The famous Pompeii

Pompeii was situated south from the Vesuvius and east from the Bay of Naples. Hardly anything is known about this city from earlier than 1st century BC. What is sure is that the process of romanization was going smoothly due to a Roman army camp in the city. The city had become an elegant place, where Roman aristocracy built their villas.

Three destroyed cities

Herculaneum and Pompeii were two of three cities in the Roman province of Italia, which were destroyed by Vesuvius' eruption on 24th July 79 AD. During its best days, Pompeii was the most important trading city in the region. After the short period of Greek colonization, they came under Roman rule. Around 63 AD a strong earthquake destroyed a large part of the city and 16 years later the Vesuvius erupted. Because of smoke and ashes were thrown out of the volcano a few days before the eruption most of the city's population had enough time to evacuate. Nevertheless, about 2000 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Houses were covered with a few meters of ashes and pumice. Due to the eruption the life in the city came to a halt just the way it was for the following centuries - people were stopped in their natural positions, doing everyday activities. Thanks to Pompeii we know much about Romans' everyday life.

Discovering the past

Ruins of Pompeii are only about 20 km south-east from Naples. The city was founded in the VII century BC by the Oscans. Originally, it was under Greek culture's, later under Etruscans' influence. The time of the biggest growth of the city was in the I century AD. Citizen's main source of income was trade (there was a port in the city). Not until the end of XVI century, during building of a canal, ancient writing was found. A quick examination made scientists sure, that there are ruins of a city underground. The excavation in Pompeii started in 1748, but more careful digs were led by Giuzeppe Fiorelli in 1861. Not only pieces of art were dug out, but also the street map of the city was restored. Thanks to that Fiorelli could start his reconstructing the destroyed or damaged buildings.

The ancient street map

Pompeii was surrounded by a city wall and it had a sewerage system. Along the streets there were houses with atriums. During the excavations numerous stores and workshops and a theatre and a forum with a basilica and diocese and temples and an amphitheatre with gladiator' barracks and many other buildings.

Art in Pompeii

During the excavations many sculptures made by local artists from marble or wood or stone or bronze were dug out. They are mainly portraits and reliefs, which were architectural decorative details. Among the smaller pieces of art small bells, which rang on every slightest wind if hung were found. Some of them had erotic shapes. One of the most important discoveries made in Pompeii are wall paintings, which were discovered in large number in the richer houses. Thanks to this, the history of Roman painting from before the year 79 AD could be reproduced. Numerous mosaics were found in addition to the murals. They were found mostly in houses with high humidity level. In one of the houses a flooring embellished with an image of the battle of Issos fought between Alexander the Great and Darius III. The mosaic consisted of around 1,5 million stones.

Spirits of the past

But what makes the biggest impression are the castings of human bodies. The ashes, which covered Pompeii solidified so quickly that they've kept the shape of human bodies in them. Fiorelli found a way to extract the bodies' shapes from them. He poured plaster of Paris through a small hole, which filled up empty space. After the plaster congealed, he removed the layer of ashes and revealed castings of bodies and items and parts of building etc. Later, a transparent material was used, which made it possible to see the items which were inside the casting, e.g. bones.

In fact, we learn something new about the history of Pompeii all the time. Excavations in Pompeii are continued even now and only after they are finished we will know the full history of this full-of-ghosts-of-the-past city.

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