Watch the Destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, Re-Created with Computer Animation (79 AD)

A good dis­as­ter sto­ry nev­er fails to fas­ci­nate — and, giv­en that it actu­al­ly hap­pened, the sto­ry of Pom­peii espe­cial­ly so. Buried and thus frozen in time by the erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius in 79 AD, the ancient Roman town of 11,000 has pro­vid­ed an object of great his­tor­i­cal inter­est ever since its redis­cov­ery in 1599. Baths, hous­es, tools and oth­er pos­ses­sions (includ­ing plen­ty of wine bot­tles), fres­coes, graf­fi­ti, an amp­ithe­ater, an aque­duct, the “Vil­la of the Mys­ter­ies”: Pom­peii has it all, as far as the stuff of first-cen­tu­ry Roman life goes.

The ash-pre­served ruins of Pom­peii, more than any oth­er source, have pro­vid­ed his­to­ri­ans with a win­dow into just what life in that time and place was like. A Day in Pom­peii, an exhi­bi­tion held at the Mel­bourne Muse­um in 2009, gave its more than 330,000 vis­i­tors a chance to expe­ri­ence Pom­pei­i’s life even more vivid­ly. The exhi­bi­tion includ­ed a 3D the­ater instal­la­tion that fea­tured the ani­ma­tion above. Watch it, and you can see Pom­peii brought back to life with com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed imagery — and then, in snap­shots over the course of 48 hours, entombed by Vesu­vius again.

As inher­ent­ly com­pelling as we find the sto­ry of Pom­peii, mod­ern dra­ma has strug­gled to cap­ture the pow­er of the dis­as­ter that defines it. The late-1960s BBC show Up Pom­peii! offered a comedic ren­der­ing of life in the city before the explo­sion, but more seri­ous inter­pre­ta­tions, like the 2014 Hol­ly­wood movie Pom­peii, met with only luke­warm crit­i­cal recep­tion. Best, it seems, to stick to the words of Pliny the Younger, wit­ness to the destruc­tion and still its most evoca­tive describer:

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wail­ing of infants, and the shout­ing of men; some were call­ing their par­ents, oth­ers their chil­dren or their wives, try­ing to rec­og­nize them by their voic­es. Peo­ple bewailed their own fate or that of their rel­a­tives, and there were some who prayed for death in their ter­ror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imag­ined there were no gods left, and that the uni­verse was plunged into eter­nal dark­ness for ever­more.

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via Metafliter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vis­it Pom­peii (also Stone­henge & Ver­sailles) with Google Street View

Rome Reborn: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour Through Ancient Rome, 320 C.E.

The His­to­ry of Rome in 179 Pod­casts

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dat­ing Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

Ten Dis­cov­er­ies That Rewrote His­to­ry

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (63)
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  • paulo penteado says:

    Como sem­pre, exce­lentes matérias…

  • John C says:

    Well done. Pom­peii is such a sad place when you think of all the peo­ple who died there. But sit­ting in a gar­den there on a warm after­noon, I could under­stand why they want­ed to live there: it is a beau­ti­ful area.

  • Richard Gruber says:

    Riv­et­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of the Pom­peii dis­as­ter. Mon­ser­rat was very small in pro­por­tion to this event.

  • Mary says:

    The vis­usls werevgreat butvthe audio sound­ed like the sound effects from an old time radio pro­grame

  • Dennis A. Dispenza says:

