The loss of geological memory of past catastrophes: the case of Pompeii

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Lisetta Giacomelli
Roberto Scandone
Mauro Rosi



 In 79 A.D. Vesuvius buried entire cities in a few days under a blanket of pumice and ashes. It was a sudden event, which occurred after centuries of inactivity, heralded only by earthquakes that repeated periodically, for many years, creating addiction rather than alarm. After the event, the vegetation covered the volcanic products, and the memory of the disaster was lost. The first excavations began in Herculaneum in 1738 and in Pompeii ten years later, in times when archeology still did not exist. Much was destroyed, given away, thrown away. Almost intact buildings emerged, with all their contents, with many inhabitants caught on the run. The arduous process of recovering the sites has had important and not always happy stages, accompanied by continuous progress in the excavation methods. 

Volcanology has drawn from those experiences as much as it could, setting itself the goal of reconstructing the story of an explosive eruption, the first in the world to be described, by Pliny the Younger, the one that most left its mark on buildings, vegetation, animals and humans. Without the eruption, Pompeii and Herculaneum would have disappeared. The details on how the romans lost their lives in the tragedy is an important component to be offered to Pompeii’s visitors and that is at present largely imperfect. Knowing it and reconstructing its impact on people and the territory, going beyond the archaeological site, is an experience of the past and a warning for today and for the future. 

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Giacomelli L, Scandone R, Rosi M. The loss of geological memory of past catastrophes: the case of Pompeii . Ann. Geophys. [Internet]. 2021Dec.13 [cited 2024Feb.24];64(5):VO547. Available from: