Pompeii City in Italy was full of life some 2,000 years ago. The serene mountain at the back of Pompei is Mount Vesuvius volcano which erupted at around noon on August 24, 79 ce, and showered volcanic debris and toxic gas 20 miles into the air and over the city. The houses and buildings were destroyed, the people were asphyxiated, and the city was buried under 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and pumice. It was lost on the map of Rome.
TODAY, Pompeii is in the Bay of Naples in modern-day Italy. The archaeological sites at and around Pompeii are preserved. The excavated city displays a real-life picture of how the ancient world lived. The tourist attraction; sad as it is, is interesting because it ushers the vicarious experience of the social, economic, religious, and political activities of the Pompeii people before the tragedy. The discovered skeletons are preserved in casts. The community though destroyed is preserved. They depict the horror of ‘Mount Vesuvius’s wrath.’ The faces of the relics show the excruciating agony of unexpected death. The archaeologists excavated not only the physical pieces of evidence of the existence of Pompeii in 79 ce but also uncovered the lifestyle of the rich and slaves for the modern world to see and reflect on. This city now is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.
Pompei City before the eruption
Imagine a green scenery and a bustling city with a population of ca. 11,000 in AD 79. A place that had a gymnasium, an amphitheater, a port, a complex water system, markets, brothels, and to have about 100 streets. You will be amazed at the civilization of the city before the eruption.
Pompeii is described as a wealthy town with residents and guests who enjoy luxurious villas adorned with expensive decorations and furnishings. It was a resort town inhabited by wealthy Romans who were known for lavish spending. The poor and the slaves go by each day serving the rich. It was said that the fertile, volcanic slopes of Vesuvius provided an ideal climate for grapes and olive groves.
Imported seafood, flamingos, and other palatable local foods are usually only boiled, smoked, fried, or baked. Most cuisines are seasoned with fish sauce or thick syrup wine.
The houses and villas were built on natural or artificial terraces, or on a hillside overlooking the panoramic view of Pompeii. They had richly decorated porticoes, living rooms, and dining rooms. Some large gardens were adorned with sculptures and fountains.
Meanwhile, the slaves and the poor live in divisions called insulae. These are spaces that are divided up into blocks with average sizes of about 35 meters by 90 meters. An insulae consisted of six to eight three-storey apartment blocks which are grouped around a central courtyard. The ground floors were used by shops and businesses while the upper floors were rented as living space. Insulae were made of wood and mud brick and often collapse or catch fire.
In Pompeii, serpents decorated household shrines, kitchens, shops, crossroads, and public temples. In these places, the snakes are believed to be guardian deities and are popularly considered to bring abundance.
Public amusements such as rituals, gladiator fights, animal hunts, and even executions are the leisure activities of Pompeii inhabitants. The grand Amphitheatre of Pompeii was the main entertainment venue that holds public events throughout the year.
Warnings of the eruption of Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius on the west coast of Italy is a stratovolcano. It involves explosive eruptions as well as pyroclastic flows. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a pyroclastic flow is a high-density mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash, and volcanic gas.
Despite its danger, Pompeii was established in 600 B.C. It is often rocked by earthquakes lasting for several days. Since seismic activities are common in Pompeii, residents usually take the occurrence for granted.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Romans celebrate August 23 of every year as a feast day in honor of Vulcan, their god of fire. On this same day in 79 ce, Pompeii inhabitants celebrated Vulcan’s feast day as they always do, with bonfires and festivals. This is with the hope to win the favor of the smith-god who they believe, labors at his forge inside the mountain.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius began on Aug. 24 and continued into the next day. The inhabitants and guests of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum who decided to remain rather than flee, met their horrible death. According to History and Archaeology Online, a blast of ash and noxious gases barreled over the city walls at over 100 miles per hour, killing almost instantly around 2,000 people
Survivors’ account of the eruption
Pliny the Younger, an 18-year-old Roman who was in Misenum at that time with his mother is a survivor. Misenum is approximately 13 miles or 21 kilometers from Pompeii. He joined other refugees escaping the earthquakes. He recalls that the volcanic eruption lasted for 18 hours. He narrated the black and horrible clouds, broken by sinuous shapes of flaming wind. Pliny the Elder, a writer, described the people wheezing and gasping because of that wind. He accounts that Pompeii was buried under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice, and the nearby seacoast was drastically changed. The world was shaking, with numerous buildings crumbling down and hitting escaping townsfolk. But the main cause of death in the city was due to the pyroclastic gas, a hurtling hot wave of ash, toxic gas, and debris that sped down and burnt the people alive on impact, burying the city and its citizens.”
Pompeii after the eruption
Pompeii remained buried under a layer of pumice stones and ash around 14 to 17 feet deep. In 1549, the archaeological site was discovered by an Italian named Domenico Fontana when he dug a water channel through Pompeii. But the dead city was left entombed. In 1832, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli conducted excavation and preservation in a systematic and scientific rigor, reorganized the archaeological area in regions and insulae. He concluded that where a corpse or other organic material had been buried in ash, it had rotted over time, leaving a cavity. Whenever an excavator discovered such a cavity, plaster of Paris was poured in and left to harden. The ash around the plaster was then carefully removed, so that a plaster replica of a person or animal remained. This process gave information about how people had died in the eruption, what they were doing in their final moments and what sort of clothing they wore. Fiorelli created a system for categorizing the Pompeian pictures into a range of decorative styles.
In 1875 Fiorelli became director general of Italian Antiquities and Fine Arts, serving in this position until his death. His work at Pompeii was continued by Michele Ruggiero, Giulio De Petra, Ettore Pais and Antonio Sogliano, who began to restore the roofs of the houses with wood and tiles in order to protect the remaining wall paintings and mosaics.
Visit the historic archaeological site and be guided by the following:
Admission & Hours: The Pompeii Archaeological Park can only be visited with a ticket.
- From November 1st to March 31st, the sightseeing is open from Monday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m to 05:30 p.m with the last entry being at 3:30 p.m.
- From April 1st to October 31st, the opening hours are from 9:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m, with the last entry at 5:30 p.m.
- Close: December 25, January 1, and May 1
- Book your Pompeii tickets online and in advance. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the site only accepts online reservations now.
- Opt for a guided tour. Tourist guides can give you lots of information and can lead you to prime attractions you should never miss.
- Wear comfortable and modest attire as well as footwear like sneakers. Prepare to spend walking at around 4-6 hours at the site. Bicycle, scooters, and other mode of transportation are not allowed on the site.
- If you are travelling during summertime, bring sunscreen, snacks, and lots of water.
- Eat only in designated areas.
- Bring small bags. Large backpacks, umbrellas, luggage, or bags (cm 30x30x15) and other bulky items are not allowed and must be left at the cloakroom for free.
- Many casts’ bodies show kissing and other intimate acts, proceed with caution when touring with children.
- Keep the area clean by throwing trash in the designated bins.
- Keep walls, floors, ancient furniture, frescoes, statues, and other sights as it is.
- Speak in soft voice. Noisy devices cannot be played out loud.
- Video and picture taking is allowed for personal use only. It is forbidden to use professional optical and audio equipment like video cameras, microphones, audio mixers, etc. Should you wish to take professional or commercial videos and pictures, ask formal permission from the Administration.
- Smoke in designated areas only.
- Ceremony clothes, masks or costumes are not permitted.
- Do not display flags and banners, nor use distinctive stickers.
- Do not enter areas enclosed by barriers or bollards; do not open gates that are closed or slightly open, and do not get close to the edges of the excavations.
Make your dream of visiting Pompeii become a reality and be ready for a whole new perspective of past western civilization that is important in understanding the modern world.