It was just an ordinary day in Pompeii: 24 August 79 AD. People were going-about their regular business, bustling-along the marble-clad streets and roadways of the ancient Roman city. Then, without warning, Mons Vesuvius—five miles away—exploded, sending molten rock and poisonous gasses straight up, over 20 miles into the sky.
When the dust settled, Pompeii and Herculaneum were gone—buried under dozens of feet of pumice and ash. 16,000 people died instantly. The cataclysm was so sudden, people were buried alive in mid-stride. Strangely, the cities were forgotten until 1599, at which point they were discovered—then forgotten again. Finally, in 1748, they were re-discovered and proper excavations were begun. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, both Pompeii and Herculaneum were considered pillars of classical antiquity—for they were both beautifully preserved, frozen in time. Any educated, well-traveled person of means would include both cities on his “Grand Tour” of Europe.
Vesuvius—surrounded by more than 3 million inhabitants today—is still considered a dangerous and potentially-active volcano. It has erupted three times in the 20th century, most recently in 1944. Rather than ponder that awful potentiality, consider the Italian ceramic ashtray, pictured above. It is certainly a better landing place for smoke and ash.