After visiting Pompeii, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: ”Few disasters have provided so much pleasure to later generations”. It sounds brutal, but really, we rarely have the opportunity to walk around the city in which the life stopped so suddenly. From the moment city was discovered under a six meters layer of dust and soil, Pompeii have become a favorite tourist destination.
But let’s start from the beginning.
History of Pompeii dates back to the Iron Age, in the 8th century BC, the time when the king Romulus created Rome. An important influence on Pompeii as we know today had Samnites who built the Pompeii from the 4th century BC to 80 BC when the city was under Romans occupation. The Romans banished Samnites from their homes and then, as a price for their loyalty, Roman war veterans moved into their houses. During next 150 years the Romans adapted existing houses and public buildings to their needs (Temple of Jupiter became the Capitoline), and built new temples, baths, Odeon (acoustic covered hall for concerts), an amphitheater…
In 62 AD the city was hit by a powerful earthquake that destroyed homes and public buildings. Thanks to the good economic situation, in the next seventeen years the inhabitants of Pompeii almost frantically rebuilt their city in order to return to a normal life. But the relentless nature played with them again – the fateful day occurred on 24th August 79 AD , when the Vesuvius showed its strength and destroyed the towns at the foot of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia in a few hours.
Unlike Herculaneum, Pompeii was not destroyed by a sudden flow of lava. Dramatic destruction was going slowly. When Vesuvius erupted with explosive power, pyroclastic material, the rain of lapi (tiny volcanic pebbles) and volcanic dust in few hours covered the city. Tremor was the first hint of disaster. Most of the inhabitants of Pompeii started running in that moment – at that time app. 16,000 inhabitants lived in the city. But the part of population hid in the shelter of their homes, while others hid in a shelter in public buildings, hoping that they are stronger and more stable. Archaeologists have found that ash and lava didn’t kill the inhabitants of Pompeii, but the toxic gases that were formed after the eruption. Unfortunately, it was hopeless – they suffocated.
A six feet deep layer of earth, lapi and ash perfectly conserved residues of the city so that archaeologists can with great precision tell us about life in Roman times. When archaeologists, while digging up, hit the cavity with their tools, they fill it with the gypsum and often they get nothing. But in Pompii case, they get the body shape that splits within these cavities. Until now, it was discovered about a thousand ‘bodies’ who witnessed the horrors that the residents of this ancient city experienced. A multitude of mould shows people who died in a spasm, bent in the fetal position or people who lie on their bellies, trying to protect themselfs. Most disturbing is the scene of the supposedly pregnant woman body, lying on stomach and holding hands on her face trying to protect herself from poison gas.
Emperor Titus Senatorial committee made a decision that it is in vain to recover buried cities of Pompeii and they, like other cities that have suffered from the mighty Vesuvius, fell into oblivion. Periodically throughout history attempts were made to dig up some marble pillars or artistic works (they even cut out mosaic pieces or painted walls parts) from those sites. Treasure hunters occasionally came across a valuable objects, but only in the middle of the 18th century, during the Charles of Naples reign, began a systematic excavation. Under the baton of Giuseppe Fiorelli begins systematic discovery onservation and excavation planning. It is believed that up to now three fifths of ancient Pompeii was investigated.
As a complete testimony of society and everyday life which can not be found anywhere else in the world, in 1997 the site of Pompeii was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
We recommend you to avoid visiting Pompeii in the summer, because of the crowd and the high temperatures. But at whatever time of year you choose to visit it, take a full day for sightseeing. If you bring sandwiches, outside of the old city walls within the site there is arranged picnic area with benches in deep shade, and near the Forum there is a modern restaurant where you can refresh or eat something for a decent price.
Adult ticket price is 11 euros, children under 18 and people older than 65 pay 5.5 euros. Dogs are permitted and entrance is free, but keep in mind that abandoned dogs are walking or peacefully slumbering all over the site – thay are kind and curious.
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