Pompeii is an important archaeological site as well as a source of fascination. The ancient Roman city has been studied so thoroughly that many strange facts about Pompeii and its tragic end have emerged over the years. After the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, volcanic ash flooded the town and buried it in a matter of hours, along with many of its inhabitants. Pompeii's precise location was lost to time, although its memory wasn't. Throughout the medieval period and into the Renaissance, the city remained a tantalizing mystery. Once it was finally rediscovered in the 18th century, it offered something almost no other archaeological site could: a nearly intact Roman city, preserved just how it was, as a time capsule.
The archaeological site called "Pompeii" actually includes three cities: Pompeii itself, nearby Herculaneum, and Stabiae to the southwest. All were essentially Roman resort towns, and all were affected by the volcanic eruption in different ways. Pompeii was hit first with a shower of pumice stones, injuring some inhabitants and driving the others inside. Herculaneum avoided the pumice showers, and advance warning allowed many residents to escape. Pompeii and Herculaneum were then flooded with "pyroclastic flows," which are fast-moving rivers of ash and gas. Meanwhile, Stabiae, farther away, was covered in about 16 feet of volcanic ash, but unlike the other two cities, human activity continued after the eruption.
Both cities have yielded important archaeological finds, some of which are so unique they sound made up.