The better part of two millennia after its entombment in ash and pumice by Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii ranks as one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. Ancient-history buffs who visit its well-preserved ruins today will find plenty to occupy their time and attention, but they won’t be able to see as much as they used to: less than a third of the Pompeii accessible to tourists fifty years ago remains so today. But thanks to technology, entirely new views of Pompeii have also opened up. Camera drones, which now seem to get lighter, more agile, and clearer-sighted every day, provide a perspective on Pompeii that no visitor has ever enjoyed before, regardless of their level of access.
The video at the top of the post takes a quick flight down one of Pompeii’s streets, which at first looks like nothing more than a faster, smoother version of the experience available to any visitor to the ruined Roman city. But then the perspective changes in a way it can only in a drone-shot video, revealing the sheer scale of Pompeii as does no possible vista from the ground.
The video just below, which runs nearly six and a half minutes, offers an even more unusual, dramatic, and revealing view of Pompeii, chasing a dog down its empty stone streets, gazing straight down onto the walls of its many roofless buildings, flying between its still-standing columns and pillars, and even following a drone — presumably with another drone — as it navigates the enormous archaeological site.
These drone’s-eye-views may well spark in their viewers a desire to visit Pompeii that had never existed before, or even renew a previously existing desire to do so that has gone dormant. To archaeologists, however, Pompeii has never lost its fascination: researchers continue to discover new artifacts there, and just this year found the remains of a child, a horse, and a fleeing citizen crushed under a boulder. With each new piece of Pompeii unearthed, we learn more about how our predecessors once lived. Combined with the kind of drone footage that has already given us a thrilling new understanding of living cities around the world (and even modern-day Pompeiis like Chernobyl) we come ever closer to a full picture of human history — and to the irresistible, if grim, question of what sort of unimaginable technology humans of the future will use to explore the ruins of the metropolises we live in today.
Watch the Destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, Re-Created with Computer Animation (79 AD)
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
A Haunting Drone’s-Eye View of Chernobyl
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
So, less than a third of Pompei is accessible to tourists these days. Why is this, exactly?