15 Incredible Facts About Pompeii
The ancient city of Pompeii on Italy’s west coast was the site of one of the greatest natural disasters in history. Sometime between October 24 – 25, 79 CE, the volcano known as Mount Vesuvius erupted. Pompeii, just 15 miles from the volcano, was covered in volcanic debris as the sky turned grey. The eruption lasted just two days but that was enough time for the pumice rain and streams of molten lava to cover Pompeii and destroy the city. Pompeii was virtually wiped from the map, with further eruptions over the decade continuing to cover the city. One of the many facts about Pompeii is that the Italians refer to the city as the La Civita (the city), with Pompeii soon becoming a forgotten city.
It wasn’t until the 1700s when Pompeii was re-discovered by archeologists and explorers that people started to become fascinated with the city. Few realized just how expansive the area the buried city covered was, with several digs discovering everything from an amphitheater and forum to villas and livestock pens. The ash from the volcano had preserved Pompeii so well that the bodies of those who died during the eruption were frozen in time. Various household items such as pots, cutlery, and pans were also discovered, along with a chariot and the bodies of several pet dogs.
The excavations have uncovered so much of the city that parts of it have now been turned into one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. As of 2018, Pompeii has attracted over four million visitors, with people marveling at how well the city has been preserved over some 2,000 years. There are several different sites you can visit and discover what is left of Pompeii while also learning more about the city and the people that lived there.
But if you can’t make it to Italy we can offer you a load of facts about Pompeii to fulfill your thirst for knowledge. Sure, it’s not the same as actually visiting the city and experiencing things in real-time, but these facts will hopefully interest you and prepare you with more information for when you finally get the chance to explore Pompeii.
15 Incredible Facts About Pompeii
1. It Was Originally Greek
Pompeii might be located in Italy but the ancient town was actually founded by Greek colonists. This occurred sometime in the 8th century BC, with several of the remaining structures bearing resemblance to Greek architecture of that time. There are even remains of a Greek Doric Temple in the ruins.
The body of an elderly Greek man was also uncovered in the rubble, suggesting Pompeii was a cosmopolitan city home to people from all walks of life.
2. Pompeii Was a Wealthy City
Pompeii was home to some of Italy’s wealthiest people. The city was a lavish construction with many famous public buildings and luxurious accommodations. An area of the city now called Vicolo dei Balconi contained several large and impressive houses, with some even having balconies, something only the rich could afford.
Along with nice homes, many artifacts were found in this part of the city, with archeologists discovering gold coins, mummified thoroughbred horses, and countless artworks including the famed Sapphos painting, which now sits in the Archeological Museum of Naples.
3. An Earthquake Came First
In 69 AD a major earthquake hit Pompeii and the surrounding towns. On February 5, an earthquake with a magnitude of five or six on the Richter scale was recorded, destroying many buildings in the city. It damaged the water system and many other important structures. For several years aftershocks were felt in Pompeii. This is one of the reasons why the city was unprepared for Mt Vesuvius to explode, as they attributed the tremors to another aftershock.
4. Nobody Knows Exactly When Vesuvius Erupted
For centuries it was said that Pompeii erupted on August 24, 79 AD, but researchers aren’t so sure these days. This date was based on the scriptures of the Roman writer Pliny the Younger, who sent a letter to the Roman historian Tacitus describing the events of Pompeii. While his account of what happened has been a great help to archeologists, it was written 25 years after the event, so the validity of the date has always been up for debate.
Recent excavation work over the past three decades has uncovered new evidence that suggests the eruption took place a few months later in October, somewhere between the 24th – 25th.
5. Not Everyone Knew Mt Vesuvius Was a Volcano
There isn’t a lot of concrete evidence behind this fact, but considering Pompeii was built less than 15 miles from Mt Vesuvius, it has led many to believe the Italians didn’t think it was an active volcano.
While there were often small tremors and signs that something was happening, Mount Vesuvius had never erupted before, so the people who lived in the surrounding areas thought it was nothing more than a large mountain.
6. Pompeii Residents Had Good Teeth
While hygiene wasn’t the top priority of people during Ancient Roman times, the people of Pompeii sure took it seriously. From studying the bodies of those who perished in the eruption, scientists found that the majority of them had near-perfect chompers.
This can be attributed to the low-sugar diet they ate which was rich in fruit and vegetables. There was also a lot of fluoride in the water at that time, helping the locals keep their teeth sparkling white.
