The vesuvius – fateful mountain of the romans

Even if Vesuvius, unlike its counterparts on Ischia, Sicily and the Lipari Islands, is not constantly smoking and spewing, it is an active volcano. He sits on the Gulf of Naples, about ten kilometers from the capital Campania remotely. Vesuvius is topical 1.281 meters high and consists of the remains of the old Monte Somma, the top of which blew up in 79. Pompeii went down at that time in this so-called "Plinian eruption," the term referring to Pliny the Younger, for the later Roman senator wrote down exactly how, almost 2.000 years ago, a kilometer-high eruption column shot into the air. He was an eyewitness as Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Oplontis perished. The volcano sits on the caldera of ancient Monte Somma. Figuratively speaking: A stanitzel sits on the remains of another stanitzel. For both are classic stratovolcanoes, the exploded Monte Somma and the younger Vesuvius.

Vesuvius and Naples

Vesuvius does not spew alone

Italy is a volcanically active region in Europe, in the past it went here "hotly," because at least 30 volcanoes erupted again and again in the last five million years, about half of it in the last 10.000 years. Nine volcanoes are currently active, including Vesuvius, Stromboli, in Sicily Etna, Ischia and, last but not least, the Phlegraean Fields. Plate tectonics is to blame. When the continental plates of Africa and Eurasia rub against each other, the volcanoes spew. It is only a few centimeters per year but wedged between these plates Italy is folded and twisted. The entire peninsula rotates counterclockwise. That explains why again and again the earth quakes or volcanoes become active.

This rotation of the Italian peninsula leads in the west to a tension and thinning of the earth’s crust. About seven million years ago, the Tyrrhenian Basin was formed and the coastline subsided. Thus the fertile Plain of Campania born. The resulting cracks and fractures allowed magma to rise from the upper mantle and the deeper crust of the earth. This is how the volcanoes of the region were formed.

Bacchus and Vesuvius

Vesuvius was always active, even before Pompeii

From a geological perspective, volcanism in Campania with less than 500.000 years past relatively young. However, Vesuvius has only been spewing forth for 39.000 years ago, but historically only the great eruption of Avellino almost 4.000 years ago and the eruption of Pompeii about 2.000 years. The volcano, which at that time was still called Monte Somma, had 39.000 years ago, a rather unspectacular first: It was effusive eruptions that piled up the cone. 22 years ago.000 years it was then adult and exploded for the first time in the form of a plinian eruption, which cost it the summit. From then on, its major eruptions always proceeded in the same way: the explosions of the initial phase opened the volcanic vent and left behind a thin precipitation layer of fine ash and pumice. In the second phase, a kilometer-high eruption column was formed and then the pyroclastic fall and flow deposits followed.

Avellino eruption footprints IMAGE Wikimedia

The footprints of Avellino

Who erupted not quite 4.000 years to the east, in the direction of Avellino, fled was as good as dead. The Avellino eruption is between 1935 and 1995 v.Chr. happens, approximately – because more exactly one does not know the date. In any case, in the Early Bronze Age it rained ash and pumice from the sky. Many villages of the early Bronze Age Palma Campania culture, such as at Croce del Papa in the present-day municipality of Nola, were destroyed in the process. Footprints in the fresh ash that have solidified over time prove that people were running for their lives at the time, many of them in vain. The fall sediments cover a wide area in northeastern direction and their deposits are up to 30 meters thick. Nevertheless, just a few decades later, people again settled on the slopes of the volcano.

View from Vesuvius to Naples

When does it go "boom" again?

For about fifteen years, scientists have been discussing when another major volcanic eruption is imminent. They agree on one thing: an eruption is overdue. In 2008, geologists from France and Italy warned in the journal Nature that a lot of pressure had built up in the magma chamber. They called for an investigation of the magma located at a depth of about nine kilometers beneath the caldera. Because it depends on the composition of the magma, if the "right" gases come together, then it can become explosive.

If it resembles the one that produced the Pompeii eruption, we can expect an extremely explosive and consequently dangerous eruption in the future. If, on the other hand, the magma were more basaltic in composition, an eruption would cause much less severe damage. Then, as in the last eruption in 1944, it would remain rather slow lava flows

Bruno Scaillet, researcher at the Institute of Earth Sciences, Orleans.

A Emergency plan for day X there is, but it is rather theoretical, because in practice it would be impossible to evacuate the many people who settle around the volcano. In the "Red Zone" alone, which is the 200-square-kilometer area of the highest hazard level, live 600.000 inhabitants. And – the people in Campania would probably not take a warning seriously. This is also known in Rome. In addition, the Vesuvius is not the only problem child of the region.

