On the left, a contemporary view of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as seen in artwork in a Pompeiian villa. They had no idea it was a volcano.
On the right, Vesuvius after the eruption, as seen from an excavated Pompeii. That bump on the right is all that remains of the former structure. The double-peak cone formed during the 79 AD eruption.
Pliny the Younger to Cornelius Tacitus, soon after the disaster:
Thank you for asking me to send you a description of my uncle’s death so that you can leave an accurate account of it for posterity(1); I know that immortal fame awaits him if his death is recorded by you. It is true that he perished in a catastrophe which destroyed the loveliest regions of the earth, a fate shared by whole cities and their people, and one so memorable that is likely to make his name live for ever: and he himself wrote a number of books of lasting value: but you write for all time and can still do much to perpetuate his memory. The fortunate man, in my opinion, is he to whom the gods have granted the power either to do something which is worth recording or to write what is worth reading, and most fortunate of all is the man who can do both. Such a man was my uncle, as his own books and yours will prove. So you set me a task I would choose for myself, and I am more than willing to start on it.
My uncle was stationed at Misenum, in active command of the fleet.(2) On 24 August, in the early afternoon, my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance. He had been out in the sun, had taken a cold bath, and lunched while lying down, and was then working at his books. He called for his shoes and climbed up to a place which would give him the best view of the phenomenon. It was not clear at that distance from which mountain the cloud was rising (it was afterwards known to be Vesuvius); its general appearance can be best expressed as Continue reading