Pompeii, history and virtual tour of the ruins

Pompeii, history and virtual tour of the ruins

The ancient site from Pompeii constitutes an exceptional archaeological testimony of Roman history. Numerous archaeological excavations have made it possible to discover nearly three quarters of the city which today constitutes a unique testimony of the life of a provincial Italian city of the 1st century AD And thanks to the miracles of modern technology, it is now possible to visit the site while remaining comfortably seated in your chair, via a Google Map that we have included in this article. Guided tour…

History of Pompeii, from its origins to the eruption of Vesuvius

Pompeii is an ancient port city established near Naples on the Amalfi Coast at the mouth of the Sarnus (now Sarno). The city, founded around 600 BC. AD by the Osques, was later conquered by the Etruscans, then by the Samnites. The dictator Sylla made it a Roman colony (80 BC) and it later became a popular resort for wealthy Romans, with a population of around 20,000. Located between Herculaneum and Stabies, at the mouth of the Sarno, Pompeii plays a significant commercial role in the opulent valley of the river, as the port of the cities of Nola, Nuceria and Acerra. During the Roman Empire, Pompeii, a medium-sized provincial city, populated by traders and artisans, was particularly appreciated for its exceptional setting, and became a real resort town for the wealthy Romans.

The city is severely damaged by a violent earthquake on February 5, 62 AD. (beginnings of the volcanic eruption). Some buildings are still being restored when, on the afternoon of August 24, 79, Vesuvius wakes up and, within hours, buries everything in its vicinity; Pompeii was not spared and, on the morning of the 25th, there was no trace of the city left. Pompeii does not disappear under a mudslide - as is the case of its neighbor Herculaneum - but under a 4 to 6 m layer of fiery ash and lapilli of pumice stones. The eruption is so violent that it also alters the course of the river and lifts the waterfront, placing the river and shore a considerable distance from the remains of the currently visible city.

Archaeological finds

Pompeii remained under a blanket of ash and lapilli for more than 1,500 years. It was not until 1748 that excavations were undertaken. The significance of the finds was first revealed by the work of German archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann. New excavations were carried out after 1870 and from 1924, archaeologists began stratigraphic excavations to reconstruct the architecture of the buried buildings.

Several houses were unearthed in a street which connects the Strada dell'Abbondanza to the amphitheater. This part of town is called Nuovi Scavi (“new excavations”). Some ruins were badly damaged by the aerial bombardments of World War II and had to be restored. New excavations are constantly being undertaken, and more than a quarter of the city remains to be discovered.

Most of the public buildings date from the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st century BC. In general, public buildings combine architectural elements of Greek art, for example the central chambers of temples, with characteristic elements of Roman architecture. In the southwest of the city, the major religious, administrative and commercial buildings of Pompeii cluster around the forum esplanade. Finally, the city has several thermal baths, including two public ones: the forum thermal baths and the stabiens thermal baths.

The ruins of Pompeii: an open-air treasure

An important aspect of the finds made at Pompeii is the remarkable degree of conservation of the objects. The rain of ash and lapilli that accompanied the eruption hermetically sealed the city and protected the many public buildings, temples, theaters, baths, stalls and houses. The site also delivers the remains of around 2,000 victims of the disaster, including several gladiators still in chains. The ashes mixed with rainwater formed a sort of mold around the bodies which remained when the corpses turned to dust.

Liquid plaster was poured into some of these natural molds by the researchers in order to find the shape of the bodies on the day of the disaster. Some of these casts of the bodies can be seen in the Pompeii Museum, near the Marina Gate, one of the eight city gates. Beyond the Gate of Herculaneum, the Villa of the Mysteries houses a whole series of Roman copies inspired by Greek paintings.

Most of the inhabitants managed to escape with their personal belongings. They returned after the eruption was over and drilled tunnels to houses and public buildings to grab valuables. This is the reason why few objects of great value were discovered in Pompeii. Those which were collected there were placed in the National Museum of Naples, as well as the most remarkable frescoes and mosaics of which the site abounds. All the buildings and objects give an exceptionally complete picture of the life of a provincial Italian city of the 1st century AD. The surviving buildings mark a transition between the pure Greek style and the building methods of the Roman Empire and, as such, are particularly important for the study of Roman architecture.

The archaeological site of Pompeii is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For further

- Pompei, travel guide.

- Pompeii. The Life of a Roman City, by Mary Beard. Le Seuil, 2012.

- Pompeii - Antiquity rediscovered, by Jean-marc Irollo. Art Book, 2014.

- The virtual visit


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