Journey to the Crater – Walking Mount Vesuvius

Rising up behind the beautiful Bay of Naples is the enormous spectre of Mount Vesuvius an active volcano which dominates the landscape. As the bay shimmers in the summer sun and the city dwellers go about their daily business Mount Vesuvius serves as a constant reminder of a tragedy in ancient times and the ever present threat of a modern catastrophe. In AD 79 the mountain erupted with great force and deposited a huge pyroclastic flow onto the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum wiping out the civilisations there which remained buried for centuries before recent excavations revealed them to the world once more. In recent years the volcano has begun to stir again but it is still possible to visit Vesuvius and walk to the crater’s edge for a dramatic view into the heart of the mountain.

Visiting

Vesuvius can be reached either by joining a bus tour from the southern side of the mountain or by driving to the visitor car park to the north. Both routes require a reasonably substantial walk once leaving the vehicle but it is not too arduous and is certainly well worth the effort. There is a fee for both parking and entrance to the crater area.

The journey

Footpaths weave their way up the side of the mountain and are covered with volcanic ash and littered with pieces of igneous rock ejected during previous eruptions. Don’t dress smartly for this trip, stick to jeans and hardy footwear as you are going to get smothered in dust! You most definitely know you are walking up a volcano and any remaining doubt will be expelled as you approach the summit and the smell of sulphur begins to fill the air around you. This is a mountain which is very much alive as sulphurous gas vents from the surface at regular intervals. There is a circular path around the top of the volcano which affords awe inspiring views into the abyss of the crater and across the entire Bay of Naples.

Standing on the rim of Vesuvius you get a real sense of just how huge the urban area which could be destroyed by an eruption really is. Naples has greatly expanded in recent years and the tentacles of the city reach out to Pompeii and beyond in an enormous urban sprawl with over 4 million inhabitants. This is the mostly densely populated volcanic region on earth. Life has changed greatly since ancient Roman times but the threat of Vesuvius has not. In an attempt to restrict habitation close to the mountain the area immediately around Vesuvius was declared a National Park in 1995. Nearby residents are gradually being encouraged to move further afield and out of harm’s way. The exact impact of any future eruption is hard to gauge but evacuation plans have been evolved to clear a designated Red Zone to the south and east of the mountain which is deemed to be the region most at risk. One can only hope the scientists have got this right because any eruption towards the North and the city of Naples could result in a total catastrophe!