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Pompeii - Vesuvius Eruption

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Vesuvius eruption A computer-generated depiction of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 which buried Pompeii (from BBC's Pompeii: The Last Day). The depiction of the Temple of Jupiter, facing the forum, and the Temple of Apollo, across the portico to the left, are nonetheless inaccurate, and the shown state of the porticoes around the forum is also at least questionable, as they all appear intact during this recreation of the 79 eruption; it is widely known that at least the Temples of Jupiter and Apollo had been destroyed 17 years before, during the 62 earthquake, and that they had not been rebuilt by the time the city was finally destroyed in the 79 eruptionBy the 1st century, Pompeii was one of a number of towns located around the base of Mount Vesuvius. The area had a substantial population which grew prosperous from the region's renowned agricultural fertility. Many of Pompeii's neighboring communities, most famously Herculaneum, also suffered damage or destruction during the 79 eruption. By coincidence it was the day after Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire. The people and buildings of Pompeii were covered in up to twelve different layers of soil. Pliny the Younger provides a first-hand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius from his position across the Bay of Naples at Misenum, in a version which was written 25 years after the event. The experience must have been etched on his memory given the trauma of the occasion, and the loss of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, with whom he had a close relationship. His uncle lost his life while attempting to rescue stranded victims. As Admiral of the fleet, he had ordered the ships of the Imperial Navy stationed at Misenum to cross the bay to assist evacuation attempts. Volcanologists have recognized the importance of Pliny the Younger' s account of the eruption by calling similar events "Plinian".The eruption was documented by contemporary historians and is universally accepted as having started on August 24, 79, based on one version of Pliny's letter. However the archeological excavations of Pompeii suggest that it was buried 2 months later; this is supported by another version of the letter. People buried in the ash appear to be wearing warmer clothing than the light summer clothes that would be expected in August. The fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops are typical of October, and conversely the summer fruit that would have been typical of August was already being sold in dried, or conserved form. Wine fermenting jars had been sealed over, and this would have happened around the end of October. The coins found in the purse of a woman buried in the ash include a commemorative coin that should have been minted at the end of September. So far there is no definitive theory as to why there should be such an apparent discrepancy.
"Garden of the Fugitives". Some plaster casts of victims of the eruption still in actual Pompeii; many are in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. (Casts can also be found, amongst other places, near the forum, inside the baths, and at the Villa of the Mysteries.)After thick layers of ash covered the two towns, they were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten. Then Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 by workmen working on the foundation of a summer palace for the King of Naples, Charles of Bourbon. Pompeii was rediscovered as the result of intentional excavations in 1748 by the Spanish military engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. These towns have since been excavated to reveal many intact buildings and wall paintings. The towns were actually found in 1599 by the architect Domenico Fontana, who was digging a new course for the river Sarno, but it took more than 150 years before a serious campaign was started to unearth them. Charles of Bourbon took great interest in the findings even after becoming king of Spain because the display of antiquities reinforced the political and cultural power of Naples. Karl Weber directed the first real excavations; he was followed in 1764 by military engineer Franscisco la Vega. Franscisco la Vega was succeeded by his brother, Pietro, in 1804. During the French occupation Pietro worked with Christophe Saliceti. Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavations in 1860. During early excavations of the site, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. It was Fiorelli who realized these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies and so devised the technique of injecting plaster into them to perfectly recreate the forms of Vesuvius's victims. What resulted were highly accurate and eerie forms of the doomed Pompeiani who failed to escape, in their last moment of life, with the expression of terror often quite clearly visible. This technique is still in use today, with resin now used instead of plaster because it is more durable, and does not destroy the bones, allowing further analysis.Some have theorized that Fontana found some of the famous erotic frescoes and, due to the strict modesty prevalent during his time, reburied them in an attempt at archaeological censorship. This view is bolstered by reports of later excavators who felt that sites they were working on had already been visited and reburied. Even many recovered household items had a sexual theme. The ubiquity of such imagery and items indicates that the sexual mores of the ancient Roman culture of the time were much more liberal than most present-day cultures, although much of what might seem to us to be erotic imagery (eg oversized phalluses) was in fact fertility-imagery. This clash of cultures led to an unknown number of discoveries being hidden away again. A wall fresco which depicted Priapus, the ancient god of sex and fertility, with his extremely enlarged penis, was covered with plaster, even the older reproduction below was locked away "out of prudishness" and only opened on request and only rediscovered in 1998 due to rainfall.In 1819, when King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii exhibition at the National Museum with his wife and daughter, 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". Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, it was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s (the time of the sexual revolution) and was finally re-opened for viewing in 2000. Minors are still only allowed entry to the once secret cabinet in the presence of a guardian or with written permission. A large number of artifacts come from Pompeii are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.


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