6 – Mount Vesuvius is Mainland Europe’s Only ‘Active’ Volcano
As I mentioned in the introduction, Mount Vesuvius is Mainland Europe’s only active volcano as its last eruption was in March 1944. It is located just 9 kilometers from the city of Naples and with over 3 million people living in the danger zone; Vesuvius’ next eruption could be the most deadly of all time. Of course, advances in technology mean that scientists are likely to know about any eruption in enough time to safely evacuate the region.
Mount Vesuvius’ first known eruption was a little over 20,000 years ago. Scientists have also found evidence of a mass evacuation in the region in the wake of the Avellino eruption which took place sometime between 1,800 and 1,500 BC. Unlike the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum, residents of the affected settlement had abandoned their village which was ultimately buried beneath pumice and ash.
After the Avellino eruption, Vesuvius entered into a stage of frequent but less violent eruptions; a notable one occurred in around 217 BC. Then came the fateful events of 79 AD when the volcano ejected stones, gas and ash up to 33 kilometers high. As I mentioned earlier, the exact number of deaths is open to speculation, but archaeologists have created 1,044 casts made from impressions of bodies found in ash deposits in and around the town of Pompeii. The remains of 332 bodies were found in Herculaneum.
Vesuvius has erupted at least 36 times since 79 AD. The next major event occurred in 203 and in 472; the eruption was so violent that ashfalls were recorded as far away as Constantinople. 40 years later, another major eruption occurred and was so severe that the King of Italy, Theodoric the Great, granted residents of the volcano’s slopes exemption from taxes. There was another eruption in the late 8th century and five more in a 68-year spell from 968 to 1036 which included its first recorded lava flows.
It became relatively quiet until December 1631 when a sudden eruption killed 3,000 people. Mount Vesuvius has erupted almost continuously ever since; the longest gap from 1680 to 1944 was a 34 year period of calm between 1872 and 1906. In fact, the 73-year gap at the time of writing is the longest since the 17th century. The 1906 eruption killed over 100 people and the 1944 event destroyed several villages. According to scientists, it could erupt at any time, and there are emergency procedures in place in case the worst happens. Incidentally, the Campi Flegrei volcano beneath Naples is also in danger of an imminent eruption according to experts.