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Vesuvius - what lies beneath

by Francesco Tutino last modified 2008-06-20 15:13

We visit Vesuvius, the ancient active volcano on the European mainland. Prepare for fire and brimstone as we weave our way to the crater.

VesuvioVesuvius is right in the middle of one of the most intense areas of volcanic activity on the Earth. Add a high density of population, some two million people live in and around the volcano, and you can get some idea of the danger involved. The volcano dominates the eastern and south-eastern sides of the Bay of Naples and looms ominously over the city itself. It is the oldest, and most infamous, of the world's active volcanoes and visitors are often amazed to find it snow-capped in the winter months. ‘Many speak of terrific yet sublime visions of this frightful mountain and its marvellous surrounds.’

VesuvioVesuvius' fame dates back to the tragic eruption in 79 AD. which destroyed the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The outbreak was so violent that it raised a column of smoke up to 32 km high. At the time Pliny the Younger wrote a moving account of the tragedy and left us with the oldest recorded description of a live eruption. By reading Pliny's letter and looking at a simple animation devised by the Gruppo Nazionale di Vulcanologia (National Volcanology Group) we can understand why particularly violent eruptions are called Plinian eruptions, after the ancient historian.

Vesuvius' last eruption was in 1944 shortly after the allied troops landed in Italy. It took the unexpecting Americans by surprise nearly causing another "Pearl Harbour".
Take a walk through the towns and villages around Vesuvius and you'll see ample evidence of the volcano's activity: solidified lava, pumice and tuffs are scattered between the houses.
Today the volcano is considered quiescent, or dormant, but the vents or fumaroles on top remind us of what lies beneath.

TVesuvioheVesuvius National Park, at 10,000 square metres Italy's smallest one, was officially opened in 1995 to protect the cultural and historical heritage of the area and support local traditions and produce.
There is a wide choice of paths for those of you wishing to climb up to the crater. Half-way up you can stop off at the Vesuvian Observatory, the oldest of its type in the world (1841-45), and see an impressive simulation of the eruption which destroyed Pompeii. The old seismographs are worth a look - the electromagnetic model designed by Luigi Palmieri is particularly interesting (the page is in Italian but check out the illustration of the seismograph).
VesuvioThe walk up to the summit is beautiful. Bright bushes of broom and sulphur-coloured butterflies stand out against the black volcanic rock in a celebration of life, no matter how precarious the situation. The only sour note is the number of palatial residences built illegally just a few hundred metres from the crater. But that, my friends, is another story.

The Vesuvian Observatory - commissioned by Ferdinand II of Bourbon in 1841.
Vesuvius National Park
Photo gallery
How to get - to the Vesuvius National Park. (In Italian, with a useful map for those unfamiliar with the area.)
Useful phone numbers - for those wishing to visit the Park.
activity - on Vesuvius

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