Pompei was founded in the 7th century BC by the campanian
Oscans on a prehistoric lava flow of Vesuvio. It became a Roman
colony in 80 BC and prospered as major port and trading town,
adorned with grand temples, villas and palaces, until it was
devastated by an earthquake in 63 AD. Pompeii had been largely
rebuilt when Vesuvio erupted in 79 AD and buried it under a layer of
lapilli (burning fragments of pumice stone).
Although the town was completely covered by the shower, only about
2000 of its 20.000 inhabitants are believed to have perished. Later
Emperor Titus consideered rebuilding the city and Severus plundered
a little, but Pompeii gradually receded from the public eye.
The Pompeii area was completely abandoned during the period of
Saracen raids and its remains were further shaken by subsequent
earthquakes. In 1594, the architect Fontana stumbled across the
ruins during the construction of a canal. Though the discovery was
recerded, substantial excavation was not conducted until 1748, in
the time of Charles of Bourbon, who was interested above all in
retrieving items of value.
Work continues, but most of the ancient city has been uncovered.
Many of the mosaics and murals have been removed to the Museo
Archeologico Nazionale in Napoli and other museum around the world.
The town was surrounded by a wall with towersand eight gates,
through several of which you can now gain access to the town. The
western sea gate, the Porta Marina, was considerably closer to the
water before the eruption. Immediately as you enter you see on the
right the remains of an imperial villa with long porticoes. The
antiquarium above it contains remnants gathered from the city and,
in one room, body casts formed by hollows left in the hardened tufa
by decayed corpses, depicting their final moments of horror. Farther
alng Villa Marina you pass the striking Tempio di Apollo and enter
the foro, the centre of the city's life. The various buildings
around the forum include the Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter),
the market where you can see the remains of a series of shops, and
the Edificio di Eumachia, which features an imposing marble doorway.
Vesuvio is not Europe's most active volcano, but it is
potentially it most dangerous. More than 1.5 million people live
around and on its slopes. The volcano last erupted in 1944, during
the allied occupation of Naples, and since then, it has remained
ominuusly silent. Sismologists monitor the Vesuvio around the clock
and scientists are using computer simulations of past eruptions in
an effort to predict the potential force of new ones.
Its name is probably derived from the Greek "besubios" or "besbios",
which means fire. On the road to the summit there is the
Osservatorio Vesuviano (open to the public), commissioned by
Ferdinand II of Bourbon in 1841.