Pompeii – that is a magic name for me since my childhood. When I was around 8 years I read a book about this ancient place, narrated by a man that lived there the last days and died in the ashes of the eruption 79 AD. His way to tell me his story, his anxiety and his hope to escape the horror, touched me deeply and I never forgot. 8 years later I walked in the very same streets in which he tried to run away from death and then I saw him: crouched in a corner and holding his arms around his head trying to protect himself from the burning ashes. He was one of many people and animals found that were completely intact because the ashes conserved their body form. I am still deeply touched by that story.
Since then, I have been countless times to Pompeii, have seen it over and over again and every time I am again amazed by this place. I have seen many, many excavations around the Mediterranean Sea, mainly Romans and Greeks, none impresses me that much like Pompeii.
But what is Pompeii? It is an ancient Roman city south of Naples at the foothill of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. In 79 AD Pompeii together with Herculaneum and many villas and villages got buried under 6 to 30 meter volcanic ashes, pumice and lava.
The city itself was founded around the 7th century BC by Oscan people, one of many Italic tribes at that period. In 80 BC it became part of the Roman Republic. 160 years later and before the city disappeared completely, more than 11.000 people lived here. By then the city was very much Roman with an amphitheater, a gymnasium, a very well working water system and a very important port.
The city was conquered by other people like the Etruscan, Greek, Phoenicians, Samnites and others. In the Punic Wars Pompeii stayed faithful behind Rome and was used as one of the main ports. Also, later it was an important trade center for goods for Rome and the whole south of the today Italy.
In the first century AD the city was a huge city, with many Roman villas and famous people living here. Cesar’s father-in-law, Pliny the Elder and the Younger and many rich Romans and Neapolitans had their villas right here in or around the city.
In 62 AD there was already a major earthquake with damages. Seneca the Younger reported about many damages and death of flocks. The area was and is still today a very dangerous one with very frequent earthquakes.
Already before the real eruption began, there were for days seen smoke columns coming out of the high volcano, at that time more than 4.000 meter above sea level. 33 kilometers of gas and tephra, molten rock, pumice and hot ashes came out of Mount Vesuvius and buried more than 20.000 humans, uncountable animals and a large area within two days. The power was like 1.5 million tons per second, 100.000 times more than the Hiroshima bombing.
The city was never rebuilt after that. In the end of the 16th century, there was some digging for a diversion of the Sarno river and workers hit an ancient wall with paintings and inscriptions. But they recovered it again and nothing more happened. 150 years later the under lava lying Herculaneum was discovered and Pompeii just 10 years later, too. Since then there are excavations and still today there is only a quarter of the whole city that is dug out.
The surrounding modern Pompeii was founded in 1891.
We have been in Pompeii on a hot summer day. My sweetheart wanted to see this ancient place especially because we have been last year to the Getty Villa in Los Angeles which is built after the Villa dei Papyri which is from the same period but is located more north of Pompeii near to Herculaneum. And suffered the same destruction from the eruption in 79 AD. He was intrigued by the beauty of those ancient constructions
We spent something like 7 to 8 hours in the heat with more than 40°C/100°F walking around in the many, many streets. The city is huge and has a lot to see. Of course, we didn’t see all of it, but a good amount. Unfortunately we were too early in the summer to see ‘Pompeii by night’. That is an evening event with lights on. Must be magical, I still have to see it. Of course, we will come back. For me still it is pure magic!
Ancient Pompeii, Campania/Italy: