Eruption of Vesuvius

In 63 A.D. Pompeii was shaken by a severe earthquake, and many buildings were destroyed. During the next 16 years there were occasional minor quakes. Finally, on August 24, 79 A.D., there were several violent shocks, followed immediately by the eruption of Vesuvius.

Out of the great, dark cloud that shot up from the mountain, masses of scorching pumice fragments, some of them as large as three inches (7.6 cm) across, rained down on Pompeii. Deadly sulfurous gases emitted by the hot material killed many persons as they ran through the streets, and killed some who fled to their cellars or huddled in inner rooms to escape the falling rock. Others waited until the doorways of their homes were blocked, then escaped from second-story windows, only to fall in the continuing lethal deluge. When 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 m) of the pumice covered the city a fine ash moistened by steam began to fall. Breathing in this smothering substance, the people who had survived so far but had not yet escaped out to sea were suffocated.

It was three days before the rain of ash stopped. Pompeii was covered by 15 to 25 feet (4.5 to 8 m) of lightweight, largely dry volcanic material. It is estimated that three-fourths of its population died. In time, soil sifted over the site, hiding all trace of the city. Even the location of Pompeii passed from memory.