Mount Vesuvius is the right top of a two-headed mountain known as Somma-Vesuvius. Dormant at present, it is the only volcano still active in Europe. Today, the volcano inspires both fear and fascination and it is constantly monitored for activity. A visit to the Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio will include a healthy walk along which you can view the fumaroles and gaze down as much as 600 feet into the wondrous depths of the crater. Don’t forget to take in the broad sweep around the Bay of Naples- though the city of Naples more photogenic from lower down the slopes near the observatory. With more than 400,000 visitors in 2005 it is best to plan a visit first thing in the morning so that you can appreciate the sharper vistas and raw beauty of the volcano.
In ancient times Vesuvius was simply “the mountain” covered with vegetation and vines. On of the first to understand its volcanic nature was Strabo, the Greek geographer, who suggested that its rocks had been burned by fire. In 79 A.D. an eruption smothered the cities on its foothills and greatly altered the surrounding landscape. Ash and debris showered the city of Pompeii and Herculaneum was buried by a landslide of thick mud.
The land around the volcano, rich in alkali and phosphorus is extremely fertile, making it the perfect environment for the vineyards of grapes grown there, Lacrima Christi, once considered one of Italy’s best wines.
The observatory on the slopes of Vesuvius was built by Ferdinand II in 1841-5. The Neo-Classical building has a well-stocked library and an interesting collection of minerals. The panoramic views from the square are breathtaking. Today the Observatory is only used as a base for recording data, the research section has been relocated to nearby Naples.