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Theathres of Pompeii.jpg
View of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius
Pompeii is located in Italy
Location in Italy
Location Pompei, Metropolitan City of Naples, Campania, Italy
Coordinates 40°45′0″N 14°29′10″E / 40.75000°N 14.48611°E / 40.75000; 14.48611
Type Settlement
Area 64 to 67 ha (170 acres)
Founded 7th–6th century BC
Abandoned AD 79
Official name Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv, v
Designated 1997 (21st session)
Reference no. 829
Region Europe

Pompeii was an ancient city located in what is now the comune of Pompei near Naples in the Campania region of Italy. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area (e.g. at Boscoreale, Stabiae), was buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Largely preserved under the ash, the excavated city offers a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried, although much of the detailed evidence of the everyday life of its inhabitants was lost in the excavations. It was a wealthy town, with a population of ca. 11,000 in AD 79, enjoying many fine public buildings and luxurious private houses with lavish decorations, furnishings and works of art which were the main attractions for the early excavators. Organic remains, including wooden objects and human bodies, were interred in the ash. Over time, they decayed, leaving voids that archaeologists found could be used as moulds to make plaster casts of unique, and often gruesome, figures in their final moments of life. The numerous graffiti carved on the walls and inside rooms provide a wealth of examples of the largely lost Vulgar Latin spoken colloquially at the time, contrasting with the formal language of the classical writers.

Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors annually.

After many excavations prior to 1960 that had uncovered most of the city but left it in decay, further major excavations were banned or limited to targeted, prioritised areas. In 2018, these led to new discoveries in some previously unexplored areas of the city.


Pompeii in Latin is a second declension masculine plural noun (Pompeiī, -ōrum). According to Theodor Kraus, "The root of the word Pompeii would appear to be the Oscan word for the number five, pompe, which suggests that either the community consisted of five hamlets or perhaps it was settled by a family group (gens Pompeia)."

The Forum of Pompeii with the entrances to the Basilica (left) and Macellum (right), the Temple of Jupiter (front) and Mount Vesuvius in the distance.


Pompeii was built approximately 40 m (130 ft) above sea level on a coastal lava plateau created by earlier eruptions of Mount Vesuvius (8 km or 5 mi distant). The plateau fell steeply to the south and partly to the west into the sea. Three layers of sediment from large landslides lie on top of the lava, perhaps triggered by extended rainfall. The city, once by the shoreline, is today circa 700 m (2,300 ft) inland. The mouth of the navigable Sarno River, adjacent to the city, was protected by lagoons and served early Greek and Phoenician sailors as a haven port, later developed by the Romans.

Pompeii covered a total of 64 to 67 hectares (160 to 170 acres) and was home to 11,000 to 11,500 people, based on household counts.


Map of setteling phases of Pompeii
Settlement phases of Pompeii
red: 1st (Samnite) town
blue: 1st expansion, 4th c. BC
green: 2nd expansion
yellow: Roman expansion, from 89 BC

Although best known for its Roman remains visible today, dating from AD 79, it was built upon a substantial city dating from much earlier times. Expansion of the city from an early nucleus (the old town) accelerated after 450 BC under the Greeks following the battle of Cumae.

The inhabitants of Pompeii had long been used to minor earthquakes (indeed, the writer Pliny the Younger wrote that earth tremors "were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania"), but on 5 February 62 a severe earthquake did considerable damage around the bay, and particularly to Pompeii. It is believed that the earthquake would have registered between 5 and 6 on the Richter magnitude scale.

Between 62 AD and the eruption in 79 AD, most rebuilding was done in the private sector and older, damaged frescoes were often covered with newer ones, for example. In the public sector, the opportunity was taken to improve buildings and the city plan, e.g. in the Forum.

By 79, Pompeii had a population of 20,000, which had prospered from the region's renowned agricultural fertility and favourable location, although more recent estimates are up to 11,500 based on household counts.

Eruption of Vesuvius

Mt Vesuvius 79 AD eruption
Pompeii and other cities affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The black cloud represents the general distribution of ash and cinder. Modern coast lines are shown.