The Phlegraean Fields are perhaps the greater threat to Campania. Its eruption in the late Pleistocene, about 39 years ago.000 years, not only devastated the entire region but changed the climate and environment of all of Europe. Another eruption about 15.000 years ago is responsible for the yellow tuff around Naples and the last eruption in 1538 made a mountain grow quasi overnight. At that time the volcano Monte Nuovo was formed, which led a few kilometers to the east near Pozzuoli to a ground uplift of 6 meters in only two days. The fact that the earth "breathes" in the area of the Phlegraean Fields, it is called "bradisism", people have become accustomed to it.

Victims of Vesuvius in Pompeii

Suffocated, boiled or baked – what happened to people 2000 years ago?

At breakfast the earth shook, at lunch a deep rumbling could be heard, because the magma had broken through the ground and a short time later a column of ash shot towards the stratosphere. In the early afternoon, the wind shifted, sealing the fate of the people in Pompeii. At the same time, the ash rain obscured the sun, which probably made escape difficult. In the WELT there is the article "This is how a citizen of Pompeii died in the firestorm"which vividly depicts how the last hours must have felt in the ancient city.

The first were swept away by the blast wave that preceded the torrent, the next were taken breathless by dust and gas, and the last burned to death at more than 500 degrees Celsius. By ten o’clock, Pompeii had disappeared under five meters of volcanic rock.

Article from die WELT "People died in three ways" 2020 (LINK)

In Herculaneum, recent investigations have shown that people who had sought refuge in a boathouse were "baked", so to speak. This means an agonizing death. Scientists got to the bottom of it. In the magazine National Geographic tells a Article over two studies: one of them dealt with those people who sought refuge in the city’s boathouses: They did not burn or evaporate, but were baked as if in a large stone oven. The second Study Investigated a victim in another part of Herculaneum whose brain apparently melted and then solidified into glass.

Vesuvius Photo: NASA

The volcano is so fertile that people forget the danger

A photo taken from a lofty height shows how densely populated the land around Mount Vesuvius is. The Photo of NASA was on the 25.March 2006 the Picture of the day. The last volcanic eruption was some time ago, in March 1944 Vesuvius was last active. At that time it spewed lava and pyroclastic precipitation destroyed Massa di Somma and San Sebastiano. The USAAF lost eighty B-25 bombers at Terzigno airfield to tephra precipitation. Since then, Vesuvius is "quiet", except for the small clouds of smoke coming out of the cracks in the crater. People settle almost to the crater rim – forbidden, in the last 20 years 50 in the Red Zone alone.000 houses were built illegally. Partly they are demolished again, but sometimes their ruins remain standing. For the farmers the fertile soil is tempting, for others the fantastic view and some live here because their family has "always" lived there.

Way up the Vesuvius

A climb up Vesuvius is "changeable"

If one goes on the Vesuvius, then one must be prepared for everything, the weather at the volcano is changeable, because he is high enough that the clouds stick to him with pleasure. Good shoes are a prerequisite for the "summit climb", since the volcanic ground is quite crumbly and therefore slippery. You don’t have to walk very far, the buses are (still) allowed to go far up. In addition, a cable car is planned, much to the chagrin of conservationists, which will transport people almost to the crater rim. The project is not yet realized, because the responsibilities are disputed. The state of Italy, the region of Campania and the neighboring municipalities do not agree on who has to pay and who is allowed to collect. Even the visitor center is not finished yet, so there is only one illegal cafe at the foot of the crater and a few mobiklos and a cafeteria further up, at the crater rim.

The entrance to the way up to the crater

A visit is worthwhile in any case

Apart from the spectacular view, the geology and the flora of Vesuvius are worth a visit. Goethe wrote on 6. In March 1787 Goethe visited the volcano, much to the chagrin of the painter Tischbein, who had to go with him. His visit should have been quite adventurous. After all, Goethe wrote in his diary: "First a violent thunder, which sounded from the deepest gullet, then stones, larger and smaller, flung by thousands into the air, enveloped by ash clouds. Most of them fell back into the maw. The other boulders, driven to the side, falling down on the outside of the cone, made a wonderful sound: first the heavier ones plumped and hooted with a dull sound down on the side of the cone, the lesser ones clattered behind, and finally the ash trickled down. All this happened in regular pauses, which we could measure very well by a quiet counting."