7. Giuseppe Fiorelli Invented a Technique To Preserve the Bodies
An estimated 2,000 people died when Pompeii was covered by ash and volcanic debris, with a further 16,000 killed trying to flee or in surrounding towns. When Italian archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli took over the team excavating the city in 1863, he found many decomposed bodies under layers of dirt and ash.
Not wanting to handle the remains due to the likely hood they would be damaged, Fiorelli devised a way to preserve them. He noticed that there were spaces in the layers of ash so he came up with the idea of squirting plaster in these gaps to surround the bodies and keep them mummified. The process worked and enabled many more bodies to be excavated without harm.
8. The Decapitated Pompeii Man Wasn’t Decapitated After All
If you are familiar with interesting facts about Pompeii then you will be aware of the decapitated man. In 2018 a skeleton was found of a man whose head seemed to have been decapitated by a falling stone. Well, it seems that wasn’t actually the case.
The man’s head was discovered in June later that year not far from his body. Researchers believe the man most likely died when the volcano’s pyrocastic flow (solidified lava pieces) buried the town. The stone that appeared to have crushed his skull more than likely fell during a previous excavation of the area. The man’s head most likely detached from the rest of his body sometime after his death.
9. There Was a Lot of Graffiti on the Buildings
Most people associate graffiti with the rise of hip-hop culture but tagging has been around for thousands of years. Many of the buildings in the Ancient Roman city are littered with graffiti, but not silly tags or massive portraits.
The graffiti from back then was of a more communal nature, with many of the examples found including public announcements, election notices, and private messages, although we aren’t too sure how writing something in public keeps it private.
10. The Wind Blew the Wrong Way
One of the reasons why the disaster claimed so many lives has been put down to the wind. Research suggests the wind usually blew in a southwest direction, but on the day of the eruption, it happened to switch paths and blow in a northwesterly direction. This meant all the volcanic ash and debris were showered over Pompeii.
It’s incredible to think everything that happened could have been averted if the wind was blowing in the other direction.
11. Pompeii Is a Recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site
The importance of Pompeii can not be dismissed, so in 1997, it was named a World Heritage Site. The ruins of the Roman city were preserved so well by the volcano that they helped give researchers a greater understanding of Roman culture and how people lived all those years ago.
12. The Forgotten City of Herculaneum
While Pompeii gets all the attention, there was another nearby town that was impacted just as badly. Herculaneum was another city that was left intact after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Although not as well known, it was the first city in the area to be discovered in 1709. Herculaneum was an even wealthier town than Pompeii with a population of around 5, 000.
A holiday destination town, Herculaneum had many luxury villas and bathhouses. One of the most famous buildings was the large and opulent Villa of the Papyri, where the bodies of 300 people were found during excavations.
13. Pink Floyd Played a Gig at Pompeii
Pompeii’s Roman amphitheater is one of the big attractions when visiting the site. It’s a massive arena and one of the oldest of its kind. It was where the gladiators fought to the death, among other events held there. There was even a deadly brawl that erupted between the locals and residents of Nuceria at the amphitheater in 59 AD which resulted in a ten-year ban for certain events.
Along with being a historical landmark, the amphitheater also played host to a live show from rockers Pink Floyd in October 1971. The band played to no audience across four days for the live concert film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. It’s considered one of the great concert videos of all time.
14. The Eruption Was Similar To That of the Atomic Bomb
Hard to believe, but the Mt Vesuvius eruption was on par with that of the atomic bomb the United States Armed Forces dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Both Pompeii and Herculaneum suffered greatly from the eruption and it’s surprising anybody made it out alive.
“The remains of victims here have been found in a similar condition to those of Hiroshima,” said Domenico Camardo, an archaeologist at the Herculaneum conservation project. “You really get a sense of the horror and tragedy.”
15. The Last Eruption Was in 1944
While the first eruption was devastating, that wasn’t the only time Mount Vesuvius posed a threat. Between 79 AD and 1944, the famous volcano erupted roughly 30 times, although none were as catastrophic as the eruption that destroyed Pompeii. While some eruptions have caused damage and people have died, the loss of life and destruction caused have been nothing compared to the 79 AD eruption.
Today the volcano is closely monitored by Osservatorio Vesuvio in Naples and there is a plan put in place in case things kick off again.
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