The eruption lasted for two days. The first phase was of pumice rain (lapilli) lasting about 18 hours, allowing most inhabitants to escape. Most escapees probably managed to salvage some of their most valuable belongings. At some time in the night or early the next day, pyroclastic flows began near the volcano, consisting of high speed, dense, and scorching ash clouds, knocking down wholly or partly all structures in their path, incinerating or suffocating the remaining population and altering the landscape, including the coastline. By the evening of the second day, the eruption was over, leaving only haze in the atmosphere through which the sun shone weakly. The people and buildings of Pompeii were covered in up to twelve different layers of tephra, in total, up to 6 metres (19.7 ft) deep.

Pliny the Younger provided a first-hand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius from his position across the Bay of Naples at Misenum, but it was written 25 years after the event. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, with whom he had a close relationship, died while attempting to rescue stranded victims. As admiral of the fleet, Pliny the Elder had ordered the ships of the Imperial Navy stationed at Misenum to cross the bay to assist evacuation attempts.

A collaborative study in 2022 determined a date of 24–25 October.

An October/November eruption is clearly supported by many pieces of evidence: the fact that people buried in the ash appear to have been wearing heavier clothing than the light summer clothes typical of August; the fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops are typical of October – and conversely the summer fruit typical of August was already being sold in dried, or conserved form; nuts from chestnut trees were found at Oplontis, which would not have been mature before mid-September; wine fermenting jars had been sealed, which would have happened around the end of October; coins found in the purse of a woman buried in the ash include one with a 15th imperatorial acclamation among the emperor's titles. These coins could not have been minted before the second week of September.

Rediscovery and excavations

Historical map of excavations in Pompeii
Periods/areas of excavations

Titus appointed two ex-consuls to organise a relief effort while donating large amounts of money from the imperial treasury to aid the victims of the volcano. He visited Pompeii once after the eruption and again the following year but no work was done on recovery.

Soon after the city's burial, survivors and possibly thieves came to salvage valuables, including the marble statues from the Forum and other precious materials from buildings. There is wide evidence of post-eruption disturbance, including holes made through walls. The city was not completely buried, and the tops of larger buildings would have been visible above the ash, making it obvious where to dig or salvage building material. The robbers left traces of their passage, as in a house where modern archaeologists found a wall graffito saying "house dug".

Over the following centuries, its name and location were forgotten, though it still appeared on the Tabula Peutingeriana of the 4th century. Further eruptions, particularly in 471–473 and 512, covered the remains more deeply. The area became known as the La Civita (the city) due to the features in the ground.

Fosso del Conte
Plan of Fontana's aqueduct through Pompeii

The next known date that any part was unearthed was in 1592, when architect Domenico Fontana, while digging an underground aqueduct to the mills of Torre Annunziata, ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions. His aqueduct passed through and underneath a large part of the city and would have had to pass through many buildings and foundations, as they still can be seen in many places today. However, he kept the finding secret.

In 1689, Francesco Picchetti saw a wall inscription mentioning decurio Pompeiis ("town councillor of Pompeii"), but he associated it with a villa of Pompey. Francesco Bianchini pointed out the true meaning, and he was supported by Giuseppe Macrini, who in 1693 excavated some walls and wrote that Pompeii lay beneath La Civita.

Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 by workers digging for the foundations of a summer palace for the King of Naples, Charles of Bourbon. Due to the spectacular quality of the finds, the Spanish military engineer Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre made excavations to find further remains at the site of Pompeii in 1748, even if the city was not identified. Charles of Bourbon took great interest in the finds, even after leaving to become king of Spain because the display of antiquities reinforced Naples' political and cultural prestige.

Karl Weber directed the first scientific excavations. He was followed in 1764 by military engineer Franscisco la Vega, who was succeeded by his brother, Pietro, in 1804.

