Ruins of Pompeii

The ancient city of Pompeii, located on the Southwest coast of Italy, was once a vibrant place with complex architecture, lush bathhouses, beautiful monuments and works of art. Due to the location of the city, Pompeii was not only a populace location with over 25,000 different inhabitants, but it was also rich in agriculture, it had a booming seaport and it was a large commercial trading hub. In 62 AD an earthquake destroyed much of the town, leaving the citizens to rebuild their home from the ground up, only to have it completely demolished on August 24, 79 AD by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The explosion from this volcano left the city buried under pumice and ash, the blast killed many of the citizens, and it demolished the port and river that once made this area so lively. The city was re-discovered in the mid-18th century by Carlo di Borbone, when he ordered the site to be excavated, and since then there have been many discoveries over the years about these ancient people and their lost city.

Early History of Pompeii

Carbon dating shows that the city of Pompeii was originally founded around the 6th century BC by the Oscans, people who came from central Italy. The city was overtaken in the 5th century BC by the Samnites, and as a result, the city and surrounding area experienced growth in architecture, technology and culture. In 89 BC the people of Pompeii joined with the towns of Campania and went to war with the city of Rome; however, in 80 BC the people of Pompeii were defeated, and the town became a Roman colony known as Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum. Under the Roman rule, Pompeii became an important port and passage through which Italy got a lot of their imported goods and supplies from other countries.

  • Originally the area of Pompeii was used as a safe harbor for Greek and Phoenician sailors.
  • The city was founded by people who were trying to get away from the rulings of the Roman government.
  • Pompeii was first captured by the Cumae, a Greek colony allied with Syracuse, a city in Sicily, between 525 and 474 BC.
  • Even after the defeat against the Romans, Pompeii kept control over their linguistic and administrative ways.
  • The people of Pompeii remained faithful to Rome during the Second Punic War between 218 and 201 BC.

People of the Ancient City

As the city expanded under new leadership, the population and technological advances also grew. Citizens built houses and often ran their businesses out of their home, hanging plaques outside saying “laundry” or “bread” to indicate their professions. Political graffiti was drawn on buildings throughout the city, and bathroom graffiti could also be found with notes like “Marcus loves Spendusa.” As time progressed, the people eventually began to build impressive social structures for the community, such as an amphitheater, a public workout center, a swimming pool, beautiful fountains and public bathhouses.

  • People painted frescos on the walls of buildings allowing us to see what everyday life was like in Pompeii.
  • A lot of the art was extremely erotic with a great number of phallic symbols for good luck.
  • Much of the erotic art was stolen from the site and hidden for centuries until rediscovered many years later in another location.
  • A large emphasis was placed on money, jewelry and wealth — things that were discovered on the people who were buried alive trying to flee the city when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.
  • Because the land was so fertile, many people were farmers who harvested wheat, cereal, barley and millet.

The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius

On August 24, 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted just one day after Vulcanalia, a festival dedicated to the Roman god of fire. Most people died instantly from the intense blast of heat, and others died of suffocation by the ash. Pumice stone at debris came down for six hours straight, covering the entire city and surrounding areas under more than 80 feet of ash. Pliny the Younger saw the eruption happen while he was standing at the Bay of Naples, and he ran to tell his uncle of the explosion. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, got in his boat and made an attempt to rescue people from Pompeii, only to die in the process.

  • Pompeii had experienced many earthquakes throughout history, but they believed that Mt. Vesuvius was an extinct volcano.
  • We know of the eruption because of two letters Pliny the Younger sent about the death of his uncle, and also from ongoing geological and archeological studies about Mt. Vesuvius.
  • Pliny the Elder set sail to rescue those in the town of Pompeii, but he did not die from the heat or ash, but more likely from a heart attack due to over exhaustion.
  • When the ash and pumice stone mixed with water, it created a cement-like mold that kept the city well preserved over time.
  • The blast from Mt. Vesuvius killed an estimated 16,000 people in the town of Pompeii and in the nearby city of Herculaneum.

Pompeii Today

After more than 1500 years of being buried, excavation of the area started in the eighteenth century after the eruption and town had long been forgotten. Carlo di Borbone started to unearth this lost city, and over the years archeologists have discovered artwork, regular household items, mosaics, tools, houses, public buildings and even human remains. Pompeii was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, and by 2008 there were an average of 2.6 million tourists visiting each year.

  • A courtyard near the forum has glass-encased models of what people looked like when the blast happened. Archeologists made these models by taking the natural molds that the ash, stone and water had created and filled them with plaster.
  • The light and heat blast was so high from the volcano, we can see permanent shadows of people covering their faces and heads on slabs of stone.
  • To counteract the problems that constant tourism has on Pompeii, the nearby cities of Herculeneum, Stabiae and the Villa Poppaea are now starting to open to tourists.
  • Tourists are welcome to go in and walk around most of the houses and public buildings, but touching is strictly prohibited.
  • Visitors get a guide book with their entrance ticket to explain what they are seeing as they walk around the site, and tourists also have the choice of renting an audio guide or hiring a private leader to get a more detailed experience.

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