Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lily from N C, NC. Lily Wonders, “Why was Pompeii destroyed?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lily!
For today’s Wonder of the Day, we’re going back in time to visit a famous ancient city. You may be thinking of Petra, Sparta, or even Atlantis. However, none of these are our target. Where are we going? We’re visiting Pompeii, of course!
Where is Pompeii? It’s located on the eastern shore of Italy, near Naples. Founded in the 8th century BCE, Pompeii was at first part of Greece. Later, it was ruled by Rome. Today, it’s most well-known for a disaster that took place there in 79 CE.
What happened to Pompeii? Mount Vesuvius, a volcano that lies northeast of the city, erupted. In doing so, it covered the city in ash. Vesuvius has erupted more than 50 times in recorded history. However, the volcanic event of 79 CE was the most severe and deadly one recorded.
In 79 CE, around 12,000 people lived in Pompeii. There, they could visit cafes, shops, bathhouses, and even a large arena. Many wealthy Roman citizens owned houses there. The city also had an upcoming election. Graffiti and political slogans appeared on many of the area’s buildings and common places.
When Vesuvius erupted, though, all of that came to a close. It sent a cloud of ash, rock, and gas high into the sky. This prompted many in the area to flee. People as far as a hundred miles away saw the cloud. However, some in Pompeii stayed, either unable or unwilling to leave.
The eruption destroyed nearly everything within 15 miles of the volcano. In Pompeii alone, 2,000 people lost their lives. Thousands more died in the surrounding area. When it ended, Pompeii was buried beneath millions of tons of ash and rock. And for over a thousand years, that’s where it stayed.
The excavation of Pompeii began in 1748. As explorers unearthed the city, they realized much of it was well preserved. Protected by the very ash that destroyed it, the city seemed frozen in time. Most of its buildings were still standing—several still with messages from the political campaigns and other graffiti. Everyday objects like pottery and even some food were also preserved.
Today, archaeologists continue to uncover the ruins of Pompeii. However, they face the challenge of protecting the city’s remains as they find them. Natural disasters, weather events, and flocks of tourists can all threaten the site. However, protective measures have made a big difference in recent years.
Today, about a third of Pompeii is still underground. The portion of the city that has been unearthed is closely guarded but open to visitors. In 1997, the city was named a UNESCO world heritage site, granting it even more protection.
Mere miles away, Mount Vesuvius also remains. It has erupted several dozen times since 79 CE. Could it once again bury Pompeii in ash and rock? Only time will tell.
Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2