There was much progress in exploration when the French occupied Naples in 1799 and ruled over Italy from 1806 to 1815. The land on which Pompeii lies was confiscated, and up to 700 workers were employed in the excavations. The excavated areas in the north and south were connected. Parts of the Via dell'Abbondanza were also exposed in the west-east direction, and for the first time, an impression of the size and appearance of the ancient town could be appreciated. In the following years, the excavators struggled with a lack of money. Excavations progressed slowly, but with significant finds such as the houses of the Faun, of Menandro, of the Tragic Poet and the Surgeon.

Pompei plan with regio info
Fiorelli's plan of regiones

Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavations in 1863 and made greater progress. During early excavations of the site, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. Fiorelli realised these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies, and so devised the technique of injecting plaster into them to recreate the forms of Vesuvius's victims. This technique is still in use today, with a clear resin now used instead of plaster because it is more durable and does not destroy the bones, allowing further analysis.

Fiorelli also introduced scientific documentation. He divided the city into today's nine areas (regiones) and blocks (insulae) and numbered the entrances of the individual houses (domus). Fiorelli also published the first periodical with excavation reports. Under his successors, the entire west section of the city was exposed.

Modern archaeology

Pompeii map-en
Map of Pompeii

After those of Fiorelli, excavations continued in an increasingly more systematic and considered manner under several directors of archaeology though still with the main interest in making spectacular discoveries and uncovering more houses rather than answering the main questions about the city and its long term preservation.

In the 1920s, Amedeo Maiuri excavated older layers beneath those of 79 AD for the first time to learn about the settlement history. Maiuri made the last excavations on a grand scale in the 1950s, and the area south of the Via dell'Abbondanza and the city wall was almost completely uncovered, but they were poorly documented scientifically. Preservation was haphazard, and his reconstructions were difficult to distinguish from the original ruins, which is a great handicap for studying genuine antique remains. Questionable reconstruction was also done after the severe earthquake of 1980, which caused great destruction. Since then, work has been confined to the excavated areas except for targeted soundings and excavations. Further excavations on a large scale are not planned, and today archaeologists are more engaged in reconstructing, documenting and slowing the decay of the ruins.

In December 2018, archaeologists discovered the remains of harnessed horses in the Villa of the Mysteries.

Pompei - panoramio (26)
Via dell'Abbondanza, the main street in Pompeii

Under the 'Great Pompeii Project' over 2.5 km (1.6 mi) of ancient walls within the city were relieved of danger of collapse by treating the unexcavated areas behind the street fronts in order to increase drainage and reduce the pressure of groundwater and earth on the walls, a problem especially in the rainy season. These excavations resumed on unexcavated areas of Regio V. In November 2020 the remains of two men, thought to be a rich man and his slave, were found in a 2 m-thick (6.6 ft) layer of ash. They appeared to have escaped the first eruption but were killed by a second blast the next day. A study of the bones showed that the younger one appeared to have done manual labour and hence was likely a slave.

In December 2020, a thermopolium, an inn or snack-bar, was excavated in Regio V. In addition to brightly coloured frescoes depicting some of the food on offer, archaeologists found eight dolia (terracotta pots) still containing remnants of meals, including duck, goat, pig, fish, and snails. They also found a decorated bronze drinking bowl known as a patera, wine flasks, amphora, and ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups. One fresco depicts a dog with a collar on a leash, possibly reminding customers to leash their pets. The complete skeleton of a tiny adult dog was also discovered, measuring only about 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in) at the shoulder, which provides evidence of the highly selective breeding of dogs in Roman times.

In January 2021 a well-preserved "large, four-wheel ceremonial chariot" was uncovered by archaeologists headed by Massimo Osanna at a villa in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii, where a stable had previously been discovered in 2018. The carriage is made of bronze and black and red wooden panels, with engraved metal medallions at the back.

In 2021 an exceptional 1st century AD painted tomb of a freed-slave, Marcus Venerius Secundio, containing mummified human remains, was discovered outside the Porta Sarno gate. Its inscription records he achieved custodianship of the Temple of Venus and membership of the Augustales, priests of the Imperial Cult. Also, he organised Greek and Latin performances lasting four days, the first evidence of Greek cultural events in Pompeii.