    I was at Pom­peii in an ear­li­er life­time, was in the Roman Army attempt­ed res­cue oper­a­tion in ear­ly Sept. of 79 AD. There was very lit­tle of Pom­peii to be seen; the entire area was cov­ered by a thick lay­er of yel­low-white grav­el-size pumice balls, much like those from Mt. Saint Helens in May of 1980, which we observed here in Port­land, OR. At Pom­peii, there was a Roman road along which the Roman Army had pitched con­i­cal tents. The road went up to, and then under the lay­er of pumice toward the city gates of Pom­peii. There was a tree line along the edge of the pumice, where the vol­canic ash flow had stopped, and the trees and brush were still intact. The air was very hot and filled with the foul stench of sul­fur and death from Mt. Vesu­vius and Pom­peii. You could see Mt. Vesu­vius in the dis­tance with wisps of steam drift­ing from it’s crater. The side of the vol­cano had a large area blown out as a hole from the erup­tion much as you see with Mt. Saint Helens after it’s May 1980 erup­tion. The area about Pom­peii was total­ly dev­as­tat­ed and there was noth­ing much res­cuers could do, those in the city sim­ply did not sur­vive, only those who fled lived. This is a true account, in as much as I can recall it.

  • arthur mcclench says:

    Only some­one who had been there could give such detail. It must be painful to recall. Does med­ica­tion help?

  • James says:

    Arthur, some­one had to say it. Thank you. ;)

  • Bruce says:

    “the 2014 Hol­ly­wood movie Pom­peii, met with only luke­warm crit­i­cal recep­tion”

    Yes, it could have been so much more, if they had end­ed with footage of Pom­peii today and used some of the casts of actu­al fall­en cit­i­zens as touch points in the movie.

  • Willard says:

    well, at least you did­n’t blame Oba­ma for the erup­tion.

  • Sandra says:

    If I had wok­en up that morn­ing of Aug 24 and real­ized that I had to flee. Would I have known where to go? Would I have known how far away was far enough? Would I have known what direc­tion to go?

  • Steve D says:

    I liked how they showed the first pyro­clas­tic flow (1 AM) head­ed toward Her­cu­la­neum which jibes with the geo­log­ic evi­dence. But those tran­si­tions were AWFUL. Just do a sim­ple wipe and a brief time stamp.

  • Paul says:

    For a good analy­sis of what hap­pened, read “Ghosts of Vesu­vius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pom­peii, How Tow­ers Fall, and Oth­er Strange Con­nec­tions” by Charles R. Pel­le­gri­no.–1&keywords=ghosts+of+vesuvius
    Some very inter­est­ing physics in there.

  • Deena says:

    In spite of what we today would see as warn­ings — streams went sud­den­ly dry in the pre­ceed­ing days, ani­mals were spooked, the ground shook; the peo­ple of Pom­peii sim­ply did not know and could not have known what was about to hap­pen. Vesu­vius had act­ed up before, and much of what hap­pened in the days before was tak­en for grant­ed.

    But, it you could have some­how known and fled, your choic­es would have been to go inland, toward Vesu­vius; to go north, along the coast to Her­cu­la­neum, which was actu­al­ly clos­er to Vesu­vius; to go south along the coast or inland, or to sea.

    In the end, the port filled with pumice. Ships could­n’t launch, and the port was destroyed. Peo­ple died on the beach, hop­ing to be res­cued by ships that could­n’t help them.

    The winds blew south, toward Pom­peii, which is why Pom­peii got all the pumice and Her­cu­la­neum did not. So going south was­n’t an answer, either.

    Her­cu­la­neum was also destroyed.

    If you woke up in Pom­peii on that morn­ing, chances were that you died there.

  • Murlin Evans says:

    If Pliny the Younger wit­nessed, how did he or, the man­u­script sur­vive? Or is his account of the Bri­an Williams vari­ety.

  • Neelima says:

    Tru­ly believe you could have been there. As a Hin­du, I believe in rein­car­na­tion. Have an uncle who in his ear­ly child­hood had mem­o­ries of his pre­vi­ous birth, his wife and chil­dren, and actu­al­ly trav­eled to meet them and recalled many pri­vate details.It was not encour­aged by his par­ents or his old fam­i­ly, as one moves on. Often trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries are car­ried for­ward and cause prob­lems.

