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Discovering Vesuvio

Posted by on April 27, 2014

Throughout the Archaeology course that I’m taking this semester, our professor, Ilaria Tartiglia, has said the word “vesuvius” more times than I can or care to count.  When people think about the Vesuvius erupting, they think about the enormous, catastrophic event of 79 A.D. that destroyed Pompeii, along with the lesser known city of Herculaneum.  However, the Vesuvio is still an active volcano, having erupted most recently in 1944.

Standing in front of the crater of the Vesuvio

Standing in front of the crater of the Vesuvio

First some preliminary information about Vesuvio:

  • The part of the volcano that is nowadays referred to as “Vesuvio” or “Vesuvius” is actually one of two mountains.  The other part, called the “Somma” is shorter and was created during an explosive eruption at some point during history that permanently altered the shape of volcano.
  • Between Vesuvio and Somma there is a valley that is full of different types of minerals that resulted from the different eruptions and the materials released.
  • At the moment, the crater of Vesuvio is completely obstructed, allowing massive amounts of pressure to build.  This means that the next eruption will be a large-scale, catastrophic event.
  • Luckily, volcanologists believe that they can predict the next eruptions at least  6 months prior to the event, which should give surrounding cities time to evacuate.  Vesuvio is constantly monitored for seismic activity and any gasses released.
  • Pompeii being hit by the eruption of 79 A.D. was a total fluke.  The air currents generally push the eruption in the opposite direction, but on the day of the eruption the conditions were such that Pompeii got the full force of the first wave of the eruption.
The view of the clouds from the top.

The view of the clouds from the top.

Seeing Vesuvio up close was truly an unbelievable experience, especially after an entire semester learning about the volcano.  We were lucky enough to hike the “hell valley” between Vesuvio and Somma, and explore the way in which the shape of the volcano changed during the years.  The hell valley was untouched by the 1944 eruption, and therefore has many trees and plants growing.  The parts of the valley that were affected by that eruption have only pioneer species, such as lichon, that prepare the environment for other plants and animals to inhabit the area.

The Hell valley, with shrubbery and outcroppings of solidified lava.

The Hell valley, with shrubbery and outcroppings of solidified lava.

After our tour of the hell valley, we headed to our main destination: the summit of Vesuvio.  After stopping for a much-needed water break, we steeled ourselves for the walk ahead and began to climb the enormous peak.  The path up to the crater is quite steep, but the views along the way are beautiful.  We happened to go to the Vesuvio on a rather cloudy day, against the advice of many people.  In my opinion, however, it only made it all the more amazing.  We were literally walking into the clouds as they billowed across the Somma.  The air was cold, but oddly sticky and humid.

The path to the top!

The path to the top!

Halfway there!

Halfway there!

 

Panting and out of breath, we reached the peak and were rewarded with indescribable views of the enormous crater.  It was beautiful, yes, but the most amazing part was knowing that somewhere beneath that magma plug, beneath our very feet, pressure was growing.  As we stood there in the clouds, Vesuvio was already preparing for its next eruption.

The crater of the Vesuvio

The crater of the Vesuvio

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