The Mighty Mt. Vesuvius

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Mt. Vesuvius – when we traveled to Italy last summer, I became totally obsessed with Mt. Vesuvius and the once-buried city of Pompeii. It was a magnet against which I had no control. It is a magnet that is active, that is full of magma at some deep level, and that hisses and emits plumes of hot steam near its base. The word from experts is not “if,” but “when” it will one day repeat its spectacularly horrific performance over Pompeii.

The infamous eruption that buried Pompeii occurred in 79 A.D. The city had experienced a series of preceding earthquakes with a major one in 62 A.D. that did considerable damage to the city’s quite advanced infrastructure. As the time for the major eruption neared, seismic activity in the area increased, but having been used to their ground regularly shaking, most citizens went about their business as usual.

On an August day, it was after the noon hour that all hell broke loose and a huge cloud exploded into the sky while the ground shook, and poisonous gases and ash spewed all over the city of Pompeii. Many people gathered some belongings and escaped while others decided to hunker down and wait it out. The ones who waited literally smothered to death.

Visiting the city of Pompeii was like walking on sacred ground where the ghosts of those who died whisper in the bakeries, bathhouses and brothels that remain crumbled in the ruins. Most haunting are the casted remains of those who died in exactly the positions in which they died. When the ash came, it encased the bodies and when it cooled, it made actual casts of the bodies as seen in the photo.

Vesuvius has had a few belches since 79 A.D., including one in 1631 that destroyed the city of Naples which lies at its base, and one in 1944, during WW II. No one was injured in the latter eruption, but lava and ash ruined bomber military planes and other equipment that were stationed at the Pompeii Airport. Since then there have been many small earthquakes.

Now comes the issue of “when.” As the only active volcano in Europe, the city of Naples has precariously draped itself in an area surrounding the volcano’s bottom. Scientist Michael Sheridan of the University of Buffalo says Vesuvius is due for a major blow as catastrophic, or even more so, than the one that destroyed Pompeii. The city has designed emergency plans for an eruption, but these plans don’t cover the magnitude of a Pompeii-style one that could completely destroy this thriving port city.

So, what if? What then? The answers are out of our control. And those in Vesuvius’ shadow can only respect their mighty neighbor and bear witness to the havoc she may one day wreak upon them.