Pompeii - Via dell'Abbondanza
The buildings on the left show signs of decay due to the infestation of various plants, while the debris accumulating on the footpath indicates erosion of the infrastructure. The footpaths and road have also been worn down by pedestrian activity since excavation.

Objects buried beneath Pompeii were well-preserved for almost 2,000 years as the lack of air and moisture allowed little to no deterioration. However, Pompeii has been exposed to natural and anthropic deterioration following excavation.

Weathering, erosion, light exposure, water damage, poor methods of excavation and reconstruction, introduced plants and animals, tourism, vandalism and theft have all damaged the site in some way. The lack of adequate weather protection for all but the most interesting and important buildings has allowed original interior decoration to fade or be lost. Two-thirds of the city has been excavated, but the remnants of the city are rapidly deteriorating.

Furthermore, during World War II many buildings were badly damaged or destroyed by bombs dropped in several raids by the Allied forces.

The conservation concern has constantly worried archaeologists. The ancient city was included in the 1996 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund, and again in 1998 and in 2000. In 1996 the organisation claimed that Pompeii "desperately need[ed] repair" and called for the drafting of a general plan of restoration and interpretation. The organisation supported conservation at Pompeii with funding from American Express and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

The Schola Armatorum ('House of the Gladiators') collapsed in 2010 caused by heavy rainfall and lack of proper drainage. The structure was not open to visitors, but the outside was visible to tourists. There was fierce controversy after the collapse, with accusations of neglect.

Today, funding is mostly directed into conservation of the site; however, due to the expanse of Pompeii and the scale of the problems, this is inadequate in halting the slow decay of the materials. A 2012 study recommended an improved strategy for interpretation and presentation of the site as a cost-effective method of improving its conservation and preservation in the short term.

In June 2013, UNESCO warned that if restoration and preservation works "fail to deliver substantial progress in the next two years," Pompeii could be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. A "Grande Progetto Pompei" project of about five years had begun in 2012 with the European Union and included stabilization and conservation of buildings in the highest risk areas. In 2014, UNESCO headquarters received a new management plan to help integrate the property's management, conservation, and maintenance programs.

In 2020 many domus gardens, orchards and vineyards were carefully recreated using depictions in frescoes and archaeological finds to give better insights into what they were like before the catastrophe. These include the House of Julia Felix, the House of the Golden Cupids, the House of Loreius Tiburtinus, the House of Cornelius Rufus and the Garden of the Fugitives.

In 2021 several long-closed domus were re-opened after restoration including the House of the Ship Europa, House of the Orchard and House of the Lovers. Also the newly excavated House of Leda and the Swan has opened.

Roman city development

Columns forum Pompeii
Portico in front of the entrance of the Macellum

Owing to its wealth and its Greek, Etruscan and Roman history, Pompeii is of great interest for the study of Ancient Roman architecture in terms of building methods and urban planning. However, it was a relatively small provincial city and, except for the Amphitheatre, it did not have large monuments on the scale of other Roman cities. It also missed the large building schemes of the early Empire and kept much of its urban architecture dating from as early as the 4th century BC.

The evolution of Pompeii's private and public buildings is often unclear because of the lack of excavations beneath the levels of 79. It is, however, clear that by the time of the conquest by Sulla in 89 BC, the development of the street layout was largely complete, and most of the insulae were built.

Public buildings

Bains et les édifices sportifs de Pompéi
Location of public baths and sports buildings
Pompeya.Anfiteatro y palestra retouched
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii

Under the Romans, Pompeii underwent a process of urban development which accelerated in the Augustan period from about 30 BC. New public buildings included the Amphitheatre with palaestra or gymnasium with a central natatorium (cella natatoria) or swimming pool, two theatres, the Eumachia Building and at least four public baths. The amphitheatre has been cited by scholars as a model of sophisticated design, particularly in the area of crowd control.

