Pompeii: The Forgotten City | 10:30PM May 17, 2009
That’s the ominous Mt. Vesuvius looming in the not so distant background. Such a magnificent site that caused so much destruction. I find it astonishing that the eruption of this mountain in 79AD could bury a city (actually more than one city) under 20+ feet of ash and pumice and not have it rediscovered until the mid 1700s. Even more amazing is that everything under the ash remained as it had been before the eruption. Okay, many buildings were crushed but the fact that almost 2000 years later there is such a well preserved city with artifacts and artwork still intact is astonishing. You really do have to see it to believe it!
Here is an account of the eruption in 79AD, taken from the BBC website:
"The eruption lasted for more than 24 hours from its start on the morning of 24 August. Those who fled at once, unburdened by possessions, had a chance of survival, for the rain of ash and pumice, mixed with lithics, that descended for several hours was not necessarily lethal. It is clear that many, like the elder Pliny, thought their best chance was to take shelter and weather the storm.
It was not until around midnight that the first pyroclastic surges and flows occurred, caused by the progressive collapse of the eruptive column, and these meant certain death for the people of the region. (A pyroclastic flow is a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments and volcanic gas, which rushes down the side of a volcano as fast as 100 km/hour or more.)
The hundreds of refugees sheltering in the vaulted arcades at the seaside in Herculaneum, clutching their jewellery and money, met their end swiftly - from the intense heat of the first surge that reached the city.
Subsequent waves reached Pompeii, asphyxiating those who had survived the fall of 3m (10ft) of pumice, and were fleeing across the open in the dark, or hiding beneath roofs. The waves that followed smashed flat the upper floors of houses, and left the corpses encased in successive blankets of gaseous surge and pumice fall."