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Pompeii facts – fun facts about Mount Vesuvius volcano

Pompeii Ruins

Pompeii is an ancient Roman city located near the coast of the Bay of Naples, Italy.

Once a prosperous city, Pompeii, was buried under the debris of a dreadful volcanic eruption in 79 AD. Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted and in just 24 hours reduced the city to ashes.

The port city of Pompeii had attracted rich and sophisticated Romans since the 8th century BC. Turns out, thousands of years later, this tradition remains intact. Just that now tourists get attracted to Pompeii for the well-preserved ruins.

Pompeii facts

What makes a Pompeii doubly alluring is the number of mysterious or quirky facts hidden both in Pompeii’s history and its ruins.

Knowing a bit about Pompeii beforehand will help you admire it’s beauty a shade deeper.

Here are some interesting Pompeii facts that are bound to tickle the traveling bug in you.

Pompeii was once a thriving city

Pompeii was once a thriving city with 20,000 residents. But a tragedy struck in the month of August, 79 AD.

Mount Vesuvius, which was located 10 Kms (6.2 Miles) from Pompeii erupted burying the city in volcanic ash up to 16 feet deep.

The torrent of pumice, ash, and molten lava seared down the mountains nearly wiping Pompeii off the map. Most people fled. But an unfortunate number of 2000 died.

A 2000+ years old letter details the volcanic eruption

Evidence of Pompeii’s destruction came from a really old letter written by Pliny the Younger. He saw the Vesuvian eruption from a distance and narrated it to the eventual recipient.

In the letter, he also described how his uncle Pliny the Elder died in the fury unleashed by Mt Vesuvius.

He described the event as: “It resembled a (Mediterranean) pine more than any other tree. Like a very high tree, the cloud went high and expanded in different branches….sometimes white, sometimes dark and stained by the sustained sand and ashes.” Read Pliny’s first-hand account.

Vesuvius’ eruption has given us many geological terms

Since this eruption, Geologists have termed this kind of volcanic eruption as Plinian eruption.

Mount Vesuvius has erupted more than 50 times in the past 2000 years. But before the 79 AD eruption, there wasn’t a geological name of ‘volcano’. It was derived later from the Roman God of fire and forgery – Vulcan.

Pompeii was a summer tourist spot

The city of Pompeii was much advanced for its time. It was a summer tourist spot with more and more people flocking to the city every day.

There were mansions and caverns, factories and marketplaces, open- bath houses and a 20,000-seat arena, amphitheater, brothels, gymnasiums and a port.

Pompeii was a city which lived in harmony and prosperity.

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Pompeii had more than 25 brothels

Archaeologists have pinned down roughly 25 buildings that operated as brothels.

One such building named Lupanar (Lupa in Latin means she-wolf and a slang word for prostitutes) is a two-storey building with five rooms on each story.

The interior is painted with erotic artwork. The prostitutes were slaves and payment equaled to that of a few glasses of wine.

Roman Emperor Nero’s wife was from Pompeii

Roman Emperor Nero
Bust of Roman Emperor Nero. Image: History.com

Remember the Roman Emperor Nero? The one who is known to have played the fiddle when Rome was burning?

He is known to have maintained a vacation home in Pompeii. His second wife Poppaea Sabina was a native of Pompeii.

Poppaea was an ambitious and ruthless woman. It is believed that she married Nero’s good friend Otho to get close to Nero. Using the proximity to Nero, she became his favorite mistress. Using intrigue, she then went on marry Nero and become the Empress of Rome.

Inhabitants of Pompeii indulged in graffiti

A very amusing Pompeii fact is that the walls of the taverns and buildings still carry the Roman writings. Romans living in Pompeii seemed to love graffiti. Some of these have been translated as:

“Love dictates what I write and Cupid guides my hand: may I die if I wished to be a god without you.”

“I ask you to become the support of my old age. If you don’t believe I have money, don’t love me.”

“Wall, I am amazed you haven’t fallen into ruins since you bear the tedious scribbling of so many writers.”

“Myrtis, you suck well.” (At a brothel)

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Citizens of Pompeii were religious

Before Pompeii was taken over by the Romans it was a Greek outpost.

