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.

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Pompeii was built on an earlier lava flow from Vesuvius. The volcano has erupted hundreds of times since a.d. 79.
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.
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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:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuac√°n, Mexico

To learn more about other landmarks and Italian history, see:


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.