  • Louis Newton says:

    He wit­nessed the erup­tion from across the Bay, from his uncle’s vil­la at Mis­enum. The worst effects of the erup­tion did­n’t reach that far, though the fam­i­ly had to flee lat­er when ash and fumes reached them and they were almost over­come. Many of his let­ters were pre­served (though I don’t know the — prob­a­bly — tor­tu­ous in’s and out­’s of their preser­va­tion), includ­ing the ones in which he describes the erup­tion and his uncle’s death at Stabi­ae from the tox­ic fumes that over­came him there.

  • Daniela says:

    Very inter­est­ing.… Just a mis­take… there was NO Vesu­vio ai 79 a.C. .… Just a Small Hill called “Som­ma”… Vesu­vio was Born tanks to the erup­tion

  • bert du plooy says:

    And then the res­ur­rec­tion from the archae­o­log­i­cal dig­gings as they unveiled the moments in time, lay­er by lay­er to give us insight into dai­ly liv­ing of a peo­ple caught in time. What a learn­ing curve of pre his­to­ry

  • Jim says:

    Look­ing at,+Italy/Naples,+Metropolitan+City+of+Naples,+Italy/@40.6669452,14.4145934,11z/data=!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x133bbc95914ba4ef:0xd2d18a72aeb414a4!2 m²!1d14.4989344!2d40.7461572!1m5!1m1!1s0x133b084f6a6c7e99:0x3df52cc13b78191d!2 m²!1d14.2163411!2d40.8571548!3e2

    in order to reach Naples, you’d have to go in close to Vesu­vius (and prob­a­bly would­n’t have made it). So you’d want to walk east. But you would­n’t have known how far away was enough, but Pom­peii was on a plain, thus vul­ner­a­ble.

  • Marco says:

    Real­ly a great recon­struc­tion of the erup­tion of 79 AD! I recall that also oth­er cities like Her­cu­la­neum, were com­plete­ly destroyed and buried dur­ing the erup­tion.

  • Steve says:

    Intrigu­ing pre­sen­ta­tion. I would make one small change in the end cap­tion: Instead of “Vesu­vius was a crater” — “Vesu­vius had a crater.” It is still a moun­tain, not a hole in the ground, which is implied.

    Oth­er­wise, a fine effort!

  • Joan Sutton says:

    Pliny the Younger’s father, Pliny the Elder, died on the beach at Pom­paii, from the fumes.

  • Sm says:

    Watch this on mute while lis­ten­ing to “The Last Days of Pom­peii” by Nova Mob.… Go ahead I’ll wait here.

  • Bourdier says:

    for me it is not a reflec­tion of the facts if it had been so long why have we found the pet­ri­fied body? not con­vinced at all.

  • Sallie Dodd Butters says:

    Pliny the Elder was on a res­cue ship try­ing to get there to help .…they were being bom­bard­ed with hot chunks from above… He col­lapsed and died on deck of a mas­sive heart attack!

  • Obscurium says:

    There weren’t pet­ri­fied bod­ies found as such. The body had decom­posed inside a shell of hard­ened ash. This arti­cle may help.

  • Michael G says:

    He was far enough away to observe safe­ly, because Pliny the Younger was not at Pom­peii itself. His uncle Pliny the Elder aban­doned safe­ty in order to get clos­er, out of sci­en­tif­ic inter­est, and died at the water’s edge. Pliny the Younger’s account (writ­ten lat­er) made it sound like his uncle suf­fered a heart attack brought on by the severe­ly wors­ened air qual­i­ty.

  • matt says:

    Vesu­vius’ top blew off not the side. like a vol­cano of its type there is clear­ly a vent scar vis­i­ble even today from the erup­tion– which is actu­al­ly a clear evi­dence that only the top had blown off, for this would mean the sides are rel­a­tive­ly like they were. This also means, even though you com­pare the event to Mt St Helens, that the iron rich red­dish pumice ore of Mt, Vesu­vius was real­ly very dif­fer­ent from Mt S.t Helens’ pumice ore, which was indeed yel­low, as you have stat­ed. The air would have been hot, but would not have smelled too much of sul­phur, that being the case. St. Helens erupt­ed in such a way that caused a mas­sive topo­graph­i­cal grift, and the sud­den lava flow left no “gates.” Mt vesu­vius’ “steam” would have died out long before the ash would have cleared, since the erup­tion was very fast, and ash does not clear for days. If you did­n’t read, Pom­peii was com­plete­ly buried, and fur­ther research will tell you that the sur­round­ing area was dec­i­mat­ed for 500 square miles. There would have been no road. This was five min­utes of research. If you’re going to be a com­pul­sive liar, at least use “the Goog.”

