Pompei rests on a plateau of Vesuvian lava, about 30 meters above sea level, in an area that enabled control over the valley of the Sarno river, which had a port at its mouth.
In the first half of the sixth century B.C., the first circle of city walls was built, following the same course that later walls would take.
A ‘mixed’ civilization of indigenous elements, Etruscans, and Greeks developed the city. Toward the end of the fifth century B.C., the Samnites, who came down from the mountains of Irpinia and Sannio, spread through the plain of what is now the region of Campania, conquering the cities along Vesuvius and the coast and uniting them in a league whose capital was Nucèria.
During the Samnite period, there was a great thrust towards the urbanization of Pompei. At the end of the 4th century B.C., under the pressure of Samnite populations, Rome looked for space in southern Italy, and between 343 and 290 B.C. conquered all of Campania.
Pompei entered the Roman state first as a sòcia, or ally. However in 90-89 B.C. the city, along with other Italic peoples, rebelled, claiming equal social and political dignity with Rome. Pompei was besieged and defeated by troops commanded by Pùblius Còrnelius Sùlla. In 80 B.C. it became a Roman colony with the name of Còrnelia Venèria Pompeianòrum.
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Once it became a colony, Pompei was rebuilt and enriched with private and public buildings, especially in the age of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius, from 27 B.C. to 37 A.D.
In 62 A.D., an earthquake struck the area of Vesuvius. Reconstruction began immediately in Pompei, but took a long time because of the extent of the damage. Seventeen years later, when the sudden eruption of Vesuvius buried the city, also because of other earthquakes after the one of 62, Pompei still looked like a vast building site.
The buried city was rediscovered in the 16th century, but exploration only began in 1748, and continued systematically through the nineteenth century up to the most recent excavations, aimed at restoring and attributing the proper value to the ancient city and its exceptional archeological heritage.
The archeological area of Pompei extends over 66 hectares (about 35 acres), of which 49 have been excavated and 12 are open to the public.
The director Giuseppe Fiorelli, in 1858, had the idea of dividing the city into regiones, or neighborhoods, and insulae, blocks. The names of the houses have been invented by the archaeologists over the centuries, following various criteria.