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Excerpts from History: Pompeii (online April 2013)Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near the Bay of Naples in Italy, is hundreds of thousands of years old and has erupted more than 50 times. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash.
Two thousand people died, and the city was abandoned for almost as many years. When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that--underneath a thick layer of dust and debris--Pompeii was mostly intact.
Ever since the ancient Greeks settled in the area in the 8th century B.C., the region around Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples attracted wealthy vacationers who wanted to soak up the sun and the scenery. By the turn of the first century A.D., the town of Pompeii, located about five miles from the mountain, was a flourishing resort for Rome’s most distinguished citizens. Elegant houses and elaborate villas lined the paved streets.
On the eve of that fateful eruption in 79 A.D., scholars estimate that there were about 20,000 people living in Pompeii and the surrounding region.
By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash. About 2,000 people were dead.
Pompeii remained mostly untouched until 1748, when a group of explorers looking for ancient artifacts arrived in Campania and began to dig. They found that the ashes had acted as a marvelous preservative: Underneath all that dust, Pompeii was almost exactly as it had been 2,000 years before. Its buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen. Everyday objects and household goods littered the streets. Later archaeologists even uncovered jars of preserved fruit and loaves of bread!
Many scholars say that the excavation of Pompeii played a major role in the neo-Classical revival of the 18th century. Europe’s wealthiest and most fashionable families displayed art and reproductions of objects from the ruins, and drawings of Pompeii’s buildings helped shape the architectural trends of the era. For example, wealthy British families often built “Etruscan rooms” that mimicked those in Pompeiian villas.