How big was the Pompeii eruption?

The ancient city of Pompeii was rediscovered hundreds of years after its devastating end. It’s demise? The massive Mount Vesuvius that towers over the historic city. It is the only active volcano in the mainland of Europe and is one of the most dangerous volcanos in the world. With numerous eruptions throughout history, it’s most well-known for its destruction of Pompeii. But how did this city’s obliteration actually happen?

Before Mount Vesuvius’ eruption

This ancient volcano is estimated to be about 300,000 years old, erupting consistently throughout its lifespan. At the time, the people of Pompeii were unaware that the massive mountain lying nearby their city was actually an active volcano. As Vesuvius stood simmering, Pompeii was thriving with life. Elaborate villas, stylish shops, and public markets lined the cobblestone streets. With the city renowned for its fashion and luxury. At the time of the eruption, it is estimated that roughly 20,000 people were living in and around Pompeii, both rich and poor.

The 79 BC eruption of Mount Vesuvius

The volcano had a range of deadly steps in its eruption. The warnings started days prior to the eruption, with small earthquakes felt frequently for four days before. But due to the Romans accustomed to minor earth tremors in the region, they were not concerned. Vesuvius soon erupted, basting a large cloud of volcanic debris into the atmosphere, estimating to be 19 km high. The debris rained down on the city, covering the area in a thick layer of volcanic ash that went as deep as 25 km. The volcano blasted waves of the scorching volcanic ash, named ‘pyroclastic flows,’ which contained gas, ash, and rock. The wall of smoke estimated to be over 32 km tall, gathered speeds of 700km per hour. The people of Pompeii were said to be burned alive, with temperatures reaching up to 700 degree Celsius. The destructive wave spread around 30km southeast from the volcano, hitting not just Pompeii, but other nearby towns. The closest were Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabiae, and Nuceria. Due to winds, other towns on the northeast side were not harmed. The entire eruption lasted 24 hours, the town hidden by the thick debris leftover, turning the land into a natural time capsule.

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