Other service buildings were the Macellum ("meat market"); the Pistrinum (baker); the thermopolia (inns or snack-bars that served hot and cold dishes and drinks), and cauponae ("pubs" or "dives"). A large hotel or hospitium (of 1,000 m2) was found at Murecine, a short distance from Pompeii, when the Naples-Salerno motorway was being built, and the Murecine Silver Treasure and the Tablets (providing a unique record of business transactions) were discovered there.

An aqueduct provided water to the public baths, to more than 25 street fountains, and to many private houses and businesses. The aqueduct was a branch of the great Serino Aqueduct built to serve the other large towns in the Bay of Naples region and the important naval base at Misenum. The castellum aquae is well preserved and includes many details of the distribution network and its controls.

Shops and workshops

Another view of a bakery in Region VIII Pompeii Walk (51813493084)
Bakery in Region VIII
Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus opening directly onto the south side of the Via dell'Abbondanza, Pompeii (15042641332)
Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus opening directly onto the Via dell'Abbondanza

There were at least 31 bakeries in the town, each with wood-burning ovens, millstones and a sales counter. The Modestus bakery, or House of the Oven, was the largest in the city and Sotericus's bakery, also among the largest, preserves the room for kneading bread.

Thermopolia were inns or snack-bars in which hot food and drinks were sold and in Pompeii there were nearly 100. The thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus overlooked the street directly, had a counter and several dolia, as well as a room behind the shop where customers could eat their meals: the lararium with frescoes of the Lares and Mercury and Dionysus and a triclinium decorated in the Third style. In the thermopolium of Asellina, with three sales counters and a lararium with depictions of Mercury and Bacchus, numerous furnishings have been found, both in bronze and terracotta, as well as 683 sesterces; the external façade bears a representation of jugs and funnels and an electoral inscription referring to Asellina, probably the owner of the inn.

Wool processing was well developed with 13 workshops that worked the raw material, seven that did the spinning, nine the dyeing, and 18 the washing: the Building of Eumachia, from the name of the priestess who built it, was the wool market, or the seat of the fullers guild; construction took place after 62 and was entirely in brickwork. Inside it has numerous niches in which statues were housed, mostly concerning the imperial family, a colonnade, and near the entrance, there was a jar in which urine was collected for use as a detergent for clothes. The fullonica of Stephanus, named after the owner or manager, was originally a house that was transformed into a workshop for the processing of fabrics: on the lower floor the working and washing activities took place, while on the upper floor the clothes were dried.

The garum workshop made the sauce obtained from the fermentation of the entrails of fish; in the building some containers were found, closed by lids, with the sauce inside while in the nearby garden was a large deposit of amphorae.

Lists of buildings

Public buildings
  • Amphitheatre of Pompeii
  • Eumachia building
  • Macellum of Pompeii
  • Suburban Baths
  • Stabian Baths
  • Temple of Apollo
  • Temple of Isis
  • Temple of Jupiter
  • Theatre Area of Pompeii

Town houses

  • House of the Centenary
  • House of the Faun
  • House of Julia Felix
  • House of the Greek Epigrams
  • House of Loreius Tiburtinus
  • House of Menander
  • House of the Prince of Naples
  • House of Sallust
  • House of the Silver Wedding
  • House of the Small Fountain (Pompeii)
  • House of the Surgeon
  • House of the Tragic Poet
  • House of the Vettii

Exterior villas

  • Villa of Diomedes
  • Villa of the Mysteries


  • The Garden of the Fugitives
  • Lupanar

Agriculture and horticulture

Modern archaeologists have excavated garden sites and urban domains to reveal the agricultural staples of Pompeii's economy. Pompeii had fertile soil for crop cultivation. The soils surrounding Mount Vesuvius preceding its eruption had good water-retention capabilities, implying productive agriculture. The Tyrrhenian Sea's airflow provided hydration to the soil despite the hot, dry climate. Barley, wheat, and millet were produced along with wine and olive oil, for export to other regions.

Vigneto Foro Boario
The 'Foro Boario' vineyard at Pompeii, replanted as it was at the time of the eruption.

