Like an insect frozen in amber, Pompeii preserves a moment of the past for people who came long afterward. The Italian city was sealed like a time capsule when the eruption of mighty Mount Vesuvius buried it under ash and volcanic pumice in A.D. 79.
Today we can, in effect, step back nearly 2,000 years into the Greco-Roman world. Strolling through the excavated streets, we can wander into houses decorated with colorful frescoes, glance into shops, admire a 5,000-seat theater, and even read the bawdy graffiti scrawled on walls. Archaeologists have uncovered statues and mosaics, unearthed household objects, and found the bodies of people tragically killed in the midst of their daily chores.
Ironically, Pompeii was built on an earlier lava flow from Vesuvius, the looming
volcano that has erupted hundreds more times since the disaster of A.D. 79.
See more pictures of famous landmarks.
Founded in the seventh century B.C., Pompeii came successively under Greek and Roman power, growing into a prosperous trading port of 20,000 people. Only 10 percent of its people died in the eruption; the majority had fled, heeding the rumblings and dark warning clouds emitted by the volcano.
After the cataclysm of A.D. 79, the town lay buried and unknown until the 18th century. Excavations began in 1748, and today the Italian sun shines down on the ruins of villas, baths, and temples -- all signs of Pompeii's affluence. Houses had central atriums to let in light and air, and they stood along well-paved streets. The pavement in front of the House of the Faun is inscribed with the earliest known "welcome mat," while the House of the Vetii preserves paintings on mythological themes.
Via dell'Abbondanza was Pompeii's "Main Street," where bakeries, wine shops, and grocers conducted business. The walls are painted with notices of upcoming games and pitches for political candidates. If this resembles the daily life of today, perhaps the lesson of Pompeii is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:
To learn more about other landmarks and Italian history, see:
- Famous Landmarks
- National Monuments
- National Historic Sites
- Rome and the Roman Empire
- Gaius Julius Caesar
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.