In 79 b.C., Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The mountain inhabitants of Campania Felix considered a simple and quite mountain was instead a terrible volcano, today considered one of the most dangerous in the world.
Pompei, Herculaneum and Stabia, once considered a sort of Olympus, made its voice heard. In a hot afternoon of August 79 b.C. it roared black smoke and it trembled from top to bottom. A disaster? An apocalypse? What was happening in that part of Southern Italy generally known as holiday destination for Roman noble families, crossroads of intense commercial trades, a small heaven on earth? And why?
Pliny the Younger told the disaster in a letter to Tacitus. The young man, eyewitness of the eruption, was at Miseno, in the northern part of the Gulf of Naples, guest of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, captain of the fleet working in that region. His uncle died during the eruption. His scientific curiosity combined to his sense of duty led him to go “where a cloud raised high with the same shape and aspect than a pine” to help Retina, Casco’s wife, worried by the strange event. But on the beach of Stabia, before boarding, he died beacuse of emissions.
Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia disappeared under tons of lapillus and ashes. Ihabitants were not able to guard against the eruption and they died without understanding what was happening. Many bodies were covered with heated ash and immortalized in their last breath. The casts are visible in the archeological sites and at the archeological museum of Naples. People lost track of these cities and this history and many people believed that Pompeii was a sort of legend, like Atlantis.
During the recovery works in the valley of Sarno (1594-1600) many coins and ruins were found. Excavations stopped in 1631 because of an earthquake. They restarted some centuries later, in 1738 those of Herculaneum and in 1748 those of Pompeii.
Excavations allowed to understand that Pompeii and Herculaneum were two typical imperial Roman cities. Patrician villas, shops, furnishings and even signs and inscriptions have allowed to rebuild a history that lapillus, ash and lava had buried for centuries.