  • paul says:

    No pet­ri­fied bod­ies, if you under­stand what pet­ri­fi­ca­tion is. The bod­ies at Pom­peii are plas­ter casts; when the hot mate­r­i­al sealed the bod­ies into the ash lay­er, and the lat­er pyro­clas­tic flows fused the ash into sol­id rock, the corpses were still organ­ic corpses, though prob­a­bly well cooked. When the flesh rot­ted away (as they all did after 15 cen­turies), gaps were left in the fused rock; when these were filled with plas­ter, they act­ed as a mold in the shape of what had been there before the organ­ic mate­r­i­al rot­ted away.

    This is explained in many sources. I can’t speak for how con­vinc­ing you will find this. I can­not prove it’s true as I was not there, just as I did not per­son­al­ly wit­ness the moon land­ing, Elvis’ death, or the World Trade Cen­ter col­lapse, but the expla­na­tion is plau­si­ble at least.

  • hason says:

    So.…You could­nt make the clouds move and so the ani­ma­tion of the hous­es at the same time. Shit­ty work right there. And the time­line is com­plete­ly wrong as well. Peo­ple are com­plete­ly frozen in ash and lava at Pom­peii but accord­ing to this had at least 8 hours to leave? His­tor­i­cal­ly and tech­nol­o­gy flawed. Ter­ri­ble ani­ma­tion on all lev­els.

  • hason says:

    Still watch­ing this an it’s more ridicu­lous than orig­i­nal­ly thought. Peo­ple are frozen in fear at Pom­peii. They did­nt die in againy 14 hours lat­er! This is like Fox New’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the events…based in no fact with shiny graph­ics. Cant believe a Nation­al Muse­um allowed this to be played.

  • jen says:

    He watched from across the bay of Napoli.

  • earl carrier says:

    Whae fas­ci­nates me is the tech­nol­o­gy that allows this cre­ation.

  • Claudine says:

    I’ve vis­it­ed Pom­pei and what I learned there (and by his­to­ry books) it’s that the lava and ash­es have burned almost instant­ly peo­ple and ani­mals around the vul­cano. This ani­ma­tion time­line seems wrong to me.

  • Jo Bones says:

    I wish ani­ma­tors would learn how to be sub­tle instead of adding obnox­ious ‘in your face’ moments, like when the rock flies into frame and smash­es the rooftop, send­ing tiles toward the view­er. It’s too self-con­scious and ama­teur.

  • Peter says:

    There is noth­ing sub­tle about such an event. Vol­canic erup­tions of this mag­i­tude do have a ten­den­cy of being rather obnox­ious. What you are ask­ing for is like ask­ing a tsuna­mi to be sub­tle. There will have been a *lot* of in your face-moments dur­ing this erup­tion regard­less of where you’d have posi­tioned the cam­era.

  • Peter says:

    “I’ve vis­it­ed Pom­pei and what I learned there (and by his­to­ry books) it’s that the lava and ash­es have burned almost instant­ly peo­ple and ani­mals around the vul­cano.”
    You can cut the lava out (that would have tak­en some time), but for the rest: that’s what you see hap­pen­ing at approx 3 pm. The pume­stones falling from the sky at the 1pm time­frame will have dri­ven every­one inside to escape the bat­ter­ing.
    My guess is that, by 5pm, most every­one would have been dead already.

