Providing a breathtaking illusion of antiquity, the ancient city of Pompeii is near the bay of Naples in the southern Italian region of Campania and is still and forever shadowed by its tormentor, Mount Vesuvius.
According to myth, the Greek hero Herakles bestowed upon Pompeii its name whilst passing through Italy after defeating the three-headed monster giant Geryon. The name Pompeii derives from the word Pompe/Pompa, the Ancient Greek word for the procession in honour of Herakles’s triumph over the giants as one of his twelve labours.
The Campanian Oscan, a local italic population, established Pompeii on the end of ancient lava flow sometime around the 8th century BC. It was only a small site. Pompeii’s foundation, as we know of today, is attributed to the ancient Greeks, who took full control of the region and transformed Pompeii (and nearby city of Herculaneum) into an important trading centre and port.
The city developed and grew especially under the powerful influence of the nearby ancient Greek coastal colonies of Cumae and Neapolis (Naples). The beginnings of the city planning and buildings were established during this period.
The Greek political influence diminished when Pompeii fell under the control of the Etruscans and then the Samnites and in 290 BC the city became a subject ally of Rome. However, Greek (Hellenistic) culture continued to be the leading influence, especially in art, architecture, religion and way of life.
It all sounded too good to be true when In AD 62, Mount Vesuvius, now stirring, gave warning of its destructive power when Pompeii was devastated by a major earthquake. However, warning signs were mostly ignored and Pompeii, now with a booming population of about 20,000 inhabitants, choose to rise above the ruins and continued to grow and prosper whilst rebuilding and restoring its damaged buildings and infrastructure.
The reconstruction of the city was in full swing when the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred in AD 79 (August 24, according to some historians).
In just over two days, Pompeii was buried under volcanic debris (lapilli, ash and red-hot scoria) between 5 to 7 metres deep. At least 2000 people who choose to stay in Pompeii and see it out were trapped and died. Poisonous gases killed some others who escaped the city whilst trying to reach safe ground.
Pompeii was lost to the world for around 1500 years, when rediscovered accidentally around 1600. Small-scale excavations started around 1748 and then finally, in 1860, large-scale scientific and systematic excavations organised by the Italian government were underway. Today, around three-fifths of Pompeii have been excavated.
Pompeii is a vast site and even at the peak of the summer tourist season, I could capture images with no people in the vicinity. I highly recommended you visit it if you get the chance. Ideally, you will set aside a full day for it. Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
All Images, Text and Content Are Copyright Steven Sklifas.