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Pompeii – The Legend Beneath the ashes of Vesuvius

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Pompeii was a large Roman town in the Italian region of Campania which was completely buried in volcanic ash following the eruption of nearby Mountain Vesuvius in 79 CE.

The town was excavated in the 19th and 20th century CE and because of its magnificent state of conservation it has given an invaluable insight into the Roman era and it is considered to be one of the richest archaeological sites in the world.

The place was originally settled in the Bronze Age on a cliff on the mouth of the river Sarno. Pompeii’s location and the surrounding area offered the advantages of a propitious climate and rich volcanic ground which allowed the blossoming of rural activity, particularly olives and grapes.

According to Greek mythology, a hint at the volcano’s power was found in the legend that Hercules had here fought giants in an igneous landscape.

Domestic style and wealth

It was one of the most important ports on the Bay of  Naples and the surrounding settlements such as Nola, Nuceria and Aceria would have sent their produce to Pompeii for transportation across the Empire.

Goods such as olives, olive oil, wine, wool, fish sauce, salt, walnuts, figs, almonds, cherries, apricots, onions, cabbages and wheat were exported and imports included exotic fruit, spices, giant clams, silk, sandal wood, wild animals for the arena and slaves to man the prosperous agricultural industry.

The town itself, in the Roman custom, was surrounded by a wall with many gates, often with two or three arched entrances to separate pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Within the walls there are wide paved streets in a largely regular design but there were no street names or numbers. The city had many large villas, most of which were built in the 2nd century BCE indicating the Greek colonial origins of the town. The characteristic entrance of these velour domiciles was a small street doorway with an entrance corridor that opened out into a large columned atrium with a rectangular pool of water open to the sky and from which other rooms, were easily accessed.

The city of Pompeii. Image by – JAMES HOLLOWAY

Many of the larger villas had a permanent dining table (triclinium) or eating area in the garden so that guests could dine outside on benches. There were also systems of small canals running between the diners so that as dishes floated past they could take their pick of the dainties on offer. Those villas without such allurements often employed wall paintings to give the illusion of landscape views. Indeed, the wall paintings from these residences have also given insights into a lot of other areas of Pompeian life such as religion, sex, diet, clothes, architecture, industry and agriculture. The way of living in Pompeii was at a large scale materialistic, rake and libertine and it is clearly depicted at these images.

The awaking of a monster

 

Image by – tardis

The first warning sign that the mountain was about to explode was when a huge earthquake struck on the 5th of February 62 CE. It was measured 7.5 on the Richter scale and desolated the surrounding cities. At Pompeii the disaster was absolute and most buildings of the town including temples and houses were totally turned into ruins. The effect of this devastating situation was that a significant part of the population left the town fearing for their safety. However, after a while, the town made repairs, and life began to return to regularity. No one could imagine what was about to happen in the future, despite the frequent seismic activity for the next years. So it was then at the summer of 79 CE that weird physical phenomena took place and betokened  the upcoming tragedy. Some of them were dead fish in the river Sarno, dried springs and wilted vines. Furthermore seismic activity increased dramatically during these days.

“For several days before (the eruption) the earth had been shaken, but this fact did not cause fear because it was a commonly observed feature in Campania. ”

Pliny the younger (lawyer, author and magistrate of Ancient Rome.)

So at the dawn of 24th of August an appalling  crash gave a sign that the magma that had been building over the last thousand years had finally erupted from the crater of Vesuvius. Fire and smoke growled from the volcano but at this time, it wasn’t clear what the mountain was doing .However  at midday an even bigger explosion blew off the entire cone of Vesuvius and a voluminous mushroom cloud of pumice molecules arose 27 miles into the sky.

It has been estimated that the power of the explosion was 100,000 times greater than the nuclear bomb which defaced Hiroshima in 1945 CE.

Image by – churchnewspaper.com

In the late afternoon another massive explosion shook the earth, sending a pillar of ash six miles higher than the previous cloud. When the ash fell the exploding stones were much heavier than in the first eruption and the volcanic material that strangled the town was much thicker. Buildings began to collapse under the accumulated weight. People fled for their lives and many of them were trying desperately to keep themselves above the displacing layers of volcanic remains. Survivors jammed near walls and under stairs for greater protection, some hugging their beloved ones or protecting their most valuable belongings.  Finally the huge cloud hanging above the volcano dropped from its own weight and burst the town in six deadly waves of super-heated ash and air which asphyxiated and literally baked the bodies of the entire population. It was an absolute scene of horror a real inferno on earth.

What the excavations unfold

The specific number of victims is still unknown. It is considered that the citizens of the town were almost 20.000. Excavations revealed the ashes of probably 2.000 people. But in spite of the real number of dead the truth is that the town erased from the planet earth once and forever.

Frixos Tzamtzis

Frixos Tzamtzis

Like a man is a mountainside, greatness waits for those who try none can teach you, it's all inside just climb.
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