Pompeii was built in the 9th century BC, then destroyed in 79 AD, when – following an eruption of Mount Vesuvius – it was covered by an ash and lapillus layer almost six meters high. Its rediscovery and the related digs, which started in 1748, brought back to light the site which, in 1997, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Pompeii was originally an Oscan site which the Etruscans and Greeks fought over, before being conquered by the Samnites in the last quarter of the 5th century, then by the Romans at the beginning of the 3rd century, becoming Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum in 80 BC. When it was shaken by a powerful earthquake in 62, the city had about 25,000 inhabitants; the effects of the earthquake were so devastating that the buildings and houses had not been completely rebuilt yet when the eruption of 79 occurred. For four days, the volcano buried the site under a layer of about three metres of lapilli and pumice stone, the weight of which caused the collapse of the buildings, thus considerably complicating the work of those who immediately began to plunder the ruins, and much later that of the archaeologists themselves. We know, later on, of two great revivals of the volcano in Antiquity, in 203 and 472. Today the site is the most complete preserved example of a Roman city, with its public monuments, houses and villas often lavishly decorated, in which countless objects of daily life, exceptionally preserved, have been found in situ.


the past

The extent of Pompeii was about 66 hectares, of which two thirds have been excavated so far. Situated at the intersection of the two important streets that are at the origin of the foundation of the city, the present forum (38 x 142 m) does not date to earlier than the 2nd century BC. Its buildings, all public, seem to have been built there without any unified plan, before being regularised by the construction of a monumental portico. This portico does not exist in the north, where the short side is occupied by an arch, now completely stripped of its marble covering and its statues, next to which stands the temple of Jupiter that dominates the square, with a high podium typical of the Etruscan-Italic tradition; the sanctuary is divided into three parts corresponding to the deities of the Capitoline triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The opposite part of the square is occupied by three public buildings. On the long eastern side of the square, the macellum, the meat and fish market, whose wide courtyard is occupied in the middle by a circular building that encloses a fountain. The “temple of Vespasian” actually seems to have been dedicated to the imperial cult. This is followed by the Eumachia building (perhaps a slave market) and by the Comitium, where elections were held. The long west side was occupied by the temple of Apollo, the oldest in the city, and by one of the first examples of a three-nave basilica, datable to around 125 B.C. Of the various public buildings built near the forum, the most remarkable are the large baths and the Stabia baths in the northeast, dating back to the 2nd century B.C. To the south-east of the forum, a second public square, the triangular forum, was developed around a Doric temple from the second half of the 6th century BC. To the east, the large theatre, which could accommodate 5,000 spectators, is flanked on the right by a smaller performance building, originally covered, probably an odeon, with a capacity of about 2,000 people. Carefully placed on the edge of the city centre, the amphitheatre of Pompeii, dated around 70 B.C., is one of the oldest examples of this type of building. The large parapet surrounding the scene had depictions of hunting and gladiators, known today only from watercolours of the 19th century. During the hottest days, a large velum was stretched out to shield its approx. 12,000 spectators from the sun.



Basilica, inside

The forum

Sanctuary of the Public Lares

Reconstruction of the city

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo, section

Temple of Fortuna Augusta

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Isis

View of the large theater, Hackert, 1793

View of the ruins, Hackert, 1799

View of Pompeii, Federer, 1850

The forum of Pompeii, 1865

Reconstruction of the Pompeii forum, 1817

View of the large theater, 1817


a new life

The buildings in Pompeii were plundered in Roman times, immediately after the eruption, and for a long period of time. Even if the site was already known in the 16th century, when Charles of Bourbon, in 1748, began the first excavations there it was thought to be the ancient Stabia. Only in 1763, the discovery of an inscription revealed the true identity of the city. Soon, given the interest of the ruins that were gradually coming to light, the site was considered an essential landmark on the Grand Tour: in 1770, Mozart visited Pompeii, whose temple of Isis inspired the setting for the first performance of the Magic Flute in Vienna in 1791. The wealthy foreign visitors could follow the light of the ruins from a colourful group of chained slaves, children and women, whose incessant activity essentially resulted in the considerable enrichment of the collections of the King of Naples. The first scientific excavations took place in 1860, and the buildings brought to light from this date eloquently testify to the improvement in restoration techniques over the last two centuries. Around 1900, the already evident problems posed by the conservation of the site led to covering its remains, but this decision was not enough to stop its deterioration. No solution has so far been found to slow down the rapid crumbling of the buildings, further weakened by the violent earthquake that struck the nearby Irpinia region in 1980. For these reasons, an attempt is currently being made to study, consolidate and restore the structures already found, rather than dig up the part of the site that has not been explored so far, despite its interest. Pompeii was added in 1997, together with Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata, to the UNESCO World Heritage List, for a total extension of 98 hectares.



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Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata

The UNESCO Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of criteria (iii), (iv) and (v), considering that the impressive remains of the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum and their associated villas, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world.

An initiative promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation - Directorate General for nationwide Cultural and Economic Promotion and Innovation


The site was created in collaboration with the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

Director: Alessandro Furlan
Curator: Prof. Vincent Jolivet
Virtual 3D: Pietro Galifi; Stefano Moretti
Post Production: Luigi Giannattasio
Scientific data collection: Maria Grazia Nini


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