In the year 79 A.D. the lovely people of Herculaneum were still recovering from the devastating earth quake that struck the region 16 years earlier. Most of the town had been destroyed by the tremors and repair work on private residences and public buildings was still under way.
It was around 1 pm on August 24th when Mt Vesuvius exploded. The mountain literally blew its top off, sending a wall of pyroclastic material racing down the hill towards Herculaneum, a high-end Roman seaside town with 4,000 inhabitants. There must have been enough warning for the population to at least try to escape. Some jumped into their boats but were quickly turned around by a powerful tidal wave. Others took cover in the boat houses by the beach, perhaps waiting to be rescued by the people in the boats. We don’t know how many people actually managed to escape but with the wall of boiling mud and gas approaching at a speed of 160 km/h (100 mi/h), there was not enough time to form an elaborate evacuation plan.
In the end, the entire town was covered by 10 m (33 ft) to 20 m (66 ft) of super-hot mud. Like a valuable treasure protected by a thick blanket, Herculaneum was hidden for centuries. Houses, people, animals, dishes, furniture, art work and streets were preserved like a mummy and not re-discovered until 1709 when somebody tried to drill a well and found the town’s theater stage instead.
Today, a visit to the archeological site is a step back in time, and while 75% of Herculaneum is still hidden under the houses of the town of Ercolano, by walking through the ruins we can see how people lived, worked and played during the first century A.D.