25 Mind-Blowing Facts About The Pompeii Destruction

Posted by , Updated on June 20, 2024

Probably everyone has heard of Pompeii, the grand city of Ancient Rome crushed and buried by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

But do you know any further information about the tragedy?

Do you know how many people lost their lives under the ash or why were the consequences of the disaster so enormous and tragic?

To expend your knowledge of the Pompeii destruction, check out these 25 little-known facts.



Founded around 7th century BC, Pompeii was a highly developed and flourishing city before the disaster. It was a popular holiday resort for rich Romans who came to spend their holidays there.

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Even Nero, one of the most famous Roman Emperors, is thought to have had his villa or holiday home in Pompeii and his second wife Poppaea Sabina was a native of the town.

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Mount Vesuvius, an active stratovolcano located 9 km (5.6 miles) east of modern Naples, was just a few miles away from Pompeii but at that time, the locals didn’t even know it was a volcano.

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They couldn’t know how dangerous Vesuvius was because the last major eruption before the one in 79 AD was 1800 BC. At that time, it destroyed several Bronze Age settlements.

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Allegedly, the 79 eruption started in the morning of August 24, just one day after Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire.

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The eruption probably lasted about 24 hours but the ash, molten rock and pumice kept covering the city for two more days, burying it up to 6 meters (20 feet) deep.

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The molten lava reaching a temperature of about 700 C (almost 1300 F) flooded the city at a speed of 110 kilometers per hour (68 mph). There was no escape.

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The molten rock and pumice were expelled from the Mount Vesuvius at an incredible rate of 1.5 million tons per second.

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The lava and ash covered a total area of over 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) and destroyed not only Pompeii but also a few more surrounding towns and villages.

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The estimates of how many people died in the tragedy vary greatly but it might have been as many as up to 25,000 people.

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The eruption had the tragic consequences also due to the adverse wind direction. Usually, the wind blew in a direction, which would have blown most of the ash and pumice away but on that fateful day, the wind was blowing in an unusual northwesterly direction – straight over Pompeii.

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Contrary to the generally accepted fact that the disaster hit Pompeii on August 24, some archeological excavations suggest that the city was buried about 3 months later. This is also supported by an authentic document which gives the date of the eruption as November 23.

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Before the eruption of 79 AD, there was not even a word for volcano, it was created afterwards. Volcano derives from the word Vulcan - the Roman god of fire and metal forgery.

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There is a detailed account of the disaster thanks to Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator and poet who watched the eruption from distance, questioned survivors, and recorded their statements. Pliny’s letters, which are the only eyewitness accounts of the eruption, were discovered in the 16th century.

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The site was lost for about 1500 years until its rediscovery in 1599 when the digging of an underground channel to divert a local river ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions.

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An architect Domenico Fontana unearthed some frescos and items but because many of them had a strong sexual theme that was not considered a good thing in his age, he decided to rebury them.

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After that, the city had to wait another 150 years until it was rediscovered for the second time in 1748 by a Spanish military engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. This time, many intact objects as well as entire buildings were excavated.

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The objects buried under the thick layers of ash and pumice have been well-preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture. The artifacts found in the site provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of an Ancient Roman city.

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During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed the archeologists to see the exact position the people were in when they died.

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In total, more than 1,000 casts have been made of the dead bodies found in Pompeii, including whole families, groups of friends or couples who died in embrace.

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Occupying a total area of 150 acres, the city of Pompeii is now the world's largest excavation and archaeologist site.

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One of the most popular Italian tourist destinations for over 250 years, Pompeii has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is visited by over 2.5 million people every year.

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When King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii exhibition with his wife and daughter in 1819, he was so embarrassed by the erotic artwork that he decided to have it locked away in a secret cabinet, accessible only to “people of mature age and respected morals.”

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With an estimated age of 17,000 years, Mount Vesuvius remains the only active volcano on mainland Europe. Scientists suggest the volcano has erupted about 100 times so far but just a few of the eruptions were larger than the one in 79 which released a hundred thousand times more the thermal energy than it was released in the Hiroshima bombing.

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Over 3 million people living in the immediate proximity of Mount Vesuvius now makes it possibly the most dangerous volcano in the world. The last eruption was in 1944, since then, the volcano has been dormant, fortunately…

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