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Pompeii

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Pompeii was a city in the Roman Empire more than 1,800 years ago. It was a very wealthy part of Italy, either with very rich citizens, or with very poor slaves. Pompeii was only about two miles across. But the main attraction was the 4,000 ft. volcano Mt. Vesuvius looming overhead. The city of Pompeii was originally founded by the Oscans in the 8th century BC. It was highly influenced by nearby Greek settlements. The Samnites took over in the 5th century, and then the Romans gained control in 80 BC.

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Pompeii is thought to have been first a small farming settlement and founded at the mouth of the River Sarnus (now called Sarno). It was given its name by the gens pompeiana, who belonged to the Osci, one of the oldest of the Italic peoples. Located on the only route between the north and south, lying between the sea and the fertile valleys, Pompeii became an important road junction and port. It wasn't long before it drew the attention of the powerful states around it. The Greek state of Cumae was the first to subjugate Pompeii. The Greeks were ousted between 525 and 474 BC by the Etruscans. Towards the end of the fifth century BC, the city was taken over by the Samnites, who in turn were defeated by the Romans. Pompeii became part of the emerging Roman state. Pompeii joined the Italic revolt against Rome, the Social War of 91-87 BC, and was crushed by Sulla. Although the city was not destroyed, it lost all trace of autonomy, becoming a colony called Colonia Vernia Cornelia P, in honor of its conqueror L. Cornelius Sulla. By 79 AD, Latin had replaced Oscan as the principal language, and the laws and culture of Imperial Rome had been absorbed.

Pompeii was a demanding city for water because of the numerous public baths and lavatories. As a result, the people of Pompeii used aqueducts. The word simply means a way of bringing water. An aqueduct is a water channel running from another source, usually a river or spring, to the city. The streets of Pompeii were laid out in a standard grid format with a central square or forum. The city had two theaters, luxurious public baths, and temples. Unlike many cities, streets in Pompeii were stone and so were the edges of pavements.

Pompeii grew from a modest farming town to an important industrial and trading center. In 62 AD the first great disaster hit Pompeii, a terrible earthquake. Although the city was left in rubble, the surviving citizens set about rebuilding and soon restored the city's industrial and commercial activities, using the opportunity to expand as well. As the city was being rebuilt the second disaster struck. Probably August 24, 79 AD started out much like any other day for the prosperous and sunny town of Pompeii, Italy. But looming 4,000 feet high, just a mile away from town, was the volcano Vesuvius. Though Vesuvius hadn't erupted in hundreds of years, it did so abruptly on that day. The sudden eruption destroyed the towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae, but covered Pompeii with a soft 30-foot layer of volcanic ash. The Roman historian Pliny described the explosion as "a black and dreadful cloud now and again yawned open to reveal long fantastic flames."

It is believed that the people of Pompeii thought Vesuvius was just another mountain, and had no knowledge of it's volcanic activity. The people had no warning of what disaster was about to come. On August 24, 79 AD with a huge boom a tall eruption column rose from above Vesuvius and Pompeii was bombarded with poisonous gas and fumes. Hot ashes, stones, and cinders rained down. The thickness of the debris increased up to six to eight inches per hour. Pumice stones up to three inches in diameter rocketed toward Pompeii at maximum speeds of 100 miles an hour, and very likely caused injuries and collapsed roofs. Archaeologist believe that some residents remained in their homes, in hopes the shower of debris would soon end. After seven hours of explosive activity, the eruption suddenly grew in strength, and the ash column grew higher in altitude. Debris fell for five more hours, and by the morning of August 25, about 1.5 yards of ash and pumice covered the Pompeii area. Then, the already disaster situation took a turn for the worse. Avalanches of deadly pyroclastic flows raced down the slopes, destroying everything in their paths. The Roman town of Pompeii was totally destroyed. It should be noted that this is very similar to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State in 1980. No one around that volcano believed that it would erupt, either.

After the explosion, Pompeii was literally forgotten, and was buried in 30 ft. of soft volcanic ash for centuries. When it was finally discovered, archaeologists found remains of 2,000 victims out of the 20,000 population of Pompeii. It took 1630 years before the ruins of Pompeii were discovered by accident, when an Italian workman dug a well on Mt. Vesuvius's slopes, and he dug right into Pompeii's ancient Roman theater. Three years later they had finally hollowed out the inside of the buried building. No one will ever know if the theater looked just as it did on the day that the ash covered it because the excavators took almost all of the valuable art, sculptures and furnishings. After that find, historians began to wonder exactly what had happened to Pompeii. For forty years after that, the mountain was searched for clues to uncover the mystery of the lost city. Due to a discovery by a Spanish engineer in 1748, the greatest story in the history of archeology began. Unfortunately, many of the excavators had no idea what they were doing, and they were only in it for the profit. Much of what they found was sold to museums and private collectors, so what they found in the first buildings remains a mystery. A systematic excavation of Pompeii began in 1763, more than 160 years after architect Domenico Fontana rediscovered it while building an underground aqueduct.

Pompeii, located near present-day Naples, was wonderfully preserved, giving historians a clear glimpse into the everyday life of the Roman people. When it was destroyed, Pompeii was still being rebuilt from an earthquake in 63 AD. Though the disaster was a tragedy for the people of Pompeii, of whom about 2,000 died, it has been a treasure for archaeologists, as they have found shops representing many trades, from sculptors and surgeons to fishermen and bakers. To see a little more about the people and their way of life that archaeologists have uncovered, just click on the icon.

Many buildings and structures were in very good condition when discovered, and on some structures, the roofs were still intact. To see some of the buildings and structures that archaeologist have uncovered, just click on the images below.

HOUSES

TEMPLES

BUILDINGS

To see some nice aerial views of Pompeii after its excavation, just click on the links that we have provided for you. These are large images and will take some time to load.

SMALL AERIAL VIEW

MEDIUM AERIAL VIEW

LARGE AERIAL VIEW

To see more pictures elsewhere, just CLICK HERE

To see even more pictures elsewhere, just CLICK HERE

To learn more about volcanoes and their geography, just click on the image of the earth to go to our Geology Room:


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