  • Peter says:

    Hason, you haven’t real­ly thought this through before you con­demned it, have you?
    1. peo­ple weren’t “frozen in lava”. Ir lava wold’ve got to them, not very much would remain.
    2. Yes, they were frozen in ash. Rea­son why? The cir­cum­stances at the time will have dri­ven them indoors rather than away, because of the inces­sant ham­mer­ing down of pume­stones. Imag­ine hail the size of ten­nis balls… what would you do? Get your umbrel­la and face it? Or would you go indoors?

  • Steve says:

    If the video is to be believed it seems the peo­ple had more than enough time to flee. Why would any­one stay? Cool video in any event, except the sloth like time stamps. Those were ter­ri­ble.

  • James Cowan says:

    Very good account which is his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate. I am dis­ap­point­ed at some of the crit­i­cisms here. Many peo­ple did flee but many oth­ers hes­i­tat­ed and chose to shel­ter and by doing so sealed their fate. A very good drama/documentary of the erup­tion was made by the BBC about 10 years ago called “Pom­peii — the last day”. It match­es, and explains in detail, the account here and I believe it can be viewed for free on YouTube.

  • Teodoro L Locsin, Jr. says:

    I went there twice. The first time found it dry, arid and dusty. The sec­ond time every­thing fell into place (of a sort) because of the gigan­tic hol­low bronze frag­men­tary stat­ues of Roman sol­diers scat­tered through­out the dead city, bring­ing the scat­tered scene togeth­er and giv­ing it a kind of nar­ra­tive about fleet­ing glo­ry like Ozy­man­dias. This sounds real­ly pre­ten­tious but frankly I just was­n’t moved except with awe at the art of the Pol­ish artist, Igor Mit­er­aj. This guy is a genius.

  • Lori-Ann Tonte says:

    Wow. So creepy and sad. Nature does what­ev­er the hell it wants to do!

  • pompeiitouch says:

    Pom­peii Touch the first app of Pom­peii ruins that recon­structs the Ancient Pom­peii in 3D.

  • mitch mortensen says:

    Just want­ed to say Well done! I would also like to request that per­haps you could do a sim­i­lar recon­struc­tion of the Ther­an event (San­tori­ni erup­tion 1600BC)

  • Anna says:

    How do we know it was a beau­ti­ful sun­ny day?

  • Tester says:

    Ques­tion :

    Isn’t the city of Naples at sim­i­lar risk today? I mean, there is mod­ern aware­ness and all, but we are now deal­ing with a cou­ple mil­lion peo­ple rather than just 11,000.…

    Maybe only 11,000 out of 2 mil­lion will die, so the same as Pom­peii.

  • Andrew Garland says:

    Yes. The amaz­ing fact of Pom­peii is that peo­ple were caught by a pyro­clas­tic flow in such acts as run­ning, kneel­ing down, or cov­er­ing their heads. They were caught by a sud­den flow of 600 F tem­per­a­ture par­ti­cles. The flow appears last in this ani­ma­tion after total destruc­tion.

    This is a dra­ma of some­thing, but can­not be true to the chronol­o­gy of what hap­pened.

  • Andrew Jordan says:

    This recre­ation is well done. Some of the above crit­i­cisms could be solved by read­ing up on the event. As stat­ed above, many did flee though many oth­ers took shel­ter to wait out the event, not real­iz­ing what was hap­pen­ing. Vesu­vius had not erupt­ed for over a mil­len­ni­um before — pic­tures of the moun­tain from POm­peii show a tall peak, most of which is miss­ing. Spar­ta­cus and his rebel slaves took refuge on its peak some 140 years before. Sim­ply some expect­ed the dan­ger to pass until it was too late.

    As for no lava, Pom­peii is 5 miles from Vesu­vius. The lava and mud cov­ered Her­cu­la­neum, but Pom­peii was cov­ered in ash, pumice, and rock. That would still pack and set­tle around the bod­ies to form the cav­i­ties cap­tured by the casts. There are bones still left in the cav­i­ties. More recent­ly they’ve used resin, through which you can see the bones of the peo­ple.

