On this day, 1,933 years ago, the first riffs of smoke began stirring from Mount Vesuvius in what is now Italy’s Campania region. Within 72 hours, lava, pounding chunks of tephra, and deadly pyroclastic flow from the volcano had killed 16,000 citizens of the Roman Empire (among them Pliny the Elder) and buried under a dense layer of ash four Roman cities. Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae all served as ports for the Italian Peninsula, each enjoying a history that went back even prior to Roman times and which came to an abrupt halt that August in 79 AD.
Today, visitors can tour the ruins of these cities, now absolutely spoiled with sunlight and the breeze off the nearby Gulf of Naples, and take pictures of frescoes, bright porticoes and devastated structures that centuries of archaeology have exposed again to the world. The ruins reveal cities once bursting with life: above every door of the main brothel are paintings advertising each woman’s erotic specialty; the town of Pompeii alone contained 158 bars; and right from the get-go archaeologists were struck by both the cheek and sheer volume of the graffiti to be found on the city walls. “I screwed the barmaid.” “On April 19th, I made bread.” “Cruel Lagulus, why do you not love me?” “Aufidius was here. Goodbye.” “Happiness to Pompeii!” // Patrick Barrett