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ITALY: What is Pompeii?

Pompeii is one of the worlds most fascinating and historical UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was founded around the 7th–6th century BC by the Osci or Oscans, a people of central Italy, on what was an important crossroad between Cumae, Nola and Stabiae.

Situated about about 8 kilometres away from Mount Vesuvius, it covers a total area of 163 acres, and in its day was a major city in the Italian region of Campania. Pompeii is currently found some distance inland, but in ancient times it would have been very near to the coast.

Since the eruption of the 'still active' volcano - Vesuvius, on the 24th August 79 AD, Pompeii was buried under twelve different layers of volcanic material to a maximum depth of 25 meters.

After these thick layers of ash covered the town, Pompeii was abandoned and eventually its name and location was forgotten. 

The first time any part of Pompeii was unearthed was in 1599, when the digging of an underground channel to divert the river Sarno ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions.

The architect Domenico Fontana was called in and he unearthed a few more frescoes, but he covered them over again, and nothing more came of the discovery. 

A wall inscription had mentioned a decurio Pompeii  - 'the town councillor of Pompeii' - but the fact that it indicated the name of an ancient Roman city hitherto unknown was missed.

Luckily, it was rediscovered almost 150 years later in 1748 by the Spanish engineer, Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. 

The now excavated town offers a snapshot of Roman life in the 1st century, frozen at the moment it was buried.

The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture. 

These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Roman period.

Uniquely, and perhaps rather grizzly, bodies of the Pompeii citizens were found during the excavations.

At the time plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held the human bodies. This now allows us to see the exact position the person was in when they died.

 Don't mistake these human shapes for simple plaster castes because they are not. Within the casings are the skeletal remains still exist!

Look carefully and you can see the evidence for yourself.

Pompeii attracts more than 2.5 million tourists a year and is Italy's second most visited attraction after the Colosseum in Rome.

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