What really happened in Pompeii?


There’s a good bet you’ve heard the name ‘Pompeii’ in some capacity or another, but you may not know exactly what to make of it. Pompeii was actually an ancient city of the Roman Empire, situated in the Campania area of Italy. It is best known for being buried beneath a mountain of volcanic lava and ash, following the eruption of volcano Mount Vesuvius. At the time, many believed it to be the work of the vengeful Gods, but what really happened? Well, let’s look a little closer, and go back to the beginning.

The lost city

The city of Pompeii was thought to have been founded in the 7th Century (though some sources state it is as far back as the 6th Century) and became a Roman colony. The city, along with much of the surrounding area, was lost for thousands of years after the explosion of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79AD. The firestorm caused by the eruption engulfed Pompeii, and many of the towns around it, causing carnage and destruction. The volcanic ash and debris wiped out all signs of life in Pompeii, as well as Herculaneum and Stabiae, and the city was buried, remaining undiscovered for almost 2,000 years.


Pliny the Younger

So, how do we know what happened if it was so long ago? Well, fortunately, back in olden times people were meticulous at keeping records, and the Roman author and magistrate Pliny the Younger documented the event in the form of a letter. It is this letter that has given historians and volcanologists an account of what took place here so many years ago. Being one of the world’s most temperamental volcanoes, Vesuvius has erupted over 50 times in the past, though this is its best-known eruption. The subsequent carnage reveals it as one of the deadliest ever volcanoes – over 1,000 are thought to have died as a result of the explosion that buried the city.



In 1748, explorers carried out an excavation of the site, and were shocked to discover, beneath the ash and debris, a city almost completely intact! There were skeletons, artifacts, and temples preserved over time by the very thing that had wiped them out. This incredible discovery taught us so much about the ancient world and the Roman Empire, and played a huge part in neo-Classicism, and transformed the way many people viewed artwork and architecture.



Mount Vesuvius, the world’s most famous volcano, is actually still active today, though hasn’t seen an explosion since 1914. Nevertheless, around 3 million people live in the surrounding area, and, the unpredictable nature of the casino makes it one of the most dangerous in the world. In some ways, the volcano, and the devastation it caused is almost as well known as the city it destroyed, and the fates of the two seem inextricably intertwined.


In spite of the very real danger posed by Vesuvius, the site of Pompeii remains a hugely popular tourist attraction, with thousands visiting every year. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover more about the ancient world.