“There have been many disasters in this world, but few which have given so much delight to posterity.”
The world-famous excavations of Pompeii can hardly be described any better than by Goethe in his masterpiece ‘Italian Journey’.
Fascinating journey into Roman antiquity
“On Sunday, we visited Pompeii. – There have been a lot of disasters in the world, but none has brought so much joy to posterity. I cannot easily think of anything more interesting”. That’s how Goethe describes his sojourn at the ancient trading town and seaport in his “Italian Journey”. Visitors to the excavation sites are sure to agree with this great writer: the World Heritage Site of Pompeii is without doubt a cultural highlight of any journey to Southern Italy.
It was a catastrophe that came upon and destroyed the Roman provincial town in 79 AD. Its rediscovery has however presented to posterity unique insights into what everyday life was like at that time. Sealed by lava and pumice, buildings, squares, works of art and everyday objects lay perfectly preserved for centuries. Today, these remains shed light on ancient living conditions, trade, art und everyday life and they leave you with a sense of awe.
The trading town of Pompeii, 9 km from Mount Vesuvius, counted up to 15,000 inhabitants. The heavy earthquake rocking the town in 62 AD was a first sign of the oncoming catastrophe.
The following reconstruction was abruptly undone by the tragedy which took place on August 24th 79 AD. The letters written by Pliny the Younger to Tacitus provide a good documentation of the events of that day.
First, heavy tremors rocked the town, later the peak of Mount Vesuvius exploded with a thunderous bang, releasing a rain of ash and flows of lava upon the valley below. While Herculaneum was instantly covered by flows of alluvium, lava and water, the majority of Pompeii’s inhabitants died from the fatal phosphorous vapors. The devastating eruption brought complete destruction to Pompeii and buried the prosperous trading town under a layer of ash about six to seven meters high.
Experiencing historic Pompeii
At the end of the 16th century, subterranean corridors with inscriptions and statues were discovered in the course of drainage works in the valley of the river Sarno. Nobody, however, attached great importance to them. The first scientifically laid out excavations in 1748 are due to King Charles of Bourbon, who also ordered Herculaneum to be excavated.
Systematic excavation of the remains of the ancient town did not, however, start until the year 1860. At that time, Pompeii was already turning into a great attraction for the public. Shortly afterwards, archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli devised the famous technique which made it possible to create plaster casts of the tragedy’s victims. Even today, this depressing evidence gives you an idea of the catastrophe which descended so abruptly upon the people at Pompeii.
Meanwhile, those responsible are putting all their efforts into preserving Pompeii. Atmospheric influences and a rush of about two million visitors per year put the preservation of this unique cultural treasure at risk.
Considering the number of sights, you should take a whole day to visit the excavation site. Round off your program by visiting Naples Archaeological Museum, where a large number of finds from Pompeii have been taken.