By Mel Jay
The ancient Greeks settled in the city of Pompeii, near Naples, in the Italian region of Campania, during the 8th century B.C. This beautiful, bustling city was captured by the Romans in 80 B.C. and was a known destination for Rome’s wealthy citizens to visit and enjoy the very large, open-air arena, along with numerous cafes, shops, taverns, bathhouses and brothels.
Situated near The Bay of Naples, Pompeii offered the Roman elite with activities of both sea and land, along with a majestic view of the often-active volcanic mountain known as “Vesuvius.”
Mount Vesuvius had an extremely vigorous history over the course of hundreds of thousands of years and had erupted well over 50 times according to scholars and volcanologists.
The Fateful Eruption
The majestic city of Pompeii ceased to exist as a viable city during a fateful eve sometime in August of 79 A.D. when Vesuvius erupted — sending vast plumes of smoke, ash, pumice, large rocks, boulders and superheated gases into what geologists now refer to as a “Plinean Eruption.”
This event was named after a purported eye witness, “Pliny the Younger,” a writer who watched the eruption from The Bay of Naples and wrote that “Vesuvius erupted as this cloud of unusual size and appearance as compared to a pine tree that rose to a great height on a sort of a trunk and split off into branches.”
It has been reported that the Vesuvius had given early warnings to the people of Pompeii and the surrounding cities in which to flee the area. It was recorded that many of the Pompeiians had enough time from the initial blast from Vesuvius to flee the city, but more than 2,000 residents decided to stay, and then ultimately perished while a flood of over 12 meters of super heated ash and pumice blackened the sky and buried them alive, along with the many buildings, columns, statues and grand structures of Pompeii, and with the nearby towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae.
Weeks after the eruption, it is recorded that many extended relatives and friends attempted to return to these towns to search for survivors. It was an effort in vain, as Pompeii and it’s surrounding cities were buried under millions of tons of debris, and these cities were abandoned for almost 2,000 years.
In the year 1748, a group of explorers in search of artifacts for wealthy European families decided to return to the area around the known location in Campania to look for the city of Pompeii.
Their tasks became long and arduous as they discovered the city was buried in many places with more than 12 meters of dust, ash, rocks and boulders. The countless years of excavation have continued to unearth large Ionic capitals and columns, intact bronze Greek and Romans statues, cafes, stately mansions, an amphitheater, as well as surviving lead water pipes adjoining the many streets and roads that still display the wheel imprints from Roman chariots.
Notable Venues Un-Ashed
Some of the more noteworthy discoveries that have been unearthed are the ruins of “The Temple of Apollo,” the oldest Etruscan structure in Pompeii with a statue of Apollo and a bust of Diana. “The House of Vettii,” one of the city’s best preserved Roman villas was uncovered, as was the “Lunapar of Pompeii,” the largest of the many city brothels.
“The House of the Tragic Poet,” which was a beautifully decorated grand structure with artful decorations of mosaics and frescoes, was rediscovered, along with “The Forum,” which was the cultural and political center of the city that also served as a place for a marketplace, bathhouse, court and temples.
“The House of Faun” was the largest of all villas in the city and held some of Pompeii’s best greatest mosaic depictions in all of Pompeii. “The Thermal Baths” were open to all members of society, but the men and woman bathed separately. “Pompeii Spectacula,” the oldest known surviving Roman amphitheater in the city was found, as was “The Villa dei Misteri” located on a road to the city’s harbor that purportedly displayed depictions of people being initiated into a forbidden cult known as Dionysus. “The Garden of Fugitives” was found to have held the largest number of corpses in one location when the city was buried on that fateful day.
Modern-day Pompeii is a must-see during any trip to Italy, whether by cruise ship to the Port of Naples, or a visit to the city of Rome. In Pompeii, you will find active archaeological dig sites underway and new artifacts being discovered every day.
To enhance your Pompeii experience, procure advanced tickets with a tour group and local guides who speak multiple languages and are well versed in the city’s history and many attractions.