So I finally visited Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. My siblings and I had wanted to go since we were kids, ever since we had seen all those movies and read all those books about the place. All those books about the volcanic explosion at 1 pm on 24th August, 79 AD, and the legends and myths about the destruction of Pompeii…
Legends, Myths and Facts
There are so many legends and stories about Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii that you could get lost in them. It is a wonderful place to be lost though, in the frayed threads of history and time. It must be wonderful to be an archaeologist piecing together the history of the world, and delving into the bowels of the earth to bring Pompeii back to life.
The Greeks who lived in Pompeii were at that time ruled by the Romans who considered Pompeii a major trading sea port. The citizens of Pompeii believed that Mount Vesuvius was where their god Vulcan resided, and it was he who protected them, and gave them fertility and the best wine. (The wine drums from Pompeii have been found in excavations as far away as Turkey and other Mediterranean regions.)
Just the day before the eruption in 79 AD, the citizens of Pompeii were celebrating Vulcanalia, the feast of the Vulcan. So when Vesuvius started erupting at 1 pm, excavations reveal that the people tried clearing ash from their rooftops.
Vesuvius had given warning signs 17 years earlier in 62 AD in the form of earthquakes, but since earthquakes were so common in the region, the people didn’t pay much attention to it. They did not expect the volcano to erupt, and probably had no idea that it was a volcano, and hence did not start fleeing till after midnight.
By the next morning, Pompeii was turned into a lost city along with its wealthy neighbor Herculaneum, and the villages of Oplontis and Stabiae. We visited the ruins of Pompeii that were discovered in 1748, but that’s the story for another blog.
Vesuvius, located in Campania, Italy near the Bay of Naples is a type of volcano with pyroclastic flows, like its neighbours Stromboli and Campi Flegrei in the Bay of Naples. These volcanoes were formed by the African tectonic plate being subducted under the Eurasian tectonic plate, and are part of the Campanian volcanic arc.
While Vesuvius is not as destructive as the Campi Flegrei in Italy or the Michoacan-Guanajuato in Mexico, it is expected to erupt pretty soon. It’s long overdue, the last eruption being in 1944.
Well, let me clarify about the dangerous bit first. On the days the volcano is active and it’s not safe, no one is allowed to go up. There goes the danger out the window. Well, maybe danger still exists in the fact that technology cannot always guarantee predicting to a dot when Vesuvius will erupt again, although scientists monitor the volcano day and night.
Yet, the 3 to 6 million people of Naples who live in Vesuvius shadow aren’t moving because it’s their home. It’s where they’ve lived all their lives. Roots and stuff! Why would you leave your home based on the possibility of danger? Or why would you stay? Well, the Italian government does have an evacuation plan in place for when Vesuvius starts to rumble. Hopefully, as many lives as possible can be saved.
Finally getting to Vesuvius
My sister and I finally made it to Al Parco Nazionale Del Vesuvio aka Vesuvius last week, and to our surprise it was not what we expected. What we expected was a pleasant and somewhat steep 30 minute walk up the side of the crater, surrounded by nature and history. But what we found was otherwise.
The first thing I didn’t like – It was too Crowded
Well yes, the walk was 30 minutes long. 20 minutes or 40 minutes depending on whether you ambled up or made a dash for it. But it was too crowded. There was a gravel pathway to make it easier for tourists to reach up to the rim of the crater. All along the gravel pathway, you had to side step every 10 or 15 seconds to avoid bumping into the next person. There were a lot of tourist groups and school groups there on the sunny day we visited. Bumming!
Also, the 14 degree angle and the gravel made it somewhat slippery coming back down, with a number of people tending to slip at a few points. Not too much though. There were some who had hired walking sticks to help them on the walk up, which was a good idea if doing a fast-paced walk. We had the clouds come down to shadow us on our way up. Lovely!
The second thing I didn’t like – It was commercialized
Around the ticket counter, there are a number of stalls selling replicas of the volcano, magnets, food, drinks and items that are claimed to be made of lava. Once at the top, just before you reach the rim of the crater is another gift shop selling similar items. You’ll find two more gift shops as you walk along the rim to the other side of the crater. The commercialization deducts from the awesomeness of the volcano.
Yet, once you’re at the top, you tend to forget (read ‘ignore’) the crowds and the commercialization, except when you’re angling for place to click your photographs. Ha! The view into the crater is beautiful. At some places you can see the steam rising up into the sky. Breathtaking!
The view of the Bay of Naples too is lovely. We could see some sail boats and the Isle of Capri in the distance. The camera didn’t do enough justice to the pictures here. But the views were ‘Fantastico’!
We could also see the place of the original crater that was about some distance away from the current crater. ‘Spettacolare’! Didn’t get a clear enough pic though. In this, Mount Vesuvius is similar in shape to the Puy Pariou in Auvergne, France where the old crater is partly covered by a new crater.
I’m content with the fact that I can now tell people that I’ve been to the rim of the crater of an active volcano that is excepted to erupt anytime soon (given the 70 year period), but given a choice between the commercialized Vesuvius and a lesser known dead volcano (dead, not dormant), I’d pick the verdant non-commercialized untainted beauty of the Puy Pariou again any day. Or maybe not? We’ll just have to see.