24 August AD 79 On this Day
Vesuvius erupted and buried the people of Pompeii. The eruption occurred just one day after the Vulcanalia, the festival celebrating Vulcan, a Roman god associated with fire. One eyewitness, Pliny the Younger, compared the smoke shooting up from Mount Vesuvius to a pine tree. He describes how the earth shook and the ash flew several kilometers into the sky. After which avalanches of red hot ash and gas ran down the sides of the mountain with speeds approaching 180 km/h. A few hours later, the two Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely buried under tons of ash and rocks.
The eruption buried Herculaneum in 20 meters of ash, whilst Pompeii was only buried under approximately 3 meters of ash. The area surrounding Mount Vesuvius was rendered uninhabitable for centuries following the eruption, as a result these cities eventually drifted from history, until they were rediscovered in 1748.
The resulting ash fall which solidified has preserved the Roman towns near modern day Naples with incredible detail providing historians and archaeologists with a spectacular insight into Roman life. From a historical point of view Herculaneum is in many ways more important than the better known Pompeii because the depth of the ash fall has preserved a second story on many buildings.