The eruption of Vesuvius 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 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.
It was normal practice to rebuild the cities of this region after even the most massive earthquakes; but neither Herculaneum nor Pompeii was reoccupied.
Instead, the site of Pompeii was riddled with tunnels by explorers, not by modern explorers as is often imagined, but by the Romans themselves after the eruption. Room after room of the city’s buildings had holes hacked through the walls by tunnellers, and though Pompeii has richer finds than any other Roman site, it is a city already extensively sacked by looters.
2. Pompeii, an eye witness account by me, a Bengali writer, 2009
I have been thinking of Pompeii since I have heard about a series of massive volcanic eruptions that wiped out half of life on Earth 200 million years ago.
When I was walking the stone-paved streets of Pompeii, I was imagining how some 2000 years ago hundreds of people walked in the same streets, enjoyed plays in the amphitheater, or gladiatorial sports in the stadium, met friends in the meeting places or in the gardens, worshiped gods, used public bath, bought pizza, bought sex, yes, there was a brothel in the city!
Pompeii was buried under 4-6 meter of volcanic ash and rock. The city remained frozen in time until it was discovered in 1748. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed visitors to see the exact position the citizens of Pompeii were in when they died. The main cause of their death was heat and ash suffocation. I was looking at those bodies and was thinking it could happen to me, to my friends, to all of us too. Nature was so beautiful, but sometimes it was so cruel!
I was also thinking about the differences between the past and the present. We still have brothels, we still have class system, we still build temples to worship gods. We haven’t evolved much.
I took some pictures of the ancient civilization.
Brothel and erotic art:
In Pompeii women were permitted to own land and houses and have jobs. Women of the upper classes were educated to a high standard. Pompeii was a sexually open city. Many erotic images including over-sized penises were discovered. But the city has been called ‘a sin city’ by some conservative Christians. They speculate that Pompeii was the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and the destruction of the city was divine.
Shop,amphitheater, Apollo temple, rich house.