“To go or not to go” was the question for many undecided people. But not for us. How can we not visit the only active volcano on the Europe mainland?
Driving from Cinque Terre to Pompeii was without any major event. If one is not used to drive in Italy yet, now is the time. Once we passed Rome area towards South, we had a nice surprise to find a very low toll on the highway, but instead we found many roads under construction.
Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano with many eruptions over time, but it is best known for its eruption in 79 AD, when the Roman cities Pompeii and Ercolano (Herculaneum by its ancient name) were totally destroyed.
Vesuvius is part of the Campanian volcanic arc, a line where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates converge. There were 8 major eruptions in the last 17,000 years, and the one from 79 AD is best known because it was very well documented by the witnessing historians, as well as well-preserved sites of Pompeii and Ercolano. Characterized by explosive outburst, the height of the volcano main cone has changed with every eruption, measuring 1,281m at this time (accordingly with some source), but we reached the top where we found the mark of quota 1,167m.
The wise advice we found online was to get to the mountain as early as possible, to get inside the park at the first hour of the opening. When getting there we found many people inside already, as the gates opened a little bit earlier than the time advertised. Getting a good parking spot, right on the side of street, we got ready for the little walk up to the top of the mountain, where the main cone is.
In a hot Italian day, carrying hats and water with us, we got tired after not even a hundred metres. I could not believe how hot can be at 10 am in the morning. But there was only one way ahead and pushing ourselves to the summit, we continued our stroll.
The slopes of the mountain are varying quite a lot, depending how the ash and lava flowed over the past eruptions. The mountain is heavily vegetated, as the soil became fertile from lava, over years.
Once arrived almost at the top, we found different guides (English or French) willing to take groups around the cone. Nice explanations, and great answers, our cheerful guide seemed very dedicated to her job.
The crater, basically a big hole, is not impressive at all; one can see boring people going around, looking for something interesting, picking up rocks, taking pictures of the great view of the Gulf of Naples.
Oppsy, what is there?? You see?.. Smoke is coming out!! Hey! What’s that? Enough time for us to run?..
No worries, this is not smoke, only steam.. Remember? This is an active volcano, with just a couple of spots where the steam is coming out. Also, there are about 18 station all over the place, to measure the seismic activity. Everything is under control! However, the guide is telling us this is still the most dangerous volcano because it is unpredictable and has a tendency to be explosive. And as we could see the city of Naples far in the distance, not only the other small cities around the mountain, the guide is calmly explaining us that they might have only 3 days to evacuate the cities, and of course this will not be enough for the high population living nearby.
Leaving the park, and driving on the serpent road downhill towards our next destination, we found tens of coach busses waiting around every curve to get access to the parking of the park. Bus after bus, along with other cars full of visitors were waiting, because the streets were so narrow, and no place to move on. I realized only now, how lucky we were to get there first thing in the morning, and not waiting other people to leave, in order to get space in the very limited parking lot.