The city of Pompeii has remains of ancient Greek temples, which proves that its people were religious.

The Temple of Apollo, which is still intact, is considered the most important religious temple of the city.

People of Pompeii had ignored initial warnings

When Vesuvius erupted, it didn’t give anybody a chance to escape. However, it had been displaying signs of an impending doom for a long time.

Sixteen years before the massive eruption – that is in 63 AD – a huge earthquake had shaken the region. However, the people of Pompeii didn’t take the hint.

Instead of vacating the location, they went about rebuilding the town. Sixteen years later the town was still being rebuilt when the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted again.

No attempt was made to rebuild Pompeii

Usually, after a natural calamity, cities are rebuilt. However, after Pompeii got under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice, nobody tried to rebuild it.

The damage was so extensive and the impact so dreadful that people didn’t want to come back.

However, as happens in every natural calamity, the looters did come. Once Mount Vesuvius calmed down, the looters came in to dig tunnels and take away the riches from the city of Pompeii.

Even the neighboring cities such as Herculaneum etc were abandoned. Today combined tours to Pompeii and Herculaneum are quite popular with tourists.

Amphitheatre of Pompeii is the oldest stone building ever

Amphitheatre of Pompeii
Image: Wendy on Flickr

The Amphitheatre of Pompeii dates back to 70 BC. It is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater.

In fact, it is the oldest stone building of its kind known to man.

The next Roman amphitheater built from stone is the Colosseum in Rome, which was built a century later.

Pompeii was popular for its spicy fish sauce called Garum

Pompeii was famous in the Roman Empire for producing and exporting the finest spicy fish sauce called ‘Garum’.

The quality of Garum ranged from the very costly to the cheap – something like wine.

A good bottle of Garum could be obtained in Pompeii for today’s worth of $500.

Interestingly, the fish bones found in a Garum factory in Pompeii led to a more precise dating of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Pompeii’s discovery helped revive art

Discovery of Pompeii led to the revival of Neo-Classicism in the 18th Century. The Pompeii ruins became a major inspiration for the wealthy and fashionable Europeans.

They exhibited the life of Pompeii in their art and through reproductions of its artifacts. Some of the rich families went far as to build Etruscan rooms inspired by those in Pompeii villas.

Erotic art from Pompeii was locked up for 100+ years

Erotica in Pompeii
Image: List25.com

In 1819, King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii Exhibition at National Archaeological Museum of Naples and was offended by the erotic artwork on display.

He ordered it to be locked away in a secret cabinet for “people of mature age and respected morals.”

Ever since the Erotic artwork has been collected and kept at the Secret Museum in Naples. It has been opened and closed many times till in 2000 it was opened up for public forever.

Even today minors are allowed inside only in the presence of a guardian, or with written permission.

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Pink Floyd recorded a live concert at the amphitheater

In 1971, popular rockstar Pink Floyd and his band recorded a live concert at the Roman amphitheater of Pompeii.

This was for a concert Documentary film called ‘Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii’ directed by Adrian Maben.

This live show had no audience besides the crew which was filming the band.

Pompeii is the most well-preserved ruins in the World

In 1748, when the Campania region was dug up, explorers were shocked to find that Pompeii was exactly how it was on that fateful day.

Everything was marvelously preserved starting from the buildings to the dead bodies that were frozen in same positions where they had fallen. Archaeologists even found pickle jars and loaves of bread.

It is because of the near-perfect preservation that Pompeii tours from cities such as Rome, Naples, and Sorrento are popular.

Pompeii is world’s largest archaeological and excavation site

Mount Vesuvius
Thankfully it isn’t Mt Vesuvius spewing lava but a series of forest fires in summer. Image: Abc.net.au

Spanning over 150 acres, Pompeii is world’s largest archaeological site.

The town of Pompeii was around 10 Kms (6.2 Miles) from Mount Vesuvius, but the distance didn’t seem to help.

One-third of the city of Pompeii is still to be excavated

Only two third of Pompeii has been excavated so far.

