Life in Pompeii
Ever since the ancient Greeks occupied the area in the 8th century B.C, the region surrounding the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius attracted rich vacationers who wanted to enjoy the sun and scenery. By the turn of the first century A.D, Pompeii, located approximately five miles from the mountain, was a thriving resort for Rome’s most distinguished citizens. Elaborate villas and elegant homes lined the paved streets. Townspeople, tourists and slaves bustled in and out of artisans’ shops, small factories, cafes and taverns, bathhouses and brothels. People convened in the 20,000-seat arena and lounged in the marketplaces and open-air squares. On the eve of the fateful eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D, historians estimate that there were approximately 20,000 people living in Pompeii and the surrounding area.
Naturally, the Vesuvius volcano did not form overnight. Actually, historians say that the mountain is hundreds of thousands of years old and had been erupting for years. For example, in approximately 1780 B.C, an unusually violent eruption (Avellino eruption) spewed millions of tons of superheated lava, rocks and ash approximately 22 miles into the sky. That prehistoric disaster destroyed nearly every village, farm and house within 15 miles of Mount Vesuvius.
However, it was easy to forget about the mountain’s bad temper in such a sunny, pleasant spot. Even after a huge earthquake hit the Campania region in 63 A.D – an earthquake that, scientists now comprehend, gave a warning signal of the catastrophe to come – people still went to the shores of the Bay of Naples. Pompeii became more crowded every year.
Mount Vesuvius erupted again 16 years after that earthquake. The eruption sent a plume of rocks, pumice, ashes and piping hot volcanic gases so high into the sky that it was visible for hundreds of miles around.
As it cooled, this trunk of debris fell to earth: the fine-grained ash came first, followed by the lightweight chunks of pumice and other rocks. The writer Pliny the Younger wrote that he believed he was perishing with the world and the world with him. However, it was not yet lethal; many of the people of Pompeii had plenty of time to flee.
By the time the Vesuvius eruption came to an end the next day, the town of Pompeii was buried under millions of tonnes of volcanic ash. Around 2,000 people were dead. Some people came back to town looking for lost relatives or belongings, but there was not much left. Along with the smaller neighbouring towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae, Pompeii was abandoned for centuries.
Until 1748, Pompeii remained mostly untouched when a group of explorers searching for ancient artifacts arrived in Campania and started to dig. The discovered that the ashes had been a fantastic preservative: Beneath all that dust, Pompeii was nearly exactly as it had been 2,000 years prior. The buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen exactly where they had fallen. Everyday items and household goods littered the streets. Archaeologists later uncovered loaves of bread and jars of preserved fruit.
Many historians stated that the excavation of Pompeii played a major part in the neo-Classical revival of the 18th century. Europe’s most fashionable and wealthiest families displayed reproductions of objects and art from the ruins, and illustrations of Pompeii’s buildings assisted in shaping the architectural trends of the time. Wealthy British families frequently built “Etruscan rooms” for example, that mimicked those in the villas of Pompeii.
Presently, the excavation of Pompeii has been carrying on for nearly three centuries, and tourist and scholars are still just as fascinated by the city’s ruins as they were in the 18th century.