Life in Pompeii ran normal, quiet, no one imagined the terrible eruption of Vesuvius that would lead to the destruction of Pompeii. All the activity was intense, the city was active and carefree in that October 79 AD, while Roman Emperor Titus conducted his government (Svetonio calls it “love and delight of mankind”) after conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.
But there were already signs of the disaster: only fifteen years earlier – in the 62 – Pompeii was hit by a terrible earthquake, whose signs were still present in the city at the moment of the final destruction. Pompeii was then a large construction site, where they worked hard to restore public and private buildings and at the time of the final destruction the monuments of the Forum were all still closed.
It all began when the morning of August 24 (but some tell it was in October) the inhabitants of the city saw a big pine shaped cloud coming out of the crater of Vesuvius. Even today those who visit the city can see the volcano very closely, and from the Foro perspective is direct, immediate. At around 10 am there was a terrific explosion: the cap of lava that blocked the crater was blown up, it shattered in lapilli, whose rain fell helplessly on the city and in an area with a radius of 79 kilometers. The lapilli are of pumice stone:it flooded the city to a height of almost 3 meters. The rain lasted until August 28, accompanied by emission of poisonous gases, ash and by continuous and terrible earthquakes that reached Nola, Naples and Sorrento.
The tragedy of Pompeii was consumed right in the first: many inhabitants were killed by the poison gas that they seized in the mad rush to safety, as shown by the plaster casts made by archaeologists. These are the most terrible evidences of the tragedy. When the lava solidified, the human remains dug a kind of bubble with decomposition, a bubble that was filled with lime by archaeologists so they could retrieve these testimonies. Many other people ended up crushed by the roofs of houses collapsed in the blanket of lapilli.
Herculaneum was destroyed instead by an avalanche of mud formed by the ash eruption, mud that covered the city under twenty meters.
There were thousands of deads in Pompeii, and the surviving population was forced to flee and never return back. The Emperor Titus sent an inspection but little could be done. Pompeii had disappeared forever, and its inhabitants with it. Only 1,700 years later, luckily, his memory emerged from cropland that had grown on the ancient city. And now it is there, waiting for the new inhabitants to live it again in search of the vanished past.
The letter of Pliny
But about the eruption of Vesuvius we have an amazing testimony, that of Plinio the Younger, who narrates in two letters to a recipient of exception, the historian Tacitus, what happened and what conduced the death of a martyr of science, his uncle Plinio the Elder, the great naturalist, who had rushed to the scene to check with his presence the extraordinary natural events. In the first letter the Younger tells the death of his uncle, who, living in Campania, had seen the frightening cloud rising from the top of the volcano and had equipped ships to run as close as possible and save some friends who were in the villas. But he reached Stabia had failed to escape for the bad sea conditions and died on the beach caught by poisonous fumes.
In the second letter Plinio tells of his escape from Miseno, hit by earthquakes and with the sky covered by the frighteningly cloud of ash and lapilli, so much so that it seemed night. After a few hours of escape and terror, the cloud finally began to get thinner out and the sky slowly started to lighten. The disaster was over, but countless lives and some cities had disappeared from the face of the earth.