Today two million people live in the
immediate vicinity of Mount Vesuvius. This mountain has erupted more than 50 times since
the eruption in 79 A.D., when it buried Pompeii and its sister city, Herculaneum. After
Pompeii was buried and lost to history, the volcano continued to erupt every 100 years
until about 1037 A.D., when it entered a 600-year period of quiescence. In 1631, the
volcano killed an additional 4000 unsuspecting inhabitants. It was during the restoration
after this eruption that workers discovered the ruins of Pompeii, buried and forgotten for
nearly 1600 years. It would take another 300 years for the excavations to reveal the story
of Pompeii and Herculaneum. For excellent coverage of Pompeii, Vesuvius, and the
continuing narrative of tragic human involvement with nature.
picture to the left shows Mount Vesuvius as seen from the recently excavated ruins of
Pompeii. Vesuvius is about 5 miles away. Try to imagine huge, billowing, gray-black clouds
like those at Mount St. Helens rushing toward you at a hundred miles an hour. That is
probably what the ancient Romans (whose body casts are shown below) saw just before they
were entombed by hot ash.
The picture to the right is a satellite
radar image of Mount Vesuvius and its surroundings. Vesuvius is the purplish cone near the
center of the image with a prominent summit crater and radiating greenish lava flows. This
is not a true color image. Vesuvius stands in the middle of a much larger and older eroded
cone called Mount Somma, about half of which is still visible around the east side of
Vesuvius. The rectangular docks of the port of Naples are visible against the dark water
to the upper left of Vesuvius.
Excursion to Vesuvius