of ash, the people and their city remained untouched -- lost and forgotten for centuries.
"The thermal energy released during the AD 79 eruption would have been roughly... 100,000 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb." (from "Dynamics of Volcanism")
"Pompeii: A Novel", by Robert Harris, blends scientific fact, documents from ancient Roman times, and fiction, to create a gripping historical novel about the end of Pompeii. Fascinating, and a fun read, too.
"Meticulously researched, beautifully written historical thriller of extraordinary breadth and depth." ~ Miami Herald
Pompeii - the rediscovered city
The city was obliterated, and the inhabitants gone. People forgot where it was, especially since the eruption raised the beach and altered the river's course, so that the site was no longer on either the river or the coast.
The buried town lay quietly beneath layer upon layer of ash and dirt, until its accidental discovery in 1748 -- 1,669 years after its demise.
Because of the speed and thoroughness with which the city was buried, objects remained remarkably well-preserved for all these centuries. Little air and little moisture meant little deterioration. When the city of Pompeii came to light again, it provided unprecedented views of life in Roman times.
It also gave us chilling models of terrified residents in their final moments of anguish. An early excavator realized that some cavities in the ash layer were spaces left by decomposed bodies. He injected plaster into them to exactly recreate the victims at the time they were buried. It's impossible to view these without feeling for the people who lay there, unable to escape their fate.
Today, Pompeii is a World Heritage Site, and one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The ruins of the city are extensive, and you can wander through the streets, homes and public spaces. You'll see the theaters, the wealthy homes, the fast food joints, and perhaps even a brothel. It's easy to imagine the lively city this was, up through August 23. Then the plaster casts show you everything you need to know about August 24.
It's a powerful place, and one you'll never forget.
Vesuvius has erupted many times since the cataclysm that destroyed Pompeii, and it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. There are 3 million people living close to it -- the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.