Pompeii, the natural disaster that marked history forever

On Wednesday, a new film inspired by the disaster that occurred in the year 79 in Pompeii in Italy was released in theaters. The opportunity to come back to this event which marked history forever and did not only inspire archaeologists.

It is undoubtedly the most famous volcanic eruption in history and yet, we still do not know today the exact sequence of events. Almost 2000 years ago, Vesuvius erupted, causing the destruction of several Italian cities including Pompeii. It is then necessary to wait nearly 15 centuries before the city erased from the map emerges from oblivion. In the 17th century, archaeologists revealed the first vestiges of the ancient Roman city.

This is the starting point of many discoveries for specialists who will only confirm the identity of the site some 100 years later. Since then, field studies and excavations have never ceased, leading to the elucidation of many points on what happened in the year 79. But the most precious testimony is undoubtedly that left by Pliny on Young, a Roman poet who witnessed the eruption and recounted the events in his Letters before he died.

Pompeii, a prosperous city

In the 1st century, Pompeii was a commercial city with a flourishing economy benefiting from an advantageous geographical location. The standard of living is quite high there, so you can see sumptuous residences. If the city is not very important culturally or politically, the fact that it was frozen as it was by the ashes of Vesuvius is an important point.

For archaeologists, it is a precious image of the life of the Romans of the time in a provincial town like Pompeii. The city, which according to some writings had 12,000 inhabitants, was built at the very foot of Vesuvius and bordered the sea on the other side. The presence of the volcano made the agricultural land very fertile and contributed to the wealth of Pompeii.

However, it would seem that the Romans were unaware of the danger that Vesuvius could represent. Writings of the time suggest that the “force” hidden inside the mountain was the subject of stories but this did not constitute a source of concern for the inhabitants. They were all the more surprised when the mount got angry.

A destructive eruption

According to commonly accepted data, the eruption would have occurred in August 79 but some rather evoke the month of October or November. On the afternoon of that fateful day, Vesuvius woke up and spat out a gigantic cloud of ash and incandescent rocks, completely covering the neighboring towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabies with a layer of several tens of centimeters.

Under the weight of rocks and ashes, houses collapse on their inhabitants. Others die suffocated by the fiery clouds. Several hours later, the still active volcano releases lava flows that rapidly tumble down the flanks to engulf and destroy everything in their path. The inhabitants flee in the face of these glowing and very hot flows, but not everyone will be able to escape.

Some find themselves burned, blocked, others die of asphyxiation. The eruption ends the following day in the evening. In barely 48 hours, it will have erased several villages from the map, killed some 16,000 inhabitants (according to estimates) and completely altered the landscape. According to the findings, the disaster was preceded by several small earthquakes, warning signs that residents accustomed to tremors did not pay attention to.

Bodies frozen in time

Excavations from the 18th century brought to light more than a thousand bodies frozen in time. Many are still in the position in which they were surprised by the eruption. This sad spectacle quickly contributed to inscribing the tragedy of Pompeii in the memory. Added to this, the excavations have brought out of the ground many remains of houses, shops and even temples of worship.

At present, archaeologists believe that there are still many discoveries to be made in the basements of Pompeii which is regularly the subject of new excavations and studies. In January 2014, an American team announced that they had discovered new storefronts of restaurants and antique establishments. Structures from which they were able to extract food waste, indicating some of the dishes that the inhabitants used to taste.

This is only one research among many others, but all of them confirm that specialists still have a lot to learn from the remains remaining in Pompeii.

A place to protect

Today, the site classified as World Heritage by UNESCO since 1997 worries more and more. Because of bad weather in particular, some structures are deteriorating and appear dangerously weakened. In 2013, a project named “Great Pompeii Project” was launched to restore some damaged structures and protect others from humidity. In the meantime, the most famous volcanic eruption in history continues to inspire writers and directors.

More than 50 years after the release of the film The Last Days of Pompeii by Marion Bonnard and Sergio Leone, it is the turn of director Paul WS Anderson to tackle the subject with the peplum rich in special effects Pompeii (video above ) released in theaters on February 19.

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