Though it’s probably not the legacy the denizens of Pompeii in the year of 79 A.D. really wanted to leave behind, the history of Pompeii is fairly easy to decipher, thanks to a little help from the nearby volcano of Vesuvius. Prior to the famed eruption, the city of Pompeii was a bright and bustling town, far enough removed from the activities of Rome to beckon all kinds of wealthy and aimless types away from the capital, situating the city of Pompeii as the equivalent of a Beverly Hills of the Roman Empire.
But that’s before Vesuvius decided to change the course of Pompeii history, leaving it forever as a reminder of what ill preparation for natural disasters can lead to. But what was a horrific catastrophe for one person is an architectural wonderland for another, and thus present day tourists are now given the gift of being able to see directly into the history of Pompeii, to witness how its citizens lived, explore their dwellings and admire the stately buildings that make up the temples, villas and churches that were once the mainstays of Pompeii culture. Between these excavations and the writings of Pliny the Younger, a Roman scribe who detailed the destruction and aftermath of the eruption of Vesuvius, historians have a pretty good idea about the most tragic period of Pompeii history.
After the eruption, little changed – the ancient city was presumed gone forever. The survivors returned, dug out what possessions they could carry, and moved away. Though a large scale excavation was probably doable, especially during the heyday of Rome, the lack of interest in returning the city of Pompeii to its former glory might say more about the town than anything the damaged Pompeii architecture or paintings can tell us. The city’s legacy was to lay buried and dormant for hundreds of years, before being rediscovered, entirely on accident, in the late 16th century.
Pompeii history is therefore short, sweet and fairly depressing. A town emerged, thrived, before being undone by the ravages of nature. The villas and temples stood tall and strong, the art spoke of a liberal view towards humanity and sexuality and the great theater standing in the center of town personified their culture’s willful bloodlust. And now what is left of the city lies safe from the further onslaught of time, carefully preserved by some of the country’s most prominent archaeologists, ones that believe the knowledge gained and awe inspired by a jaunt around the sprawling ruins offers a rare and almost beautiful insight into the history of Pompeii and the Roman Empire.