<At a distance the mountain seems to be harmless, the blue outline of the lofty cone terminating in a dense bank of smoke, like storm clouds gathering around the snowy peaks of the distant Apennines; but when the adventurous tourist wishes to approach nearer to its blazing crater, and toils up its torn and blackened sides, he will see in the immense chasms and rents traces of might convulsions.> A.J. O’ Reilly, 1884
Whoever says Vesuvius, says Campania.
Neapolitans call the most famous mountain in the world ‘a muntagna. It is the symbol of the City that, with its perfect form, closes the Gulf. The majestic cone dominates a disquieting and
evocative environment. Tormented landscapes of savage beauty await the visitor: the panorama from the top of the mountain extends from the Sorrentine Peninsula to Capo Posillipo, giving rise to unforgettable memories, especially in the tenuous light of sunrise or with the intense ones of sunset. Vesuvius, with the Phlegraean Fields, it is the only active volcano in Europe which is on the mainland, all the others are on islands, and is also one of its most dangerous, as the land at its feet is densly populated and the houses arrive up to 700 mt above sea level. The summit to the left is that of Mount Somma (1133 mt), and to the right the cone of Vesuvius (1281 mt). They are seperated by a valley called ‘Valle del Gigante’ (Valley of the Giant), in turn subdivided into ‘Atrio del Cavallo’ (Hall of the Horse, West) and ‘Valle del Inferno’ (Valley of Hell, East). The original inhabitants had forgotten that they were dealing with a volcano: it was known solely for its excellent wines and for the thick vegetation that covered its summit. (Well-known the old Lacryma Christi DOC wine). It became suddenly famous when, in 79 BC, it erupted. Entire cities, among which Pompeii and Herculaneum, were destroyed. The last eruption, filmed by Allied troops, was in 1944 (watch the old video included below). Since then the volcano has been dormant. For long the Vesuvius has been puffing as you can see on most old Naples photo.
In 1991 the institution of Vesuvius National Park was decreed, and the “World Biosphere Reserve” status was given to it by Unesco. This comprises all of the area around the volcano, the entire archaeological system of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and the Miglio d’Oro (Golden Mile) with its splendid examples of 1700’s and 1800’s villas. As for the flora, the territories of the Vesuvius and the Somma differ in certain aspects. The former is more arid and sunny, with typical Mediterranean vegetation, pine woods and holm-oak stands. The latter is moister, with woods of chestnut, oak, adler, maple and holm-oak trees. Among these you can come across, rarely, a splendid stand of birches, unusual for this mediterranean environment. There are also many orchids, 23 species in all, and the bright yellow broom, that so enchanted the poet Giacomo Leopardi. The fauna of the Park is also particularly interesting.
The Vesuvian Observatory is the oldest scientific institution dedicated to the study of volcanos, and was founded in 1841. The original seat, an elegant neoclassic-style building, is on Vesuvius, between Herculaneum and Torre del Greco at a height of 608 mt.
The old Bourbon building hosts a permanent exhibition that takes the visitor for a fascinating journey into the world of volcanos.
A very old saying in Naples, says: “Napule tre ccose tene belle: o’ mare, o’ vesuvio e e’ sfugliatell”, (three beautiful things Naples has: the sea, the vesuvius and the sfogliatelle).
Sfogliatelle (Italian pronunciation: [sfɔʎʎaˈtɛllɛ], in Neapolitan you should say: [sfuʎʎaˈtɛll], singular: sfogliatella), are shell shaped filled pastries native to Italian cuisine. “Sfogliatelle” means “many leaves/layers,” the pastry’s texture resembling leaves stacked on each other.
Over the years, many villages have sprung up around Vesuvius, and today there even are 13 municipalities, quite populated: Boscoreale, Boscotrecase, Ercolano, Massa di Somma, Ottaviano, Pollena-Trocchia, San Giuseppe Vesuviano, San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, Sant’Anastasia, Somma Vesuviana, Terzigno, Torre del Greco, Trecase. More than 700.000 inhabitants, and for this the Vesuvius is one of the most studied volcano in the world, (see the red zone in the picture below the title). While not far away others suburbs as: Cercola, Pompeii, Portici, San Giorgio a Cremano, Torre Annunziata.