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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

How the Sur­vivors of Pom­peii Escaped Mount Vesu­vius’ Dead­ly Erup­tion: A TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Tells the Sto­ry

See the Expan­sive Ruins of Pom­peii Like You’ve Nev­er Seen Them Before: Through the Eyes of a Drone

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.