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Culture: The Cities of Ashes

Part 3: Pompeii & Heculaneum - The Cities That Vanished

 

 

It is August 24, 79 AD. People of Pompeii and Herculaneum are doing their usual routine. The rich are coming to Pompeii, this major resort city and port. It is busy and bustling, with traders from everywhere and people visiting the temples of Venus, Jupiter and Apollo, all of which are near the forum. The land is rich and the area is known for its grapes and olive trees.

There were several smaller earth tremors in the previous few days, but nothing alarming. Just yesterday, there was a great celebration in the name of Vulcan.

And then, the disaster strikes.

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Mount Vesuvius had erupted and the two cities were buried under 20 feet of ash and debris in the matter of just a few days. It is estimated that about 16000 people died. The pyroclastic surge had been devastating.

Unlike Pompeii, the deep pyroclastic material which covered Herculaneum preserved many objects which were based on organic material, primarily roofs, beds, doors and food. It goes without saying that the same was for some 300 skeletons which had been found in the city. Since Herculaneum lay to the west of Vesuvius, unlike Pompeii, which was in the direct path, it was only mildly affected by the first phase of the eruption. This was not the case with Pompeii where the roofs collapsed under the weight of falling debris and ash. 

The recent studies have shown that the lethal effects of the pyroclastic surges were primarily due to the heat. The heat was the main cause of the death of people not suffocation. The people were dead long before the ash even touched them. They were dead the moment that the wave of heat enveloped the city.

 

 

The city of Pompeii continues to attract visitors due to its unusually cruel fate. It is ironic that prior to the eruption of a volcano, just a day before in fact, the people of Ancient Rome were celebrating Vulcan, the god of fire. What a twist of fate indeed!

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