Vesuvius devastated Pompeii and Herculaneum (8th century BCE) in the eruption of 79 CE. Pompeii’s 11,000 residents suffered the most. Even so most escaped, salvaging some of their belongings as pumice blanketed the town for the first 18 hours. By the end of the first day it was covered with three meters of ash, pumice and other materials. The next morning the 20 mile/33km column of ash collapsed, sending 250C/400F air and pyroclastic material through the town at high speeds, killing everyone who remained.
Amazingly we have eye witness reports. Pliny the Younger wrote two letters in response to an inquiry from the historian Tacitus. Tacticus had asked about the death of Pliny the Elder, commander of the fleet at Misenum. Pliny the Elder went to help people and to get a closer view of the eruption, and ordered the fleet to assist in evacuations.
Vesuvius has erupted many times since: 172, 203, 222, possibly in 303, 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, 1049, around 1073, 1139, 1150, and there may have been eruptions in 1270, 1347, and 1500, 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century , 1906, 1929 and 1944, the last one. None have been of the scale of that of 79, one of the most powerful of all known volcanic eruptions. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last 100 years. It is the most densely populated volcanic zone in the world, with 3 million in the area and 600,000 in the danger zone. It is one of a number of volcanoes in the zone. See Vesuvius on Wikipedia
Excavations began in the 16th century, well before modern methods allowed for better preservation of the discoveries and extraction of information. Of course with more modern methods we have learned more about the times.
The artwork and its state of preservation are impressive, whether in the form of frescoes, statues or mosaics andhave had tremendous influence. “Artists, architects, potters, and even furniture makers drew much inspiration from Pompeii… The stucco work popularized in England by the 18th-century architects James and Robert Adam used the same motifs. In France, the in Louis XVI style incorporated Pompeian motifs, and the apartment of Louis’s queen, Marie Antoinette, at Fontainebleau was decorated in this style, which became popular throughout Europe. Jacques-Louis David and his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres drew inspiration for their paintings from the excavations. Indeed, the Neoclassic style stimulated by the discoveries at Pompeii completely replaced the Rococo and became the artistic style of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic period.” See Britannica
Achaeologists found bakeries with grinding stones and kneading machines. They found some ovens still with loaves of bread inside. Bread at that time contained bits of stone from the grinding process. This caused teeth to wear excessively. One fast food joint, called thermopolia, where hungry ancients grabbed quick meals. See the Smithsonian. From sewage pipes we’ve learned what was in the diet. See NBC News report The pipes are in such good shape that they could still be used.
The House of the Vettii is the largeset house in Pompeii. It reopened to the public after 20 years in 2015. Once again visitors can enjoy the stunning beauty of its art and admire the skills of the artists.
The House of Mysteries (2nd century BCE) is newly open to the public. There are exquisite frecoes in room 5 showing the initiation of a bride into a mystery cult. These are now the most famous of the frescoes in Pompeii.