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One million people now live and work in the crowded, noisy city of Na­ples in Italy. Few of them lift their eyes to up at the great volcano, Vesu­vius, which rises, nearly 1,300 meters high, to the east of the city.

In the year AD 79, nearly 2,000 years ago, the people of the busy town of Pompeii hurried about their lives without thinking of Vesuvius. Pompeii is twenty kilometers south-east of Naples, and it is only ten kilometers from the great volcano. At that time, Pompeii was a rich town of 20,000 people with a busy port and market. All around the town were the beautiful homes of rich merchants and their families.

Then, on the 24th of August, AD 79, everything changed forever. In the middle of the morning, the earth began to shake; cups fell off tables, and holes appeared in the ground. People remembered the disastrous earth­quake that had hit the town seventeen years before. Was this the beginning of another earthquake?

Dogs started to bark, birds flew away, and a strange silence seemed to hang over the town. At midday, a great cloud of ash rose up out of Ve­suvius and into the air. That afternoon, with a terrible noise a thousand times louder than thunder, the top of the volcano was blown twenty kilo­meters into the air, and sheets of flame lit op the darkened sky. Vesuvius was erupting!

A south-east wind quickly blew the cloud of ash towards the town of Pompeii. People panicked and tried to escape. But for many, it was too late. In two days, the town was covered in four meters of ash and stones. About two thousand people were killed by the cloud of hot gases and ash. Others were buried in hot mud and stones. It may seem difficult to believe that a city could be buried for 1,700 years. But Pompeii was. It was not disco­vered again until 1738. Then, peasants digging at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius, came upon some statues.

The small port of Herculaneum, which lies between Vesuvius and the sea, met a more violent death. After the first eruption of Vesuvius, many people of Herculaneum had left the town. Those who remained thought that they were safe, because the winds did not take the ash and smoke in their direction.

However, on the 25th of August, the day after the first eruption, Her­culaneum was suddenly covered by a violent river of hot ash and mud. In a few hours, the town was buried under twenty meters of hardened rock from the volcano.

In some ways, this eruption of Vesuvius was just like any other disaster caused by volcanoes. People died miserable deaths, and the families and survivors had to learn to make new lives for themselves. So why do we re­member this eruption of Vesuvius as something special? Let us consider how we have come to know about life in Italy at that time.

In AD 79, Pompeii and Herculaneum were controlled by the great city of Rome. We know much about Rome and its people, through books written in the Latin language. Virgil and Pliny were famous writers of that time. In fact, there were two writers named Pliny. Pliny the Elder was killed dur­ing the eruption of Vesuvius. He was the uncle of Pliny the Younger, who survived and wrote a detailed description of the disaster. However, in order to learn more about the world of the Romans at that time, we need more than books. We need things like plates, cups, coins, rings, bracelets and buildings.

The eruption of Vesuvius killed people suddenly, in the middle of a very ordinary day. Then the mud covered their bodies, which stayed untouched for many centuries. This had a surprising result: today, Pompeii and Her­culaneum show us the everyday life of these two Roman towns nearly two thousand years ago.

In the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum, archaeologists have discovered the houses and streets of the two towns: the shops, the street- signs, paintings and mosaics. They have also found the theatres, the bars, the kitchens, and the town bath. From these places, and from the things found there, many interesting facts have been discovered about life in Ro­man times. For example, in the open-air theatre of Pompeii, the bones of dead gladiators have been discovered. Gladiators fought animals and each other — and often died — while crowds of people watched and enjoyed themselves.

Archaeologists have also found graffiti — writing on the walls — which tell us what ordinary people were feeling and thinking, just as graffiti do today. Perhaps the people of Roman times were really quite similar to us today!

So the disaster which hit the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79 has given us a very real and meaningful lesson in the history of Italy and the Roman people.

► True or false

1) The volcano is situated right in the center of Naples.

2) Pompeii is rather far away from Naples.

3) The earthquake caused the volcano eruption.

4) Two towns had vanished completely under the heavy ash layer after the eruption.

5) After 1,700 years, Pompeii was discovered again by a group of mountain climbers.

6) Under the covering everything was retained in that state as many hundred years ago.

Key: 1 F; 2 F; 3 F; 4 T; 5 F; 6 T.

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