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. Thousands of years later, this tradition remains intact.
Thousands of years later, this tradition remains intact.
What makes Pompeii doubly alluring is the number of mysterious or quirky facts hidden both in Pompeii’s history and its ruins.
Knowing about Pompeii beforehand will help you admire its beauty a shade deeper.
Here are some interesting Pompeii facts that are bound to tickle the traveling bug in you.
1. Pompeii was once a thriving city
Pompeii was once a thriving city with 20,000 residents. But a tragedy struck in August 79 AD.
Mount Vesuvius, located 10 Km (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.
2. 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.
3. Vesuvius’ eruption has given us many geological terms
Since this eruption, Geologists have termed this kind of volcanic eruption as a Plinian eruption.
Mount Vesuvius has erupted more than 50 times in the past 2000 years. But before the eruption in 79 AD, there wasn’t a geological name for ‘volcano.’
It was derived later from the Roman God of fire and forgery – Vulcan.
4. 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 daily.
There were mansions and caverns, factories and marketplaces, open-bath houses, a 20,000-seat arena, amphitheater, brothels, gymnasiums, and a port.
Pompeii was a city which lived in harmony and prosperity.
5. 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 that of a few glasses of wine.
Lupanar is one of the top attractions in Pompeii.
6. Roman Emperor Nero’s wife was from Pompeii
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 their proximity to Nero, she became his favorite mistress. Using intrigue, she then married Nero and became the Empress of Rome.
Visual Story: 13 must-know tips before visiting Pompeii
7. 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)
Follow the link for some of the funniest Pompeii graffiti
8. Citizens of Pompeii were religious
Before the Romans took over Pompeii, 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.
9. People of Pompeii had ignored initial warnings
When Vesuvius erupted, it didn’t give anybody a chance to escape.
However, it had displayed signs of an impending doom for a long time.
Sixteen years before the massive eruption in 63 AD, a huge earthquake shook 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, when the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted again, the town was rebuilt.
10. 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 Pompeii.
Even the neighboring cities, such as Herculaneum etc. were abandoned. Today, combined tours to Pompeii and Herculaneum are quite popular with tourists.
11. Amphitheatre of Pompeii is the oldest stone building ever
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii dates back to 70 BC. It is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater.
It is the oldest stone building of its kind known to man.
The next Roman amphitheater built from stone is the Colosseum in Rome, made a century later.
12. 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 very costly to 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.
13. 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 rich families went as far as to build Etruscan rooms inspired by those in Pompeii villas.
14. Erotic art from Pompeii was locked up for 100+ years
In 1819, King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii Exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and was offended by the erotic artwork on display.
He ordered it to be locked 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 was opened and closed many times until 2000 when it was opened for the public forever.
Even today, minors are allowed inside only in the presence of a guardian, or with written permission.
15. 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 filming the band.
16. 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 the same positions where they had fallen.
Archaeologists even found pickle jars and loaves of bread.
17. Pompeii is world’s largest archaeological and excavation site
Spanning over 150 acres, Pompeii is world’s largest archaeological site.
The town of Pompeii was around 10 Km (6.2 Miles) from Mount Vesuvius, but the distance didn’t help.
18. One-third of the city of Pompeii is still to be excavated
Only two-thirds 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 and many experts believe it is more important to preserve what has been extracted than to excavate more of Pompeii and expose it to 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.
19. 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.
The empty space had been formed since the human bodies had decomposed inside the volcanic ash.
He decided to inject liquid plaster into the cavities and get the shape of the human body. The voids acted as molds, so he managed to create more than 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 ‘muleteers.’
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.
Must read: Heard of the masturbating man of Pompeii?
20. Pompeii’s ruins may not stay for long
The volcanic ash from Mt Vesuvius had preserved the Pompeii ruins for hundreds of years; however, they were exposed to the elements once they were excavated.
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.
21. 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 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 lull is always cause for worry.
It is only a question of when and how badly.
22. Vesuvius is the world’s most dangerous volcano
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 people living around the mountain may lose their lives.
Moreover, all those tourists visiting Pompeii and nearby ruins to witness the earlier Vesuvian destruction may also die. It’s 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.”
23. US Airforce faced the brunt of Mt Vesuvius in 1944
If you have read the novel ‘Catch-22’ by author Joseph Heller, you will remember the US Army Air Force 340th Bombardment Group as unlucky.
The author had joined the 340th Bombardment Group as a B-25 bombardier in May 1944 and wrote the book based on his experiences.
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 could 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.
24. 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 being affected.
Some parts of the Pompeii ruins collapsed – like the 2,000-year-old “House of the Gladiators” in 2010.
These Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius facts are certainly mind-blowing! We hope they spiked your curiosity.
When you visit Pompeii, check out how many of these facts hold. If possible, try digging some of your own.
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