Pompeii was founded 2700 years ago by the Osci tribe. The next few hundred years saw the Phoenicians, Etruscans and then the Samnites in occupation. Around 400BC the Romans took control fortifying it in the process. The Appian Way passes within 30km of Pompeii, so goods were easily transported to Rome from the bustling port near Pompeii
Pompeii had a cleverly designed piped water system which fed 25 street fountains, private houses, businesses and public baths. In time of drought the water would first be turned off at the baths then the houses and finally businesses leaving the street fountains to supply the populace.
Pompeii was a hedonistic tourist resort with as many as 20,000 inhabitants. The surrounding countryside was thronged with villas belonging to Roman elite. In 62AD a powerful earthquake struck the town damaging every building and crippling the water supply. The Emperor Nero was performing in a nearby theatre and as he left the building it collapsed after him. Nero looked upon this as an omen of good luck.
Although the earthquake was a portent of much worse to come perhaps it was Nero’s thinking that swayed most locals to stay on as the Romans were a highly superstitious bunch. Rebuilding work started in earnest and evidence of this can still be seen in what remains there today. The area suffered regular but smaller quakes leading up to the cataclysmic event 17 years later that’s now made Pompeii infamous.
In autumn 79AD Vesuvius erupted, shooting ash, rocks and poisonous gases high into the sky, the eruption was seen from hundreds of kilometres away. A fine cloud of ash rained down from the sky. as much as six inches (15cm) an hour. I remember in my school days being taught that people suffocated on the ash in their sleep. This is now known to be incorrect as their cause of death was altogether more horrid.
As the magma chamber lost its power the huge columns of debris started to fall causing pyroclastic surges of up to 100 km/h of superheated gas and pulverised rock to rush down the mountain sides. Pompeii was in the way of these surges and the 250C gases instantaneously burnt the inhabitant’s lungs and as they died all their muscles contracted so they dropped and lay in foetal positions which are how we see them preserved today. The eruption left Pompeii and the surrounding area buried under up to 80 feet of ash. It was custom to rebuild after a disaster but the damage was so complete that the area was never repopulated.
Only in 1599 when digging a water channel were some remains discovered. Pompeii’s lewd past was revealed as erotic frescos were unearthed which were rapidly reburied as they were deemed too risqué for the times. In 1738 when digging the foundations for a new palace the remains were discovered again and work continued up until a few years ago when the funds dried up. It’s a UNESCO World heritage site but sadly three times in the last 15 years has this certification been called into doubt as currently the place is suffering severe degradation. Three years ago the so called ‘House of the Gladiators’ collapsed and currently less than a third of the buildings that visitors could see in the 1960s are open to the public. It’s estimated that over 300 million Euros are needed to further preserve the site. Mind you with Vesuvius normally erupting every 20 years or so and the last eruption being in 1944 it’s well overdue so perhaps it will soon get covered over again.