Although unwillingly, but out of loyal sociability, Tischbein accompanied me today on the Vesuvius. We drove on two calesses, because we did not dare to go through the bustle of the city as self-guides. At the foot of the steep slope, two guides, an older and a younger one, both capable people, received us. The first dragged me, the second table leg up the mountain.

Goethe, "Italian Journey" 1787

The modern visitor would not be able to experience it like this, because Vesuvius is a national park since 1995 and at the slightest danger is closed off. Not only with "bouncing stones", also if it rains heavily a visit is forbidden. You play it safe, because the winding road that leads to the parking lot on the mountain is adventurous and if it is too wet, then even the way up becomes a challenge. Besides, they don’t want tourists to fall into the crater, you are allowed to enter only with a guided tour. The Italian volcano guides know where it is safe and where not.

Crater rim of Monte Somma

The ascent on the Vesuvius was once an adventure

In Goethe’s time there was already a fixed route up Vesuvius. In Naples they rented a carriage and drove to the foot of the volcano. From 1839 the Circumvesuviana was ready and one could take it to Erolaneo. There one got a donkey or a mule and rode on its back up the mountain. A first souvenir store with inn existed in the Hermitage at Colle San Salvatore and was known throughout Europe at that time. From 1880 it became even easier, because the Funicolare Vesuviana was completed and one could go up with it almost to the summit. To her was dedicated a song dedicated to her, this is still a well-known Italian "alley hit".

The song still exists, the funicular does not. The 1906 and 1944 eruptions put an end to the project. Thomas Cook had taken over and extended the Funicolare in 1888. Cook even financed a hotel and the railroad line from Pugliano to the valley station. It was a good investment from the perspective of the time, because Vesuvius moved in the 19.centuries attract the masses. There is hardly anything left of the cable car and a later chair lift, nowadays the crater can be reached by bus or car. At 1017 meters you park, the rest you have to walk.

A view into the crater of Vesuvius

Vesuvius as a building material supplier

The basalt from Vesuvius was used to pave roads and cities in the Roman Empire. Make concrete from ashes. Vitruvius described exactly how to do it: mix lime and volcanic ash, add tuff to this mortar and pour it into a wooden casing. The seawater then triggers a chemical reaction, the lime binds hydrogen molecules and together with the ash becomes a cement that lasts for thousands of years. This mixture was called pozzolan. Another building material is the tuff. Tufa is composed of ash and pyroclasts that have solidified over time. Already in ancient times and in the Middle Ages, tuff was used as a building material or for facade cladding. In Rome they used the Peperin from the Alban Hills, which is a greenish-grey basaltic tuff with fragments of dolerite, leucite, augite and mica. In Naples Yellow tuff, on the other hand, is the building material of choice. It consists of pumice and rock fragments.

Lichens and mosses on Vesuvius

The geology and flora of Vesuvius

The base of Mount Vesuvius is about a thousand meters below sea level. The volcano sits there on a layer of Mesozoic and Tertiary sediment several kilometers thick. The roof of the magma chamber is thought to be about 5.500 meters deep in the Triassic Dolomite layer. This is where molten rock and volcanic gases from the Earth’s upper mantle accumulate. What reaches the earth’s surface during a volcanic eruption depends on the chemical composition of the magma, which consists of molten rock, gas and water. In the case of Vesuvius, the volcanic products include Tertiary sandstones, marls and clays, limestone xenoliths from the Cretaceous and Jurassic, and dolomites from the Triassic.

Lichens can be found at Vesuvius, they are a symbiosis of fungus and algae and have been living on earth for about 200 million years. Lichens are pioneer plants, at Vesuvius it is the gray-silver "Stereocaulon vesuvianum" (Vesuvius coral lichen) that prepares the lava soil for the macchia. This includes myrtle, mastic, rosemary, immortelle, juniper, cistus, spurge and broom. The latter blooms profusely on Mount Vesuvius. In the area of the Monte Somma it is more humid, there one meets therefore the mixed forests. They consist of chestnut, oak, alder, maple, holm oak and birch trees.

Vesuvius crater wall

Vesuvius is very well controlled

The observatory of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) in Naples monitors the three problem children of the Gulf of Naples: Mount Vesuvius, Ischia and the Phlegraean Fields. This is done 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Scientists keep track of the various graphs on 48 screens. People are globally networked, because an outbreak would not only affect Italy. Before the Vesuvius one has respect however one is afraid of the "burning fields. In 2013 they drilled 500 meters deep in the Phlegraean Fields, further drilling is planned. Vesuvius is an Italian problem, but the Campi Flegrei could drastically change all of Europe. An eruption like 39 years ago.000 years would have unimaginable consequences: Naples would be devastated, tsunamis would race across the Mediterranean, Europe would be covered in ash; a gray veil in the sky would obscure the sun and cool the world’s climate for years to come. Earthquake, gas emission and soil lifting is therefore meticulously monitored by INGV.

