August 24, 79 A.D. was an historic date for the world. This was the day that Mount Vesuvius erupted in a huge explosion. It was one of the largest volcanic explosions in recorded history.
Mount Vesuvius is a volcano in southern Italy that sat dormant for centuries. But that all changed when the deadly volcano destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. They were buried by volcanic ash and pumice.
The only active volcano in mainland Europe, Mt. Vesuvius is still considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. It is a complex stratovolcano, which is a highly scenic but also a highly deadly type of volcano. Stratovolcanos have gentle lower slopes, and then rise steeply toward the peak. Their eruptions are explosive and involve pyroclastic flows—fast-moving currents of fluidized rock and gases. Mt. Vesuvius is located on the western coast of Italy, making and cities and towns such as Naples highly vulnerable to destruction in an eruption.
There is a detailed account of the eruption thanks to Pliny the Younger, who was a Roman administrator and poet. He watched the eruption from afar, questioned survivors, and then wrote of the event in letters to his friend Tacitus. Pliny’s letters, which are the only eyewitness accounts of the eruption, were discovered in the 16th century.
At the time of the eruption, around 20,000 people — manufacturers, merchants, and farmers — lived in Pompeii, and another 5,000 lived in Herculaneum. The region was a popular summer tourist destination, and there were some smaller towns and resort areas as well. Many of the people who did not flee when the eruption started were buried alive by ash and other molten material. It is estimated that about 16,000 people died in the eruption, but the exact total number remains completely unknown.
Damage was so extensive and the effect of the tragedy so great that no attempts were made to reoccupy the area.
Historians believe that Pompeii was buried under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice. In 1748 when explorers examined the site, they found that the volcanic ash had acted as a preservative, and many of the buildings and even the skeletons and remnants of city life were still intact. This city frozen in time has provided historians with a glimpse into what life was like in ancient Rome, and more than 1,000 casts have been made of recovered bodies that were preserved in the ash. The city of Herculaneum was less fortunate — it was buried under more than 60 feet of mud and other volcanic material.
Mt. Vesuvius is still considered an active volcano. Mount Vesuvius exploded a second time in 1631. At that time, it killed approximately 3,500 people. The most recent eruption occurred in 1944. The eruption destroyed dozens of B-25 bombers of the U.S. Army Air Force’s 340th Bombardment Group stationed at Pompeii Airfield. Twenty-six Italian citizens were killed, but there were no military fatalities resulting from the volcano’s eruption. Experts believe that a massive eruption could happen again soon, posing potential danger to the more than 2 million people who now live in the area.
Sources: www.holidayinsights.com; www.history.com; www.wikipedia.com;