Mt Vesuvius is situated above the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region of Italy and is the only active volcano located on the mainland of Europe. Italy can boast being one of the most volcanically active countries in Europe, possessing the largest volcanoes on the continent. All three of Italy’s volcanoes, Mt Vesuvius, Mt Etna and Stromboli have all erupted in the past century. Mt Etna and Stromboli are still both continuously active.
Today, more than 1 million people live in the high-risk area (with in 7km radius) around Mt Vesuvius that rises approximately 1,280m. Mt Vesuvius is a composite cone volcano (stratovolcano) built up from alternate layers of lava & ash.
Interestingly, Mt Vesuvius sits inside a large caldera (crater), which was formed when Mount Somma collapsed. The rocks at Vesuvius are called tephrite and are basaltic in character.
Mt Vesuvius’s most famous eruption was on August 24, AD 79 when it destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. The hot ash fell so quickly over some cities, that people were engulfed in a preserving layer of volcanic ash and were literally frozen in time.
Witness To Vesuvius Eruption
The first witnessed account of Mt Vesuvius erupting was by a writer, Pliny the Younger. He observed the destruction from Cape Misenum, some 30km away and recorded the event. Ironically his uncle, Pliny the Elder, wasn’t so smart.
According to Pliny the Younger, his uncle, so enthralled with the eruption, sailed towards the coast to get a better view. Despite being showered with rock and ash he continued on, eventually making it ashore where he and his crew camped the night. The following morning he awoke to see his camp being engulfed with smoke. Whilst his crew fled for their lives, Pliny the Elder stood his ground and was asphyxiated.
Herculaneum was engulfed by a mudflow while Pompeii was engulfed in preserving layer of pumice and volcanic ash. From Pliny’s writings, it is estimated that the eruption column of ash at times rose 32km into the sky and spread about 4 cubic kilometers of ash in the hours that followed. The eruption and aftermath caused the death of up to 20,000 people.
The term “plinian” was named in honour of Pliny the Younger (obviously not Pliny the Elder!) and refers to the sustained eruptions of ash and magma which generate high-altitude eruption columns and blanket large areas with ash (airfall).
An eruption in 1631 killed more than 3,000 people when lava and mudflows engulfed surrounding towns. In 1794 the town of Torre del Greco was destroyed and in 1906 heavy tephra falls resulted in the death of over 400 people.
The last eruption of Mt Vesuvius occurred in 1944 with the loss of 26 lives.