The city of Pompeii was a major resort city during the times of Ancient Rome. However, in 79 AD, disaster struck the city when it was buried under 20 feet of ash and debris from the eruption of the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius.
Pompeii was originally settled around the 7th century BC by the Oscan people. The port city was in a prime location for trade as well as farming. The rich volcanic soil from earlier eruptions of Vesuvius created prime farmland for grapes and olive trees.
In the fifth century the city was conquered by the Samnites and was later taken over by the Romans. It became an official Roman colony in 80 BC called the Colonia Veneria Cornelia Pompeii.
The city of Pompeii was a popular vacation destination for the Romans. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 people lived in the city. Many wealthy Romans had summer homes in Pompeii and would live there during the hot summer months.
Pompeii was a typical Roman city. On one side of the city was the forum. It was here that much of the business of the city was carried out.
There were also temples to Venus, Jupiter, and Apollo near the forum. An aqueduct carried water into the city to be used in the public baths and fountains. The rich even had running water in their homes.
The people of Pompeii enjoyed their entertainment. There was a large amphitheater that could seat around 20,000 people for gladiator games. There were also a number of theatres for plays, religious celebrations, and musical concerts.
The area around Pompeii experienced frequent earthquakes. In 62 AD there was a huge earthquake that destroyed many of the buildings of Pompeii. The city was still rebuilding seventeen years later when disaster struck.
The volcano erupts
On August 24, 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted. Scientists estimate that 1.5 million tons of ash and rock shot out of the volcano every second. The ash cloud likely towered over 20 miles high above the mountain. Some people managed to escape, but most didn’t. It is estimated that 16,000 people died.
What was coming?
The days prior to the eruption were recorded by a Roman administrator named Pliny the Younger. Pliny wrote that there had been several earth tremors in the days leading up to the eruption, but Roman scientists didn’t know that earthquakes could signal the start of a volcano erupting. Even when they first saw smoke rising from the top of the mountain, they were merely curious. They had no idea what was coming until it was too late.
The city of Pompeii was buried and gone. People eventually forgot about it. It wasn’t discovered again until the 1700s when archeologists began to uncover the city. They found something amazing. Much of the city was preserved under the ashes. Buildings, paintings, houses, and workshops that would never have survived all these years remained intact. As a result, much of what we know about everyday life in the Roman Empire comes from Pompeii.
• The eruption occurred one day after the religious festival to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.
• The amount of energy released by the eruption was roughly one hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
• The nearby city of Herculaneum was also destroyed.
• Archeologists found holes in the ashes that were once the bodies of people that were buried in the eruption. By pouring plaster into these holes, scientists have been able to make detailed casts of many of the citizens of Pompeii.
• The recovered city of Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.
• The city was located around 5 miles from Mount Vesuvius.