Mount Vesuvius

179 vesuvius dMount Vesuvius is a 1,300 meter-high stratovolcano that is located on the densely populated Bay of Naples.  Geologists trace its history to an earlier volcano, Mount Somma, which formed at the same location between 25,000 and 19,000 years ago.  About 18,000 years ago, a large eruption caused Somma to collapse, and subsequent lava flows created Vesuvius inside the remains of the caldera.  Vesuvius experienced large explosive eruptions 8,000 and 3,800 years ago, and is best known for the massive A.D. 79 eruption that destroyed and covered the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii.  This event was witnessed by a 17 year-old Roman, Pliny the Younger, who later produced the first written account of a volcanic eruption.  Vesuvius has since erupted over thirty times, the last being in 1944.  The Vesuvius Observatory, founded in 1841, is an Italian public sector scientific institute that is responsible for monitoring the active volcanoes in Campania.

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Project Background

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Pompeii has been studied by thousands and visited by millions.  Much of our collective understanding of the lives of the people that lived in the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. can be attributed to this ancient city.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is in peril.[1] Constant exposure to the Mediterranean sun and rain degrades and weakens the ancient structures.  Vegetation grows into masonry walls and through mosaic floors.  The large numbers of visitors place significant stress on the site, including accidental damage and occasional vandalism.  Although dedicated maintenance and restoration workers complete one project after another, walls still crumble, paintings fade and detail disappears.

Nearby Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano, although currently in repose.  Hazard analyses are inconclusive as to when another eruption can be expected, but there seems to be little doubt that there will be one.[2] The Bay of Naples is also a seismic area.  Future damage to Pompeii, such as that which occurred in the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, is a definite possibility.  These types of events may be of low probability but could certainly be high in impact.

These threats will continue in the future.  It is therefore essential to record accurate and detailed data about the city as it is degenerating over time and may cease to exist in the future.[3] Information should be preserved as well as the structures.

Between 2002 and 2005 the authors developed techniques and equipment to combine high-definition digital photographs and precise geomatic (surveying) control drawings to create accurate, orthographic photomosaics of historical standing structures.  This approach is especially appropriate for recording the building facades in Pompeii because of their linear construction.  The methodology allows one to view complete city blocks in Pompeii that cannot normally be seen because the streets are too narrow.

The first photomosaic recorded the exterior of the properties of Insula VI, 1 along via Consolare.  The recording and production techniques were refined to improve accuracy and efficiency and utilized to document other ancient structures.  The photomosaics have been used for project archives, architectural analyses, conservation management and in archaeological publications and museum exhibitions.

The authors subsequently designed a research project to create photomosaics of additional properties in Pompeii.  The initial goal of the endeavor was to produce archival-quality images that could be useful for the restoration of the structures if or when they are damaged by a natural disaster, and that could also be used for academic study and building conservation.  After evaluation, the subject of the program was selected – the facades of all of the buildings on the 900 meter-long via dell’Abbondanza.

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[1] World Monuments Fund, 1996 World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, New York, 1996.
    World Monuments Fund, 1998 World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, New York, 1998.
    World Monuments Fund, 2000 World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, New York, 2000.

[2] R. Santacroce, ed.,  Somma-Vesuvius – Progetto Finalizzato Geodinamica’ Monografie Finali, Vol. 8, Rome:  Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche, 1987, pp. 197-220.

[3] Joanne Berry, ed., Unpeeling Pompeii, Studies in Region I of Pompeii, Milan:  Electa,  1998, Preface by Guzzo, De Caro, Geertman, Carrillo and Wallace-Hadrill.