Two more victims of volcanic eruption found in Italy’s Pompeii ruins

Archaeologists at Pompeii said on Tuesday that they had uncovered two more skeletons in the ruins of the ancient Roman city wiped out by a volcanic eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Two more victims of volcanic eruption found in Italy's Pompeii ruins
The archeological site of Pompeii, near Naples, southern Italy.(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The pair of male victims, believed to be aged at least 55, were found in recent excavations at Pompeii’s ‘Chaste Lovers’ block of buildings.

They are believed to have been killed as an earthquake that accompanied the eruption of Moutn Vesuvius in 79 AD knocked down a wall in the room where they sought shelter.

Pompeii Archaeological Park Director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said the two were killed not by volcanic ash but by collapsing buildings, noting that wall fragments were found between their fractured bones.

In the room where the men were found, part of a wall had collapsed, hitting one of the victims “whose raised arm perhaps refers to the tragic image of a vain attempt to protect himself from falling masonry”, a statement from the park said.

The skeletons were found lying on their side with their legs curled up, and one wore a ring on his left hand.

They were found in what is believed to be a storeroom inside the “Chaste Lovers” block, where colourful frescoes and the skeletons of mules who worked the millstones for grain have been uncovered in the past.

IN PHOTOS: Pompeii’s treasures go on display at reopened Antiquarium museum

Inside the room was an amphora and a collection of bowls and jugs, while an adjacent room contained a home shrine in the form of a fresco, and a narrow bathroom with a toilet.

The earthquake struck as the huge blast from nearby Mount Vesuvius covered the city of Pompeii with thick volcanic ash, preserving the bodies of many of its residents.

Archaeologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of Pompeii’s population died in the eruption, which had a force equivalent to many atomic bombs, mostly from thermal shock as a giant cloud of gases and ash covered the city.

Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Earthquakes before and during the eruption, as documented in letters by Roman author Pliny the Younger, also took their toll.

“At least 15-20 percent of the population” was killed, according to the park.

Over the past two and a half centuries, archaeologists have recovered the remains of more than 1,300 victims, most recently in November 2020 when archaeologists unearthed two bodies, believed to be of a young slave and his master.

“Modern excavation techniques help us to better understand the inferno that completely destroyed the city of Pompeii over two days, killing many inhabitants”, archaeologist Zuchtriegel stated on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near Pompeii

There has been a flurry of recent archaeological activity at Pompeii, aimed at halting years of decay and neglect, largely funded by a 105-million-euro EU project.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said on Tuesday conservation and archaeological research efforts would continue.

“The discovery of these two skeletons shows us that we still need to study a lot, do more excavations to bring out everything that is still inside this immense treasure,” he said.

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How Italy’s Reggia di Caserta is being restored to its former glory

The Royal Palace of Caserta, a long-neglected architectural jewel near Naples, is being revived by a vast restoration project partly financed by the EU recovery fund.

How Italy's Reggia di Caserta is being restored to its former glory

Nicknamed the “Italian Versailles”, after the royal palace near Paris, the Italian UNESCO site boasts 1,200 rooms and 123 hectares of lush gardens.

It was built on the orders of the King of Naples Charles of Bourbon, with work beginning in 1752 under the direction of architect Luigi Vanvitelli.

But it fell into neglect after Italy’s unification at the end of the 19th century, and was used only rarely after that, such as when it served as the Allied headquarters during the Second World War.

From restoring the facades to reviving the gardens and repairing the gates, remedying the ravages of time is proving a titanic task.

The ‘Throne Room’ at the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Efforts made so far were rewarded last week when the palace won a third star – the highest accolade – in the prestigious Michelin Green Guide to Southern Italy.

Philippe Orain, the Michelin Green Guides’ director, told AFP the restoration so far was “remarkable”.

The palace has also earned points for its collection of contemporary art, showcased in the royal apartments, as well as its decision to open to visitors in the evenings and at Christmas.

Tiziana Maffei, Director of the Royal Palace of Caserta, with the third star from Le Guide Vert Michelin, the highest award given to a tourist site. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The third star lifts the palace and its gardens, complete with reflecting pools and gushing waterfall, to the level of the Pompeii archaeological site.

“It is a recognition that we hope will make us known throughout Europe and the world,” said the palace’s director Tiziana Maffei.

‘Expression of power’

Once home to Queen Marie-Caroline, Marie-Antoinette’s sister, the palace was designed to be “an expression of power but also of cultural prestige”, Maffei said.

The restoration comes with a stiff price tag, but the project has received around 25 million euros from the European post-pandemic recovery fund.

Maffei said it was “very little” compared to the total costs, but it would help restore the aqueduct, which carries water to the palace’s fountains, canals and basins, over a distance of 40 kilometres.

The palace serves as a location for film shoots, from “Star Wars” to “Angels and Demons”, which help lift its profile – and can raise unexpected extra funds too.

Maffei cites Tom Cruise, who she says paid for the curtain in the palace theatre to be restored while he was there filming “Mission Impossible”.

The Court Theatre of the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Visitors to the royal apartments first climb a vast staircase, under the fierce gaze of marble lions.

Above them is an immensive dome, below which lies a hidden platform, where musicians were once housed out of sight, to play as distinguished guests arrived.

Beyond the palace lie the Old Woods and the English Garden, one of the few great European gardens still intact, boasting temples, lakes and some 200 or so different species of rare and exotic plants.

Tourists arrive at the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

UK tourist Terry Thompson, on holiday with her husband, says the revived royal palace now rivals even the imposing Vatican in Rome.

“I can honestly say that here it is as beautiful, if not more beautiful,” she said.

“It’s absolutely superb: the colours, the paintings, the ceilings, the gilding… it’s really worth a visit”.

The gardens of the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)