Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Many of the inhabitants were also buried before they could escape. At the time of the eruption, the town may have had some 11,000 inhabitants, and was located in an area where Romans had holiday villas.

The catastrophe was described in a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens. The site was eventually lost until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. The city has been largely preserved because of lack of air and moisture. The artefacts preserved provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of the city. During excavations liquid plaster was used to fill the voids in the ash that once held human and animal bodies giving often gruesome images of their last moments.

Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.

Temple of Apollo

Facing the northern side of the town, the Temple of Apollo was the town's most important religious building and has very ancient state of origin. The cult of Apollo, imported from Greece, was very widespread in Campania, and is attested in Pompeii since the 6th century BC. The sanctuary gained its present appearance in a 2nd-century BC rebuild and another reconstruction to repair the damage from the 62 earthquake (repairs left incomplete at the time of the eruption). The temple, in the center of a sacred enclosure, was surrounded on all four sides by a wide series of tuff columns from Nocera, originally grooved and with Ionic capitals, that were being replaced with stucco columns and Corinthian capitals painted in yellow, red and dark blue.

The elegant Doric architrave of metopes and triglyphs resting on the columns was transformed into a continuous frieze with griffins, festoons and foliage. Today the remains of the templefront appear as they originally did, since almost all of this transformation in plaster has disappeared. Some statues of a deity have been recovered, facing the columns of the portico. These are now in the National Archeological Museum of Naples, though copies of two of them – one representing Apollo, the other a bust of Diana – have been placed where the originals were found.

Amphitheatre

Built around 70 BC, the current amphitheatre is the earliest Roman amphitheatre known to have been built of stone; previously, they had been built out of wood. The next Roman amphitheatre known to be built from stone is the Colosseum in Rome, which postdates it by over a century. Contemporarily, it was known as a spectacula rather than an amphitheatrum, since the latter term was not yet in use at the time. It was built with the private funds of Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius.

 

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Founded: 7th century BCE
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Italy

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