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As you prepare for your trip to Naples, you keep seeing photos of the magnificent Neapolitan bay, dominated by the imposing Vesuvius. And you ask yourself, “could Vesuvius erupt during my stay?” Don’t feel stupid, every visitor to Naples must have wondered the same thing, including us. Let’s try to answer it.
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When did Vesuvius last erupt?
Pompeii, the year 79BCE. Summer is coming to an end (although the time of year is subject to debate), when a thick cloud of ash exploded from Vesuvius. The well-documented disaster claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. This is the story every traveller in Naples in mind, but the last eruption of the volcano is however much more recent. It took place in 1944, but was of the Strombolian type, involving strong lava flows, unlike the explosions of the 79BCE eruption.
Just for fun, here is a virtual tour of Pompeii, made during an exhibition dedicated to the disaster at the Grand Palais in Paris.
If the destruction of Pompeii remains in popular history, know that the most spectacular (and deadly) eruption was in 1691.
What is the risk of Vesuvius erupting?
Vesuvius is one of the most watched volcanoes in the world. Scientists are certain that another eruption will indeed take place, and it is unlikely to be low in intensity. When, then? That is what is difficult to say. The volcano is only dozing, as demonstrated by its occasional fumaroles.
“The whole danger comes from the fact that currently the volcanic conduit which connects the magma chamber to the crater is blocked. Under these conditions, the magma produced remains trapped in the magma chamber (about 8 km deep) and the pressure increases until a Plinian or subpline type eruption occurs.” – the Knowledge Bank site.
But Vesuvius is not the only threat of this type hanging over the Neapolitan agglomeration. Scientists are observing, with just as much attention, the area of the Phlegraean fields to the north of the city, which is composed of multiple underground volcanoes.
Does the volcano directly threaten Naples?
We are not going to lie here: yes. Naples city centre is only a dozen kilometres, as the crow flies, from the crater. In the event of an eruption, the several hundred thousand inhabitants of the periphery of the volcano would have to be evacuated. Several million people in the region would suffer the consequences. This is why the authorities have been working on evacuation plans for a long time. But rest assured, everything does not play out in a few minutes.
So, are we going anyway?
Obviously! The threat of Vesuvius on Naples and its region has been constant for centuries and this has never stopped tourists from going to enjoy the charm of the city, or the romantic atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast.
Vesuvius, and the threat it poses, is part of the landscape. The inhabitants are used to it and are attached to it. The perceived danger is also a real attraction for passing visitors. So, if your heart tells you to go, here are some experiences around Vesuvius.