Learn about the Interesting History of the Infamous City of Pompeii
Pompeii is known for the infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 69 AD, but there is so much more to this intriguing city in the Bay of Naples than just the tragedy that brought it fame. My time spent in Napoli included some of the most beautiful and interesting destinations, but Pompeii was surprisingly my favorite place in Italy.
In preparation for any trip, I always strive to study the history of my destination, and I spent a great deal of time watching lectures about Pompeii, which I felt greatly enhanced my experience of my tour of Pompeii. Here are my top 10 interesting facts about Pompeii that are not only extremely relevant to any prospective traveler, but will likely inspire you to pay a visit to this archeological gem.
1. Before the eruption, Pompeii was a booming port city
This city on the Bay of Naples was an advanced place of trade, commerce, wealth. Archaeologists have uncovered a wide variety of businesses including shops, bakeries, spas, brothels, and more. The recovered art and signage in the city has given us an idea of what ancient Rome was like more so than any other place in the world.
2. Pompeii’s location was imperative in its preservation
Had Pompeii been hit sooner by the lava and ash from Vesuvius, the city would have been destroyed instead of preserved. Had the ash been hotter, the city and corpses would have melted underneath the ash.
The timing of the eruption and geographic location of Pompeii were crucial in the preservation of this archeological site, and we are ever so grateful for it.
3. The eruption of Vesuvius was documented in real time
Our first documentation of the eruption of Vesuvius was actually a primary source in the form of Pliny the Younger’s letters. 18 year old Pliny wrote to Cornelius Tacitus his observations of “a cloud of unusual size and appearance” that rose above Vesuvius. As his uncle and others raced to boats to rescue refugees, “ashes were already falling, hotter and thicker as the ships drew near, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames: then suddenly they were in shallow water, and the shore was blocked by the debris from the mountain.”
It was this letter that inspired archeologists to further explore the area, leading to the discovery of Pompeii.
4. The site was rediscovered completely by accident
While digging a water channel in 1599, Domenico Fontana discovered ancient wall signage and frescoes near Pompeii. Although he mentions the city of Pompeii by name in reference to the signs on the walls that he uncovered, the city of Pompeii had long since been forgotten, and nobody really thought anything of it.
It wasn’t until 1738 that the city of Herculaneum became unearthed again during the building of a foundation for the King of Naples’s summer palace. Charles of Bourbon was greatly interested in the preserved art and ordered the intentional excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii shortly after this accidental discovery.
5. The magnitude of this eruption is historic in itself
So we all know that the eruption of Vesuvius was a tragic disaster, but its destruction of Pompeii is so notable because of the preservation of this city. Prior to the city’s rediscovery, the memory of this city had all but been wiped from the face of the planet. Even without the preservation of Pompeii, though, this eruption is historic due to its magnitude.
It is estimated that the force exerted by Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD was 500 times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped above Hiroshima in World War II.
6. The diverse performances in its amphitheatre
The amphitheatre of Pompeii is the oldest Roman amphitheatre that stands today and was built 100 years before the Colosseum in Rome. Recovered art demonstrates fights among gladiators in the amphitheatre, but its use does not end with the destruction of Pompeii. Since the recovery of the amphitheatre, concerts have been held here, including Pink Floyd’s filming of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.
7. Pompeii was very politically active
If you examine and interpret the writing on the walls of Pompeii, you’ll see many campaign advertisements and slogans endorsing candidates. Though there were no political parties, there were politically influential families. Interestingly enough, most of the endorsements of candidates were from women even though women could not vote or run for office.
8. Pompeii is a haven for art nerds
Thanks to the meters of ash that covered the city, thousands of works of art were preserved in the walls of Pompeii. This is really what gave archaeologists and historians an idea of what life in Pompeii was truly like.
Amazingly enough, the recovered art of Pompeii outnumbers the preserved art from the entire Roman empire combined
9. Pompeii is the largest archeological site in the world
The site of Pompeii is 150 acres large, and is still an active archeologist excavation site. Archeologists are constantly working to recover and develop the site for tourists and to further their knowledge of the city.
10. Vesuvius remains one of earth’s most volatile volcanoes
Although there has not been an eruption since 1944, Vesuvius has a history of many devastating explosions and is in a very inhabited area of Italy. Mt. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe, and scientists are confident that it will erupt again in the future, creating a major risk for the millions of citizens of Naples
While Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe, residents of Naples may have another volcano to fear. Campi Flegrei lies under Naples and has been awakening quite quickly, giving warning signs of increasing activity. Scientists are not able to predict when this explosion will occur, but they are confident that one is approaching.
Have you walked the ruins of Pompeii? Did you learn any interesting facts that I didn’t mention? Share your experience with me in the comments!
Danielle Farideh Guy
September 13, 2017