Need To Know

How was Pompeii destroyed?

Pompeii was a medium-sized Roman city in the Italian region of
Campania. In 79 CE, however, it was completely destroyed in the
eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius, a stratovolcano located close
to the city of Naples.
The destruction of Pompeii (and other cities; see below) was caused
according to stratigraphic studies in two main phases. The fi rst phase
was a Plinian eruption, which is typifi ed by a colossal ejection of gas
and volcanic ash high into the stratosphere. This phase lasted roughly
20 hours and produced a rain of pumice in a southwards-reaching
cone that stretched for over 32 kilometres (20 miles).
The second – and for the people of Pompeii, even more deadly
– phase was a Peléan eruption, which consisted of a number of
vast pyroclastic fl ows. These fl ows were fast-moving currents of
superheated gas (at roughly 1,000 degrees Celsius/1,800 degreesFahrenheit)
and rock that rapidly dispersed at ground level into the
surrounding area. The combination of both these phases led to the
burning and asphyxiation of all life that stood in harm’s way.
In addition, the eruption caused a small tsunami in the nearby Bay
of Naples, rendering escape attempts by boat impossible, and a series
of tremors that aided the destruction of dwellings and temples.
Today, over a thousand casts have been made from impressions
of bodies trapped in Vesuvius’s ash and flow deposits discovered in
and around Pompeii, along with various other scattered remains. Out
of the total found, 38 per cent were discovered in ash fall, with the
remaining 62 per cent found in surge deposits. Unfortunately, due to
a lack of official documentation from the time, what percentage these
represent of Pompeii’s total population is unknown.
Since the eruption of 79 CE, Vesuvius has erupted more than
30 times, the last occurring in March 1944. Despite this, the area
surrounding Mount Vesuvius continues to be lived in by many
Italians, with the entire region in its immediate vicinity colonised.
To combat the potential for disaster, the Italian government
foresees the need for an emergency evacuation of over 600,000
people and has marked a ‘Red Zone’ for those areas that would be
most affected.

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