On August 29th 79 AD, around noon, Vesuvius, which people thought to be just an ordinary mountain, fired up with tremendous crack. The cap of solidified lava, which clogged crater of volcano, opened up and eruption of the glowing fire was so strong it fried and petrified everything in radius of 70 km. At that moment, in the city of Pompeii lived about 20,000 people. The majority disappeared under the ruins and ash deposits. After this, ancient city of Pompeii disappeared from the face of earth and geographical maps for next 1600 years. The city was completely forgotten, there weren’t any records on it until the moment it was discovered by accident, in the end of the 16th century during the excavation of canals.

Today, Pompeii is an archaeological treasury created by Vesuvius, a volcano famous just as the city it buried in one of the biggest disasters in the history of humanity.

About Pompeii

By the end of the 7th and beginning of 6th century BC, began the creation of a settlement, nowadays known as Pompeii. The settlement was located near Naples and seashore in Campania province. It was the home of Etruscans, the local population, and Greeks, who created the urban atmosphere.

In 80 BC Pompeii became a Roman colony experiencing the rebirth as a rich city: Romans constructed luxurious buildings, public as well as the private ones, increasing trade and exporting wine from Campania. The city was even more beautiful and powerful during the rule of Octavius Augustus and it continued to grow during the Tiberius (from 14 to 37 AD).

In 62 AD strong earthquake stormed through the city and just when the reconstruction was finished, 17 years later, Vesuvius woke up. Majority of the population were covered under the ashes, lava and huge amounts of poisonous gases. As no one was actually thinking this was the volcano, people didn’t start running away the moment it started as they didn’t suppose it will get to them. The explosion ejected lava, tons of rocks and ash that hardened under the rain and the humidity and it covered everything in radius of 70 km. The city was covered with huge amounts of material and buried around 20 to 30 meters under the ground and majority of the population suffocated because of the gases.

The first discovery of the city happened in the 16th century by the architect Fontani. The big research of the location started during the rule of Bourbon king Karl of Naples in 1748. The research came up with beautiful statues, painted walls, incredibly beautiful mosaics on the floors and overall a new knowledge that under the ground there is the entire city. Since then, excavation and restoration are considered to be the duty of the state.

The bodies found during the excavations are preserved in the Museum of Naples and several of them are left in Pompeii. The bodies remained just as they were during the eruption since the ash was incredible conservator. In order to preserve the bodies after the diggings as well, the holes that weren’t filled up with ash were filled with liquid gypsum. When it dried, gypsum conserved the remains of bones and you can see their teeth, skulls etc. Some bodies are even found hugging and that’s how they are conserved today. Despite the fact there is no exact data on how many people lived in Pompeii when Vesuvius exploded, the assumption is that number is around 20,000. So far over 1,000 bodies is found and the scientists suppose the rest of the population managed to escape.

Since the 18th century there are ongoing actions and research of the area. Pompeii is located on the area of 66 acres in total and so far excavations are done on 45 acres which represent enormous archaeological treasure with extremely important architectural objects, sculptures, paints and mosaics. Unfortunately, Pompeii, the city under the UNESCO protection started crumbling due to the bad weather, rain, humidity, closeness to the sea, unregulated underground waters etc started seriously threatening the survival of these archaeological beauties.

Because of this, Italians launched a grand project of saving Pompeii in the beginning of 2013. The first phase should be done during the 2015 and throughout the entire time people can continue visiting. Every year, average income from the tickets for Pompeii is around 20 million euros, and half of it is used for further research. This number is even more impressive if we have in mind the fact that schools, youth under 18 years old and older people can enter for free. This unique city is visited every year by around 9 million tourists.

What to see in Pompeii?

The moment you enter Pompeii you realize how it big and modern city it was. It had 8 city gates, 5 thermal objects and many streets that are still paved just as they were centuries ago. The city had very good sewage network, drinking water, rich people had water in their houses and plebs had public fountains decorated with sculptures.

The walls were decorated with frescoes, there were private and public bathrooms for men and women, gyms, gardens for the gymnastics, theaters with seats of carved stone, and even partly covered. Excavations have found numerous objects made of ceramics, they found even the brushes used for painting the walls, some of them were on the bodies and others were in the hands of people attempting to run away. They have also found surgical elements, identical to nowadays’ one, made of pure copper with handles of bronze, and by their shapes we understand they were practising modern surgery and medicine which was a mixture of scientific and traditional, popular beliefs.

