The Death of Pompeii

"Vesuvius from Portici" by Joseph Wright
“Vesuvius from Portici” by Joseph Wright

vesuvius peopleIt’s a week for a lot of historical events, but this one is one of the more interesting events for me personally. I seem to have grown an interest in volcanoes over the last few years. One of my favourite movies is Dante’s Peak, which was a fictional volcano that blew in much the same fashion as Mt. St. Helens did for real about ten years before the movie was released.

Then, just recently, the movie Pompeii was released. I was really keen to watch it, then Mark referred to it as “Titanic with a volcano” and I knew I would be watching it alone. It was great, by the way, not so much for the eerie resemblance to the plot in Titanic, but for the historical accuracy and the graphic images of the volcano actually blowing its top (something that Dante’s Peak didn’t have the ability to do as well when it was released).

Pompeii-posterVesuvius erupted on this day in the year 79 A.D., which was 1,935 years ago. Rome was withering, and the people of Pompeii considered themselves an independent nation annexed by Roman thugs (something the movie got right). The city was buried under 20 feet of ash and pumice, which hardened and preserved the outlines of the victims in the postures they died in. Hundreds of years later, the city was uncovered by a Spanish engineer in 1748. Plaster was poured into the shells of the victims, where they lay, and now, if you visit Pompeii, you can see the outlines of the last citizens of Pompeii as they faced their death. It’s a sobering tour.

Volcanic eruptions may be the most powerful events in nature (they’ve been equated with the force of nuclear blasts), but they’re not dangerous in and of themselves. Unlike nuclear fallout, which can spread across thousand of miles, the blast radius of a volcano is very localized. It’s humans that make volcanoes deadly. Of the ten most dangerous, active volcanoes in the world, nine of them have entire cities of people living on their slopes, where the land is fertile and lush. Vesuvius is one of those volcanoes – the city of Naples lies at the foot of it. Naples is home to over four million people…

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