Where Is Pompeii?
For nearly 1,700 years Pompeii in southern Italy was a dead and buried city, forgotten by all except historians. But for more than 600 years before disaster overtook it, Pompeii was a proud city and port of the Roman Empire in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius on the bay of Naples.
On the morning of August 24, in the year A.D. 79 an event occurred that was to preserve for us the story of Roman everyday life. Sixteen years previously an earthquake had damaged Pompeii, a city where wealthy Romans had their country villas, and the damage had been repaired. Now, Vesuvius once again erupted violently. For three days the sky was darkened, and a deadly hail of volcanic ash and pumice rained down upon the doomed city.
By the time the eruption settled down, Pompeii lay under a blanket of pumice eight to ten feet thick. The outlines of the land had been so altered that the sea was now nearly two miles away. Two thousand of the city’s 11,000 inhabitants died in the disaster, suffocated by the sulphurous fumes or crushed by falling roofs.
Evidence for the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748.
Pompeii, it seemed, had been wiped off the face of the earth. So it was until, in 1748 a peasant digging in his vineyard unearthed some statues. This led to a remarkable record of a Roman city in its heyday being brought to light.
The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture. These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.
Excavation has revealed rows of shops and houses, the forum or market-place, with temples adjoining business houses, an open air theater, and public baths. In the museum at Naples are many thousands of objects recovered from Pompeii-statues and paintings, pens and ink-bottles, coins, looking-glasses and even charred food served on the day of the eruption nearly 1,900 years ago.
Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.