Dating back to the 6th century BC, Pompeii has connections to the Samnites, Etruscans, Greeks and Phoenicians, although it is most famous as a thriving Roman town and harbour destroyed by the volcano Mount Vesuvius when it erupted on the 24th August 79 AD.
Prior to the eruption, the area around Vesuvius had been experiencing minor earth tremors and there had been a significant earth quake about 17 years before so although concerned no one understood the event that was to occur or its significance.
The eruption, which occurred over a number of days, covered Pompeii with over 4 metres of ash and pumice. The roofs of the houses weren’t designed to withstand the weight that was imposed on them resulting in their collapse, although domed buildings such as the baths were able to withstand the weight and remained intact.
Although pumice is a rock it is very light, and would do little damage if some protection is used, people were, therefore, able to escape, something that thousands of people did in fact do. The several hundred people who did stay were to meet an agonising death, something that was shown by the plaster casts moulds taken of those who died when their bodies were covered by ash which solidified. The pouring of plaster into the spaces formed by where their bodies produced a cast showing the position they were in when they died as well as their features and expressions.
The sudden abandonment and covering preserved the town which was to remain lost until it was rediscovered during the excavations for a water channel in 1599. Over the years much of the site has been excavated although a large proportion has still to reveal its secrets. It has, however, provided a time capsule which has provided a detailed insight into Roman life in the 1st century.
Today Pompeii is situated several miles from the sea but in the 1st century it was a thriving trading port. Visitors today enter the site by the Marina Gate one of seven of the town. The road from the gate leads to the forum with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Within the Forum are: the Basilica, Temple of Apollo, Temple of Vespasian, Temple of Jupiter and the arches of Tiberius and Caligula. Through the arches visitors enter the commercial and residential districts and are able to wander around the paved with large blocks of stone. They are bordered by curbs and pedestrian walkways, raised stones were placed at regular intervals in order that pedestrians could cross the streets without getting themselves dirty from any water and Sewage.
Shops and houses as well as the public amenities and temples can all be visited. The graffiti can be seen on the walls and written evidence provides details of the life of its inhabitants. Many artefacts and everyday items can also be seen and the discovery of a number of skeletons of people who sought shelter is providing a lot of information about their lives and diets. A number of bakeries and shops existed throughout the city providing fast food, as generally the rich ate at home while the poor ate out. Shops selling all types of goods have been found, many with traces of those goods which can indicate the agricultural production of the area, the goods imported and the diet of the people.
An important part of Roman life was the baths and it was a Roman custom to visit the baths daily, both for cleanliness and to conduct business or meet friends. Entertainment was also important and Pompeii had theatres, an amphitheatre and gymnasiums. It also had a number of brothels, something that was an accepted part of Roman life.
Pompeii had some very rich residents with their house being lavishly decorated with exquisitely crafted mosaics and painted frescos: Many of the wall paintings still being extremely vibrant. A number of the houses are particularly famous: the House of Faun, so named due the statue of a dancing faun - a figure from Roman Mythology having the body of a man and the horns, ears, tail, and legs of a goat. The Tragic Poet’s House contains a mosaics which is now commonly used as a beware of the dog sign. The House of Vettius belonged to two wealthy merchants. It contains some beautiful paintings (still in their original positions). Much of what is known of Roman painting in the period 300 BC to AD 79 is based on the well-preserved discoveries made in houses at Pompeii.
Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist sites in Italy and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.