National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Street Scene in Pompeii POMPEII was not overwhelmed in an instant and buried under lava from Vesuvius, or even so covered with ashes that it was sealed away untouched and unrifled till its rediscovery just 200 years ago. After the eruption of A. D. 79 had subsided, the townsfolk who had escaped-and these were probably ten times as numerous as those who had tarried too long and perished returned to the scene. Ashes and pumice, cinders and tiny stones lay so deep and had been so closely packed by the torrential rains which followed the disaster that only the charred tops of the houses emerged above what seemed to be solid ground. All attempts to clear the site and rebuild the town were abandoned; but by means of shafts and tunnels through the debris, most of the valuable movable objects were recovered. Even the marble slabs veneering the public buildings were salvaged. The town which the modern diggers uncovered not only had been collapsed and buried by a volcano, but had been ransacked and picked over by men. Even so, the ground plans of the buildings were clear. Most of the lower walls of the houses were standing erect, and enormous quantities of damaged furnishings and odds and ends had survived. At first, modern investigators deemed thorough reconstruc tion of the houses impossible because of the loss of the roofs, upper stories, and ground-floor ceilings; but more practiced excavation revealed in the higher levels of the ashes traces of beams and joists. These discoveries betrayed the original construction. Today detailed archeological information makes reconstruction of theprobable appearance ofalmost every important sector of the town comparatively easy. Most of the streets ran straight, with theintersections at right angles. A curbing ofupended blocks ofvolcanic stone framed a raised sidewalk, hardly wide enough forpedestrians to pass one another. Thestreet itself was toonarrow for more than a single cart atatime, and steppingstones set at crossings necessitated adroit maneuvering ofwheels. Although the paving blocks were ofallshapes and sizes, they were expertly matchedand fitted without broad crevices. The sidewalks were laid in similar fashion, but athin coating of hard earth and poundedbrick covered thejoints. During heavy rains waterrushing from thelower slopes of Mount Vesuvius washed the long avenues clean. Cross streets, on the other hand,often accumulated dirt. Blank stuccoed walls ofprivate houses flanked theside walks, but there were windows and occasional balconies in the upper stories. At intervals along thestreet, open fronts of shops were built directlyinto thehouses. Much of the bread to supply the20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii came from establishments which combined milling and baking. In mortarlikestone grinders, turned some times by donkeys or mules,sometimes byslaves, grain was crushed into coarse flour, which was made into flatloaves and baked in closed ovens or open hearths. For 16 years after the earthquake ofA.D.63,Vesuvius poured out smoke and vapors; yetPliny reports that many residents of Pompeii, scouting theidea ofperil even after ashes began to fall in A. D. 79,stayed intheir homes toperish.