These are three postcards from Pompeii, the italian city which was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning two days in 79 AD. The eruption buried Pompeii under 4 to 6 meters of ash and pumice, and it was lost for over 1,500 years before its accidental rediscovery in 1599. Since then, its excavation has provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Italy, with approximately 2,500,000 visitors every year.
Civil Forum of Pompeii
Pompeii may be the city most commonly linked to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, but the cataclysmic events of that year affected nearby towns just as violently: Herculaneum, Oplontis, and others. These towns were rich in architecture, advanced infrastructures, and exquisite works of art. The artifacts found there tell a vibrant story of an ancient Roman society, advanced in many ways, which simply disappeared. A generation after the eruption, Romans had gone back to their old way of life, and tales of Pompeii had become part of local folklore. Underneath their feet lay the remains of homes and families, works of art and animals, that were so suddenly smothered by Vesuvius.
Pliny the Younger’s accounts of the eruption, sent to the historian Tacitus, tell a grim but detailed tale of destruction. Together with archaeological and volcanological data gathered from the area, Pliny’s text has allowed scientists to reconstruct the events of this catastrophe.
Beginning around noon on August 24, Vesuvius began its assault, and the streets of Pompeii and the surrounding region began accumulating lapilli, or small pieces of solidified lava. Residents of the towns began to flee - some further inland, and many towards the sea, which was too turbulent to navigate. By dawn of the following morning, the eruption had poured an avalanche of ash onto Herculaneum, Oplontis and finally Pompeii.
Casa dei Vetti
Pompeii was considered a large city for the time, and even more cosmopolitan than Rome, which was several days’ journey from Pompeii. Because of Pompeii’s long and varied history of ownership, foreign influences - such as the practice of Egyptian religious rites and the use of Greek architecture - are evident everywhere in the city. It held administrative control over the neighboring suburbs, and was a center for trade in crops, wine, and olive oil. When Vesuvius erupted, much of Pompeii was still recovering from the great earthquake of AD 62 and evidence of massive reconstruction efforts were found during excavations.
Excavations as recent as 1999 - during the expansion of the A3 autostrada, or highway - uncovered some of the finest frescoes yet found in the region. These frescoes, found in the House of the Triclinia in Moregine, cover the walls of all three triclinia (literally, three-sided dining rooms). The frescoes were meant to enhance the dining experience for guests, and some experts speculate that this particular site may have been a travelers’ stop for Emperor Nero himself. An assortment of muses lines the walls, among them: Euterpe, Muse of dance and tragic choruses; Clio, Muse of history; Calliope, Muse of lyric poetry; and others. [fieldmuseum]
Excavations of the Basilica