Many films about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae in 79 A.D. are highly fictionalized. However, nowadays we can reconstruct the dynamics of the facts of an event that has remained in history as one of the most devastating natural disasters that hit Italy.
Pompeii was a prosperous Roman town that once stood at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. The inhabitants were unaware that the Green Giant (the sides of the mountain were covered with vegetation and vineyards and olive trees) could pose a threat. In fact, there were 700 years that the volcano gave no signs of life, so they did not worry too much when, between the 20th and the 24th of August in 79 A.D., a series of earthquakes shook the houses. Some roofs collapsed making the first victims. Then all was quiet again, the people returned to their homes convinced that the danger had passed.
On the morning of August the 25th, first thick clouds thick clouds rose up, then came a tremendous explosion. Vesuvius had awakened. Within hours, a column of smoke rose up to tens of kilometers going to blot out the sun. However, Pompeiians didn’t understand yet to be on the verge of tragedy, so only a few escaped. Most of them took refuge in the house and cellars. In the sky of Pompeii a disaster was unleashed. A mix of ash, gas and rocks began falling on the city, the Pompeiians spilled out of the houses in the futile effort to escape. Suffocated by smoke, they fell in the streets or in the gardens, and over their bodies meters of debris were deposited. Fared no better in those who had managed to reach the beaches, because the sea, bubbling because of the heat, rose to high waves. The earthquake had become a tidal wave. While Pompeii was covered by volcanic debris, on the nearby Herculaneum had fallen only a thin layer of ash. The inhabitants did not want to abandon their homes and had no escape when the volcano rushed to the speed of a hurricane (160 mph) huge amounts of fiery boulders that broke down the houses and killed everyone.
The eruption of Vesuvius had lasted just over 25 hours, during which the volcano had expelled nearly a billion cubic meters of material.
The Roman Empire sent his army to help the people, but the devastation was such that no one thought to rebuild the city. For centuries Pompeii and Herculaneum were lost even in the memory. Then, in the eighteenth century, some farmers digging in their fields ran into coins, columns, human skeletons: the ancient Pompeii had been found. Around 1860 the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli began to carry out systematic excavations. He also thought of throwing liquid plaster into the cavities left in the hardened ground: that was an empty space left by the human bodies that centuries ago had decomposed. He got so the perfect casts, showing the victims in the position where they died. The archaeological area of Pompeii is the largest archaeological site in the world, and one of the most visited.
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