However, Professor Pietro Giovanni Guzzo who heads the ruins site has imposed a moratorium on the excavation.

He along with many experts believes that it is more important to preserve what has been extracted already than to excavate more of Pompeii and expose it to the tourists and elements.

This is why the Italian Government has also started encouraging tourists to visit nearby ruin sites such as Herculaneum, Stabiae and Villa Poppaea.

Plaster helped get a snapshot of final moments of Pompeii

In 1863, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli took over excavations at Pompeii. Soon enough he spotted a unique characteristic – his team found regular empty spaces shaped like human beings inside layers of volcanic ash.

Since the human bodies had decomposed inside the volcanic ash, the empty space had been formed.

He decided to inject liquid plaster in the cavities and get the shape of the human body. The voids acted as molds and as a result, he managed to create more than a 1000 human figures caught in the ash.

These plaster casts have been a stark reminder of how fast doom had descended on Pompeii. These casts are also known as ‘muleteer’.

Over the years, the excavators have moved from plaster to transparent glass fiber. Because of the transparency, the remains in the cavities such as bones and their accessories can now be visible in the cast.

Pompeii’s ruins may not stay for long

The volcanic ash from Mt Vesuvius had preserved the Pompeii ruins for hundreds of years, however, once they were excavated they were exposed to the elements.

Sadly, without the natural preservative of the volcanic ashes, the objects and artifacts of Pompeii have started to decay.

It is estimated that $335 million is needed to preserve this heritage.

Is this a subtle sign that we need to visit this historic place before it all crumbles to dust? Hopefully, not.

Mount Vesuvius can go off again

Mount Vesuvius erupted six times in the 18th century and eight times in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it has erupted only thrice – in 1906, 1929 and 1944.

This doesn’t mean it won’t go off again. When it comes to a volcano, a period of lull is always cause for worry.

It is only a question of when and how badly.

Vesuvius is the world’s most dangerous volcano

Mount Vesuvius Volcano
Image: List25.com

Vesuvius is Europe’s only active volcano. It is also the world’s most dangerous volcano.

Even though it has been silent since 1944, if it goes off again, 3 million of people living around the mountain may lose their lives.

What’s more – all those tourists who will be visiting Pompeii and nearby ruins to witness the earlier Vesuvian destruction may also die. A poetic irony.

An 18th-century diarist Hester Lynch Piozzi has succinctly put it – “We, who today are spectators, may become spectacles to travelers of a succeeding century.”

US Airforce faced the brunt of Mt Vesuvius in 194

If you have read the novel ‘Catch-22’ by author Joseph Heller, you will remember US Army Air Force 340th Bombardment Group as an unlucky group.

The author had joined the 340th Bombardment Group as a B-25 bombardier in May 1944, and based on his experiences written the book.

Just a few months before Joseph Heller joined them – that is in the early months of 1944 (when WW2 was still on) the unit was exposed to the fury of Vesuvius.

The 340th Bombardment Group was stationed a few kilometers from the base of Mount Vesuvius – at Pompeii airfield.

Initially, the soldiers thought they can manage the volcano’s onslaught by wearing their leather jackets and metal helmets. After a while, better sense prevailed and they evacuated the field.

However, they had to leave their 88 B-25 Mitchell planes – 25 Million dollars’ worth of aircraft – behind.  When they came back, the planes were destroyed and useless.

Pompeii attracts 4 Million tourists every year

Pompeii has been a popular Italian tourist spot for the past 250 years. More than 4 million tourists buy tickets for Pompeii ruins every year.

It is believed that with so many tourists, the ruins of Pompeii are getting affected.

Some parts of the Pompeii ruins even collapse – like the 2,000-year-old “House of the Gladiators” which collapsed in 2010.

These Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius facts are certainly mind-blowing! We hope they spiked your curiosity.

When you do visit Pompeii do check out how many of these facts hold true. If possible, try digging some of your own.

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Recommended Reading
1. Pompeii and Herculaneum tour tickets
2. Pompeii tours – from Rome, Naples, Sorrento and Positano
3. Pompeii Tickets – price, discount, free entry to Pompeii ruins

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