Vesuvio

Watching idyllic images of picturesque Naples, extending at the foot of the gentle slopes of Vesuvius, you cannot help but sigh “how beautiful!…”

The fact is a fact, undeniable: the panorama is marvellous (of course we take our photos with wide camera angle, so that you can’t see the details of the city, with its crumbling buildings drowning in rubbish – this is not sarcasm but another fact, sad but undeniable too…).

Vesuvius in ancient times
Vesuvius in ancient times

The distinctive double cone of Somma-Vesuvio looks more impressive than its modest altitude of 1281 metres would suggest, because it rises directly from the sea level. Somma, the older volcano whose rocks form the foundations of the massif, had its upper part swept away during the famous eruption in AD 79 that buried Pompeii. In the caldera which formed after the eruption, the new cone began to emerge: Mount Vesuvius.

Vesuvius towering above Naples
Vesuvius towering above Naples

Recently Vesuvius has appeared more and more frequently in discussions of Italians, for two reasons. One is the movie “Pompeii”, which premiered in February; the other is the new evacuation plan signed in mid-February by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, extending the “red zone” around the volcano. The plan envisages the evacuation of 700,000 local people in case of emergency (previously 550,000) from the area potentially exposed to pyroclastic fall as well as intrusion of lava and shock waves of hot gas. Another novelty is that the present plan is regulated by a decree rather than agreements, which were not sufficiently effective.

Here is an anecdote: the last agreement from 2001 provided for civil defense drills, with mock evacuations by rail. On one occasion, the train which should have arrived at one of the evacuated villages (Portici) at 9:00am was delayed one hour, because the train carriages prepared for evacuation were found in the morning to be filled with homeless families, who set up cosy abodes inside for themselves and all their belongings (!).

A view from Mount Vesuvius
A view from Mount Vesuvius

Given the new evacuation plans and stricter building rules (there are demarcated areas banned for construction), it is even more surprising that new lavish villas are still popping up on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius! OK, you have Naples at your feet, but the price you pay can be high.

Vesuvius still hums and murmurs, once in a while it will sneeze louder or belch out a bit of something from its insides… but this is not frequent. Only volcanologists are bothered by its inaudible murmurando, while those choosing to build their houses on its slopes just seem blissfully lulled…

There is a paved road leading up the volcano slopes, almost reaching the top; you can either drive there or take a bus from Pompeii or Naples. The summit is frequented almost exclusively by foreigners; since entry fees were introduced, Italians seem to prefer to spend EUR 15 on a good dinner. From the summit, there is a beautiful view on Naples, the Gulf of Naples and the surrounding islands: Capri, Ischia, Procida. The summit, or rather the crater, is shaped as a large depression. You need to look carefully to find yellowish smoking spots.

Pompeii with Mount Vesuvio
Pompeii with Mount Vesuvio

A comment I heard made by an Italian upon seeing the deep crater… priceless: “So much room is wasted! All the rubbish of Naples could be brought here and dumped in this place!

(The real monster is lurking at the foot of Vesuvius. But that’s for next time :-) )