Mount Vesuvius, Italy

Mount Vesuvius is the renowned volcano that is famed for destroying the historic city of Pompeii in 79 A.D.

Mount Vesuvius

The only active volcano on mainland Europe, this fascinating peak contributes to an important part of Italy’s history. Pompeii is now one of the largest archaeological sites in the world, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.

History of Mount Vesuvius’s Eruptions

is an ancient volcano, with the oldest dated rock found on the large structure estimating to be about 300,000 years old. There have been several eruptions throughout its life, approximately 30 of which have occurred since the destruction of Pompeii. The most recent eruption was in 1944 during World War II.

The Famous Eruption of 79AD

Mount Vesuvius Eruption 79AD

Credit: De Agostini – Getty

The events in 79AD lead to Mount Vesuvius gaining its fearsome reputation, obliterating and burying the nearby cities and towns in the thick volcanic ash. The volcano blasted waves of scorching volcanic debris, the ‘pyroclastic flows’ containing gas, ash, and rock. The wall of smoke was estimated to be over 32 km tall and reached speeds of 700km per hour.

It is believed that the ash had entirely blocked out the sun over the City of Pompeii in less than an hour after the initial eruption. The gas rained down on the people of Pompeii burning their physical bodies and essentially burning them alive. The destruction and submersion of Pompeii took a total of 25 hours. Before this event, no one was aware that Vesuvius was an active volcano, even despite a warning earthquake before the eruption. It is still an active volcano, being the only estimating one in the entire is of Europe.

Of course, Pompeii was not the only city destroyed by the eruption in 79AD. Nearby Herculaneum also fell victim to the volcano’s power but the nature in which it was covered by volcanic debris has meant that it is a better preserved site.

The Last Eruption

In March 1944, lava flows were spotted spilling over the crater of Vesuvius. Small eruptions then started and built over a week and a half into a large, final explosion. The volcano spewed out a massive, dark cloud of smoke which covered neighbouring towns in a blanket of ash up to a meter deep. Rocks the size of soccer balls also rained down from the sky. Soldiers stationed nearby watched the events unfold and reported that the sounds of the volcano were similar to that of artillery fire.

At first, lava flowed over one side of the volcano and towards the town of San Sebastiano. The residents then found themselves, after years of war, having to evacuate their town as Vesuvius slowly destroyed it. Towns on the other side believed that they were safe however the lava eventually started flowing over other sides of the crater and nearly 12,000 people had to leave their homes or military bases. Since the Italian government at the time was in chaos, the United States military assisted with the evacuations and helped to clear roads buried deep in ash.

Fortunately, only 26 casualties resulted from the eruption of 1944 as the final explosion was expected, unlike in 79AD when Pompeii’s residents were caught unawares.

Will it Erupt Again?

Mount Vesuvius, Italy

For Vesuvius, it is not a question of if it erupts but when. Like most volcanoes worldwide, Mount Vesuvius follows a rough eruption cycle, which leads it to erupt every 20 years. Scientists have estimated that Italy’s volcano is overdue for an eruption. Due to the large population surrounding the volcano, Mount Vesuvius could jeopardize over 3 million people. Many ongoing studies are monitoring the volcano’s activity, gas emissions and other indicators that will give locals a warning for a future flare-up.

The Italian government has also planned an eruption evacuation, to give nearby citizens a quick escape when the time comes. The ‘red zone’ which refers to the areas closest to the volcano, including the city of Naples, have a prearranged evacuation 72 hours ahead of an impending outbreak.

Mount Vesuvius sits atop a layer of magma almost 400 square kilometers in size. Not only is this a relatively enormous amount of magma, scientists expect the coming eruption to be exceptionally forceful, capable of sending rock and ash hurtling through the air at up to 160km/h. The might of an eruption on this scale is equal to roughly 100 000 times the thermal energy of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

Are Eruptions All Bad?

Whilst volcanic eruptions do bring tragedy to surrounding towns, volcanic ash contains vital nutrients that enrich the soil. Typically, farmers in southern Italy struggle to grow much other than cereals but the volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius is incredibly fertile in comparison. On the slopes of the volcano, you will find an abundance of farms producing fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Wine producers also choose the surrounding area to establish their vineyards, making high-quality wines which are named Lacryma Christi. This translates as “the tears of Christ”.

How Can You See the Mount Vesuvius?

On your journey to Pompeii, a great stopover is a trek up to the looming volcano that caused the historic city’s demise. Whether you are driving up, a long-time hiker or just stopping through, travelling to the top of Mount Vesuvius is worthwhile. A breathtaking view of the cities Naples and Pompeii, the stunning coastline of the Bay of Naples, as well as the stretching blue sea with the islands Capri and Ischia sitting within. No trip to Pompeii is complete without a visit to the famous Mount Vesuvius.

Related article: Facts about Mount Vesuvius

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