Pompeii lies in ruins now, but thousands of years ago, it thrived as a prosperous Roman city. That came to a quick end when Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying the city almost instantly. The volcano's blast covered Pompeii in a thick blanket of ash, pumice and poison gas. This disaster left the city frozen in time for centuries until explorers and archaeologists began to unearth Pompeii's treasures.

Origins of Pompeii

It isn't known exactly when Pompeii was first developed or who built it. The city may have been founded by the Oscans sometime between the eighth and sixth century B.C. The city became a Roman colony in 80 B.C. The volcano that ultimately destroyed Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, may have existed for hundreds of thousands of years before the city's founding. The volcano previously erupted in 1780 B.C. This disaster, called the Avellino eruption, decimated almost every building within 15 miles of the volcano.

How Pompeii Lived

Ancient artifacts, ruined buildings and plaster casts taken of Pompeii's citizens provide clues of life in the city. Around the time of the volcanic eruption, Pompeii was a thriving city with a population of 10,000 to 20,000. The area had many taverns, shops and ornately decorated houses. It also had a 22,000-seat amphitheater in which gladiators competed for the peoples' entertainment. Many of the city's wealthiest citizens owned slaves. Quintus Poppaeus, an in-law of Emperor Nero, lived in the city but wasn't present when the volcano erupted.

The Mount Vesuvius Eruption

A powerful earthquake shook the Campania region in A.D. 63. It was a warning of the disaster soon to come. In August of A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted. The blast sent ashes and rocks so high they were visible for hundreds of miles around. Most citizens had time to evacuate the area, but nearly 2,000 of them stayed behind. Shortly after, a 100-mile-per-hour surge of pulverized rock and poisonous gas covered the city. It probably killed the remaining citizens instantly. After the disaster, Pompeii remained abandoned for several centuries.

Pompeii Today

In 1748, a group of explorers uncovered the ruins of Pompeii. The volcanic ashes had perfectly preserved the victims of the catastrophe, their possessions and most of the city's buildings. Many of the city's artifacts went to the Museo Nazionale, a museum in Naples, Italy. Excavations of the city are still ongoing. Lifelike casts of the volcano's victims are displayed in museum exhibits around the world.