Pompei was founded roughly at the same time of Rome as a merchant village on the crossing of three important roads from the north, the southwest and southeast of the boot-shaped peninsula. Due to its important business role in the region it had a very turbulent history of passing from one kingdom to another, until it was inevitably annected to Rome around 80 b.C. – this is when it grew both in size and fame, becoming among other things a sort of preferred seaside holiday getaway for rich Romans.
There are not many historical information about the city. We know that in the year 59 the people of Pompeii fought with their Nuceran neighbors over a gladiatorial game, forcing the emperor to ban every circus entertainment in the area for ten years. The un-entertained Pompeians were then struck by a strong earthquake in 62, but the reason for which they sadly entered history forever is the 79 eruption of the nearby Vesuvius volcano. Differently from popular depictions, the eruption wasn’t a complete surprise. The area had been shaken by a series of other earthquakes in the weeks before, so much that most of the population had already evacuated. What is true is that the eruption was sudden and swift when it came, burying the whole city under a thick bed of burning thin ashes that penetrated everywhere, killing the remaining Pompeians in their place.
Possibly even more interesting for its artistic beauty is the nearby area of Ercolano, where the sumptuous villas of the richest landowners were built. Here it is possible to get a precise idea of the luxurious lifestyles of the nobility – especially when compared to the fascinating yet mundane buildings of the main city. While today the Pompei and Ercolano excavations are in dire need of better preservation and the overall job is still far from being completed, visiting this place is without any doubt the best opportunity to see ancient Roman life in its entirety – from religious temples to brothels, from bakeries to spas, from humble housing to breathtaking palaces, from official institutions to stadiums and theatres. You won’t find 3D visual effects and thunderous explosions there, but “simply” the eerie peace of a civilization like ours. Two thousand years earlier.