And we’re back! I hope your final days of summer were festive and fun. I went on a Canadian adventure, and over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing many of my finds. First stop, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where I had the good fortune to tour the 200+ artifacts excavated from the ancient city of Pompeii.
Pompeii was a provincial town located on the southwestern coast of what is today, Italy. On August 24, 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, spewing a cloud of ash 12 miles into the sky. A pyroclastic flow (a mixture of pumice and ash) roared down the mountain at speeds of 70 mph. The city was abruptly buried beneath 16 feet of ash and rock. Add to that the 1300 degree Fahrenheit heat flash and we’ve got a serious disaster on our hands.
“…darkness came…like the black of closed and unlighted rooms. You could hear women lamenting, children crying, men shouting…” ~ Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD) an eyewitness of the destruction of Pompeii.
The exhibit included the armor, sculptures, mosaics, and everyday items like cups and colanders, but the most riveting portion was the casts of corpses. In the mid1800s archaeologists poured plaster into the cavities surrounding the human and animal remains. This process brought to life the tragic final moments of the victims of Pompeii. Parents were found huddled around their child, a man with fist raised appeared to fight off the onslaught, and a guard dog was found still chained to his front porch.
Of the 20,000 residents of Pompeii, approximately 2,000 remained in the city. It was originally believed these poor souls died of asphyxiation, but further research revealed they died of heat shock.
[Because of the extreme heat] when the pyroclastic surge hit Pompeii, there was no time to suffocate. The contorted postures are not the effects of a long agony, but of the cadaveric spasm, a consequence of heat shock on corpses. ~Volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo of the Italian National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology, National Geographic News (Nov. 2010)
Today you can walk among the ruins of Pompeii. If you can’t afford the time or ticket for travel, check out these stunning photos from Google Earth. You can hike or drive to the top of Mount Vesuvius, now a national park. In the meantime, enjoy a virtual view courtesy of Google Earth.
Fun Fact: Roman and man about town, Pliny the Younger was a lawyer, public statesman and author. His writings revealed much about life in first century A.D. Rome. He also penned one of the first recorded ghost stories. Pliny wrote about a haunted house in Athens. A bearded old ghost apparently rattled his chains, stalked the tenants and kicked up quite a fuss until they finally discovered his bones buried in the courtyard.