  • Cheryl says:

    This is fkn amaz­ing. Anoth­er buck­et list trip!!!

  • Mark Dyer says:

    No it’s Bush’s fault!

  • Jeanette Sasiela says:

    We were there in 1992 it was amaz­ing how the tour guide explained what the
    area was that was still stand­ing you will not be sor­ry if you get a chance to go

  • Lawrence says:

    I could visu­alise the end of time, apoc­a­lypse. Sure­ly, the liv­ing envied the dead.
    A chill­ing ani­ma­tion, excep­tion­al­ly well con­cieved and
    effec­tive­ly exe­cut­ed.

  • Nordlys says:

    Did you see a video of an erup­tion? They hap­pen exact­ly that way (aind I believe the one of Pom­peii is under­sti­mat­ed.

  • jefferson ayscue says:

    only 2000 of the esti­mat­ed 20,000 peo­ple of pom­peii died so there was a slight chance you would of died bit the chances were greater of you sur­viv­ing if you actu­al­ly fled in the right direc­tion

  • Emily says:


  • Katie says:

    Actu­al­ly, the pyro­clas­tic flow nev­er hit Pom­peii, it’s what cov­ered Her­cu­la­neum. Pom­peii was com­plete­ly cov­ered by ash and not that pyro­clas­tic flow; that’s a big rea­son why it’s more dig out and more well known than Her­cu­la­neum. It’s much eas­i­er to exca­vate Pom­peii due to the ash lay­er than Her­cu­la­neum since pyro­clas­tic flow becomes very hard once it cools

  • Gregg Eshelman says:

    Archae­ol­o­gists bemoan the lack of fund­ing to pre­serve the parts of Pom­peii that have been exca­vat­ed. Here’s a way to pre­serve it. Sell it. Reopen it as a func­tion­ing city, with the con­di­tions that the build­ings have to be restored as close as pos­si­ble to orig­i­nal, but install water and sew­er sys­tems. Make it the world’s largest liv­ing muse­um where a lot of the res­i­dents dress part of the time in 1st cen­tu­ry style cloth­ing. Have shops that sell peri­od accu­rate foods and oth­er items. The build­ings where the cav­i­ties left by the buried alive are found could be restored and pre­served as muse­um sites.

    Even­tu­al­ly the entire city could be exca­vat­ed and re-occu­pied. Think of it as a an amuse­ment park but with­out any rides, no admis­sion charge, and most of the ‘cast mem­bers’ live and work there full time. Should also dredge out some of the port for cruise and fish­ing ships.

    Pom­peii, the city that had a 2,000 year hia­tus.

  • raychelle scott says:

    i like this

  • raychelle scott says:

    it cool to watch but not to hap­pen because each hour its some­thing dif­fer­ent

  • Rayne says:

    Peo­ple did­n’t know what a vol­cano would turn out to be like back then. An earth tremor, rum­bling vol­cano, peo­ple in Pom­peii expe­ri­enced this before. The falling ash would’ve been new although they fled indoors believ­ing they were safer inside. As regards to the video times, Vesu­vius took about that long when erupt­ing.

  • Rayne says:

    Katie, well no. Pom­peii was struck by the pyro­clas­tic flow lat­er on after it cov­ered Her­cu­la­neum.

  • Rayne Teressa Herbert. says:

    Den­nis A. Dis­pen­za, you have a real­ly awe­some past life expe­ri­ence and thanks so much for shar­ing it. I under­went a past life regres­sion because I was curi­ous. I found that I was a girl who lived in the city of Pom­peii. It sur­prised me as I did­n’t expect that.

  • Rayne says:

    The video must’ve tak­en a lot of very hard work and research to get the details right. I real­ly admire cool ani­mat­ed videos that look real­is­tic. The erup­tion looks (and also it real­ly was) so ter­ri­fy­ing. What I also like are the birds at the begin­ning fly­ing away in pan­ic as they know some­thing bad will hap­pen.

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