If you want to visit this magical city be aware it’s impossible to see everything in one day. Pompeii has 89 objects you can see, many little streets to walk through and peak in smaller corners of the city. Here’s a list of things you shouldn’t miss while there, according to us, so start taking notes! :)

Suburbanite therma was built between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. On the ground floor there is a small, covered pool with hot water, small pool with cold water, one waterfall from artificially made cave. All the walls are quite decorated. The cave has a mosaic representing god Mars surrounded with boys with wings. There are also dressing rooms for men and women painted with erotic scenes.

Temple of Venus near the sea and Sarno river was built in honor of the Roman conquest, remained on the floor and pillar of volcanic rocks, it is assumed that it was a sanctuary of spectacular scenography. It was also considered to be the most luxurious among religious objects.

The oldest temple in Pompeii is the Temple of Apollo (dating from 575-550 BC). There is also a basilica that represented a place where judges were sitting and it was turned into a building for administration, judiciary and economy. The Forum from the 2nd century BC is also fascinating, just as their main city square where they used to organize celebrations related to emperor’s house.The square had a special podium for speakers and it continued into main streets. Macellum, the main market of the city, also dating from the 2nd century BC was a building with different shops selling meat, fish and other kitchen supplies. Just as the other buildings it was all painted. The market for wheat, fruits and vegetables was built in 62 AD and there’s a chance it wasn’t completely finished when the eruption happened.

Terme of Forum, the largest in Pompeii, taking the space of 35,000 square meters, had separate parts for men (higher) and for women (slightly smaller), a room with a bath with cold water, a room with warm and hot water as well as recreation room. Public baths were very well attended, especially in the afternoon when people came to swim or just relax.

House of Faun has almost 3000 square meters and it’s the biggest private house in Pompeii, built in the beginning of the 2nd century BC. It was named after the bronze figure of Faun situated in the middle of a small pool in central part of the atrium. Nowadays, the figure is exhibited in the museum in Naples. The house had private rooms, thermal baths, kitchen, stalls, separate building for servants (their walls and floors were also painted) and 2 decorated gardens. The beauty and elegance of this house resembled more of a place for Roman aristocracy and not the local ones.

Just as other modern towns, Pompeii had a brothel and it was actually the best organized one. It was called Lupanara (in Latin, lupa means a prostitute). There were 5 rooms on each floor with beds made of carved stones. On the walls above each door they painted explicit sex scenes of men and women in different positions. Prostitutes were slaves, most often Greek or Eastern women. The price of the service was 2 to 8 asies (glass of wine was 1 asi) and just as today, the money went to owner of the slaves or the tenant of brothel. Visitors could find this place by following sign in the form of the phallus, engraved in the plates on the street.

They had the big theater in the shape of horseshoe that could fit around 5,000 people. It had three zones, the part where famous people were sitting were a bit more luxurious, coated in marble.

Amphitheater is among the oldest, best preserved ones in the region. It could fit around 20,000 people and first rows were always reserved for respected citizens. The building predominantly served for gladiator fights and it had two doors- one were used as an entrance for game participants and the second one to take out dead or wounded ones.

What is the city of Pompeii like? It is what you are able to encompass with your curiosity and willpower. Put on some comfortable shoes, put your headphones on, get a map and dive into this incredibly detailed story you can hear through audio guide. See as much as you can here as the things you can experience here will stay forever in your mind.

Life of the city

Today, scientists managed to completely reconstruct the life of the city at the time, thanks to the preserved remains. The city had bakeries and many shops offering different kind of goods. There were gardens for vegetable, fruits, small vineyards, also there was a public administration just like in any modern city nowadays.

Population living close to the city was raising different products - around 300 families was farming, doing viticulture and living from the sale of these products. It’s known today that at the time of eruption there were about 1500 houses in the city.

There were houses 6 to 7 meters high, but also with several floors, and there is a house with several thousand square meters, inhabited by the wealthy, with rooms for servants, the slaves back then. There are remains of a building with 80 rooms, and all had fixed up the floors and mosaics on the walls.

The last eruption of Vesuvius occurred in 1944, but scientists fear that, in the not too distant future, another strong eruption of only living volcano in Europe could happen.

Related blog posts

Photos of Pompeii