The Roman Empire was at its peak in AD 79. It was conquering nations, building roads, expanding trade. Rome was all powerful, but even the might of the Emperor was no match for Mother Nature for on 24th August of that year, nature struck when Mount Vesuvius, a volcano which overlooks the Bay of Naples, erupted which such force it spewed molten rock, ash and gases into the atmosphere for 24 hours, and its pyroclastic flows buried the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Pompeii remained buried for about 1500 years, until it was partly discovered in 1599, but then it lay more or less dormant until 1748, when excavations began in earnest.
Underneath all the volcanic debris, the town remained remarkably intact because the lack of air and moisture helped to preserve the town, even though it was completely buried. Scientists could even tell what food the locals were eating at the time of the eruption, and where people were when the eruption occurred.
Today, Pompeii is one of Italy’s most famous tourist sites, receiving over 2.5 million visitors per year.
Ironically, it still remains as potentially dangerous today as it did in AD 79 as Mt Vesuvius is still active and still very unpredictable.
Perhaps the crowds flock there because its massive drawing power is dependent on the fact that Pompeii does offer modern folk the opportunity to see exactly what daily life was like in Ancient Rome. One of the reasons for venturing into Pompeii is not so much to see magnificent monuments, although these are evident in the Basilica and the Amphitheatre, but to experience the minutiae of ordinary living.
Some of the most interesting places to visit are the homes of citizens, some of which are quite grand and others rather simple.
One of the most impressive is the House of Vetti, which belonged to two brothers who had once been slaves, but were freed and became affluent, then displayed their wealth in the decorations in their home.
This house is decorated with elaborate frescoes on the walls, with a particular emphasis on the God of Fertility, hence many of the frescoes are quite bawdy.
There is a warning at the entrance of the rather simple House of the Tragic Poet, where a mosaic reads Cave Carnem, `Beware of the Dog’.
The nearest town to Pompeii is Pompei, which caters for the vast numbers of people who make the trip in order to re-create a most fascinating period of the past.