Evidence of wine imported nationally from Pompeii in its most prosperous years can be found from recovered artefacts such as wine bottles in Rome. For this reason, vineyards were of utmost importance to Pompeii's economy. Agricultural policymaker Columella suggested that each vineyard in Rome produce a quota of three cullei of wine per jugerum; otherwise, the vineyard would be uprooted. The nutrient-rich lands near Pompeii were extremely efficient and often capable of largely exceeding these requirements, providing the incentive for local wineries to establish themselves. While wine was exported for Pompeii's economy, most other agricultural goods were likely produced in quantities sufficient for the city's consumption.

Remains of large formations of constructed wineries were found in the Forum Boarium, covered by cemented casts from the eruption of Vesuvius. It is speculated that these historical vineyards are strikingly similar in structure to the modern day vineyards across Italy.

Carbonised food plant remains, roots, seeds and pollens have been found in gardens in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and a Roman villa at Torre Annunziata. They revealed that emmer wheat, Italian millet, common millet, walnuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, hazel nuts, chickpeas, bitter vetch, broad beans, olives, figs, pears, onions, garlic, peaches, carob, grapes, and dates were consumed. All but the dates could have been produced locally.


Pompeii has been a popular tourist destination for over 250 years; it was on the Grand Tour. By 2008, it was attracting almost 2.6 million visitors per year, making it one of Italy's most popular tourist sites. It is part of a larger Vesuvius National Park and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. To combat problems associated with tourism, the governing body for Pompeii, the 'Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei', has begun issuing new tickets that allow tourists to visit cities such as Herculaneum and Stabiae as well as the Villa Poppaea, to encourage visitors to see these sites and reduce pressure on Pompeii.

Pompeii is a driving force behind the economy of the nearby town of Pompei. Many residents are employed in the tourism and hospitality industry, serving as taxi or bus drivers, waiters, or hotel staff.

Excavations at the site have generally ceased due to a moratorium imposed by the superintendent of the site, Professor Pietro Giovanni Guzzo. The site is generally less accessible to tourists than in the past, with less than a third of all buildings open in the 1960s available for public viewing today.

Antiquarium of Pompeii

Originally built by Giuseppe Fiorelli between 1873 and 1874, the Antiquarium of Pompeii began as an exhibition venue displaying archaeological finds that represented the daily life of the ancient city. The building suffered extensive damage in 1943 during the World War II bombings and again in 1980 due to an earthquake. The museum was closed to the public for 36 years before reopening in 2016 as a space for temporary exhibitions. The museum was re-opened on 25 January 2021 as a permanent exhibition venue. Visitors can see archaeological discoveries from the excavations, casts of the victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption as well as displays documenting Pompeii's settlement history before becoming a thriving Roman city.


  • In Search of...'s episode No. 82 focuses entirely on Pompeii; it premiered on 29 November 1979.
  • The National Geographic special In the Shadow of Vesuvius (1987) explores the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, interviews (then) leading archaeologists, and examines the events leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius.
  • Ancient Mysteries: Pompeii: Buried Alive (1996), an A&E television documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy.
  • Pompeii: The Last Day (2003), an hour-long drama produced for the BBC that portrays several characters (with historically attested names, but fictional life-stories) living in Pompeii, Herculaneum and around the Bay of Naples, and their last hours, including a fuller and his wife, two gladiators, and Pliny the Elder. It also portrays the facts of the eruption.
  • Pompeii and the AD 79 eruption (2004), a two-hour Tokyo Broadcasting System documentary.
  • Pompeii Live (28 June 2006), a Channel 5 production featuring a live archaeological dig at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time (2013), a BBC One drama documentary presented by Dr. Margaret Mountford.
  • The Riddle of Pompeii (23 May 2014), Discovery Channel.
  • Pompeii: The Dead Speak (8 August 2016), Smithsonian Channel.
  • Pompeii's People (3 September 2017), a CBC Gem documentary presented by David Suzuki.


See also

  • Plymouth, Montserrat, former capital city buried by volcanic ash from the Soufrière Hills volcano in the 1990s
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