Measuring station at Vesuvius

Faith and irrational hope ease worries

When you’re dealing with destructive forces as powerful as those of volcanism in Campania, you need good protectors. The Greeks and Romans relied on their gods, while the people of the Middle Ages hoped that the "magician Virgil" could tame Vesuvius. The Roman poet and epic poet, who lived during the period of the Roman Civil Wars under Octavian, was understood by them as a powerful magician. Since the eruption of 16. December 1631 Saint Gennaro assumed the role of patron saint. At a procession on 17. December 1631, during which the relics of the saint were held up to Vesuvius as a weapon, are said to be 100.000 people have participated. It was not until the Scottish volcanologist William Hamilton came to the fore in the 18.In the nineteenth century, a more naturalistic view prevailed, and in the nineteenth century, the.In the 19th century, Alexander von Humboldt’s research made Vesuvius one of many volcanoes. The image of the Madonna can still be found at the crater.

The Madonna at Vesuvius

A view into the crater is an experience

Standing at the crater rim and looking down into the depths is a very special feeling. One has in the head, in the depth is liquid rock and one knows that these dark crater walls developed, when magma in the form of lava was ejected into the air. If you look closely, you can see the cracks from which the volcano breathes white smoke. Depending on the weather, the crater appears friendly or mystical. When the sun shines it is the dimension that fascinates, but when it is foggy and therefore gloomy, the mysticism dominates. It is then easy to imagine that the giants lived here and Hephaistos hammered on his anvil. Just as Lake Avern is said to have been the entrance to the realm of the dead for Aeneas, for the people of the Middle Ages here in the crater was the gateway to hell. In the Middle Ages it was believed that demons in Vesuvius kindle the fire for the damned souls.

Crater wall Vesuvius

Not all lava is the same

As soon as magma reaches the earth’s surface, it becomes lava. Gases that were trapped in the magma escape, and therefore lava and magma differ in their chemical compositions. During an eruption, liquid lava can escape in the form of a lava flow or fly through the air in the form of viscous chunks, the volcanic bombs. Depending on what it is made of and where and how it cools, lava forms into pillow lava, knit lava, smooth pahoehoe lava or rough aa lava and when it is thrown into the air during a volcanic eruption and inflates like foam, pumice is formed.

Thin lava forms a smooth surface and thick lava forms large clods that pile up and are angular. The former can flow more easily and over a greater distance, the surface cools first and underneath the lava continues to flow. This causes the surface to be pushed together, this is called knit lava. Viscous lava is low in gas and breaks into sharp-edged clods as it cools, this is the Aa lava. If the lava in the sea escapes, cushion lava is formed. If this shape is found on the mainland, it can be assumed that the rock has cooled under water at some time before.

Vesuvius Lava

Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields share a magma chamber

Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields are about 25 kilometers apart, yet both fire mountains feed from a common magma chamber, this was discovered in 2008. According to volcanologists at the Osservatorio Vesuviano in Naples, this chamber lies eight kilometers deep in the earth and extends over 400 square kilometers. Vesuvius has now been asleep for almost seventy years, while the Phlegraean Fields have been showing increased activity for the last ten years. Carelessly people encounter both volcanoes. Very few Neapolitans have experienced for themselves what an eruption can mean; the risk is abstract for them. It’s similar to the situation before the 2011 tsunami: in Japan, coastal residents settled next to waystones from the Middle Ages whose inscriptions warned of giant waves. However, they lacked the personal experience with it.

The flanks of Vesuvius

On a clear day, the view is breathtakingly beautiful

Standing at the top of Mount Vesuvius on a clear day and looking out over the plains of Campania, you understand why the volcano holds such fascination. The deep blue sea on such days is quite calm in the Bay of Naples which stretches in a harmonious arc from the Sorrento headland swings up to the cape miseno. One sees Ischia and when it is quite clear, one also sees Capri. On these days one understands what attracted the Romans to this area and why they stayed, despite suffering and destruction. If you are very lucky, a cloud passes through and sticks to Vesuvius in such a way that instead of the Tyrrhenian Sea you see one made of clouds.

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