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

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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.
    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!2m2!1d14.4989344!2d40.7461572!1m5!1m1!1s0x133b084f6a6c7e99:0x3df52cc13b78191d!2m2!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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