History of Vesuvius among myths, legends and delicacies

by Alessandro Nappa

the history of Vesuvius is intertwined with all the events that have characterized the entire region. On the other hand, we are talking of the most representative element of Naples and Campania whole in the world. We find it in the poetry, in music, in art, in comics and of course in many legends. The ancients thought it was the mouth of hell, Disney instead, in the middle of the last century, chose him as home for one of its characters: the witch Amelia.

High approx 1281 meters above sea level and also the only active / dormant volcano in Continental Europe, today surrounded by 20 municipalities and almost one million inhabitants who wake up at his feet every day.

An unpredictable volcano

Geologically speaking, Vesuvius is one stratovolcano, that is a volcano generally conical in shape consisting of the superposition of various layers of lava solidified. Unlike the shield volcanoes that have less steep slopes and a less viscous lava, an example is Mauna Loa in the Hawaiian Islands. The stratovolcanoes are characterized by rather steep slopes (up to 45 °) and from periodic explosive eruptions with a rather viscous lava that can only go through short distances before solidifying. Famous stratovolcanoes are the Vesuvius, the Mount Fuji, and the Krakatoa, known for theirs catastrophic eruptions.

Storia del Vesuvio Strega Amelia
The house of the Witch Amelia on Vesuvius

History of Vesuvius: the name

Where does its name come from? There are some popular reconstructions that bring the word back to the Etruscan root VES, which would mean fire, or to the name of one of the captains greeks who first, departing from Euboea, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, dominated those territories. One of more picturesque legends he sees it instead consecrated to the semi-god Hercules, son of Zeus, as well as the city of Herculaneum lying at his feet.

There are many other legends that instead see him as the protagonist in ancient history: let's think for example of the legend of Sebeto and Vesuvius you hate Vesuvius and Capri.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio
The Lacryma Christi of Vesuvius

Vesuvian delicacies

Her fertile slopes rich in silicon and potassium they favor the growth of a luxuriant variety of endemic animal and above all plant species among which stand out vegetables, fruit, legumes, citrus fruits and even flowers unique of their kind. Latin intellectuals like Seneca, Pliny the Elder and Virgil, unaware that the gigantic mountain had a nefarious past, made up of shocking eruptions, they labeled it as locus amoenus (Pleasant, pleasant place). From these fields he remains alive, even today, above all the ancient cult of wine. Among all we remember the Foxtail, which takes its name from the particular shape of the bunch and above all the Lacryma Christi. He wants one of the legends that, after his expelled from the hosts of heavenly angels, Lucifer it was thrown by God himself into the volcano of Naples. Jesus then, sorry to have lost the most beautiful of his angels, cried, and a tear fell right in this area, from which vineyards were born.

Storia del Vesuvio Eruzione 1944
The last eruption in the history of Vesuvius

Catastrophic eruptions

Vesuvius is obviously famous for its legendary eruptions. Over the centuries there have been between 1631 and 1944 altogether about fifty documented eruptive activities and the last one began precisely on January 6, 1944 during the second World War, we can say that that was not exactly a happy epiphany for the Neapolitan people. The first documented atrocious awakening instead took place, as is well known, on August 24, 79 AD The pyroclastic material on that occasion it destroyed entire cities including Herculaneum, Stabia and above all Pompeii, leaving us a thousand-year legacy. Since that time Vesuvius has always aroused fear and terror in the collective imagination. The ancients obviously associated it with Hades, lord of the underworld, and interpreted its eruption as a manifestation of divine wrath.

Ultimo giorno di Pompei
The last day of Pompeii, painting by Bryullov

Poets, artists and writers

It is not surprising that, in modern times, it became a source of inspiration for poets and writers. Wolfgang Goethe tells of his ascension to the mountain in his “Journey to Italy” of 1787. Con Leopards the parallelism between nature and man is sublimated with "The Ginestra", A symbol of courage and resistance in the face ofinevitability of nature.
And you knew that in 1961 Vesuvius was chosen by Carl Barks, famous cartoonist Disney, as a place inhabited by one of your characters? It is in fact the witch Amelia, the witch who bewitches, accompanied by his name talking crow Gennarino, not really a random name for the place he lives in.

Cratere del Vesuvio
The crater of Vesuvius. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo

The Vesuvian Observatory

To better monitor your movements, Ferdinand II of Bourbon understanding the importance that could have predicted its possible eruptions in advance, he had it built in 1841, the famous Vesuvian Observatory of which famous people of Italian history were also directors such as Giuseppe Mercalli, creator of the homonymous scale that measures the intensity of an earthquake through the observation of the damage caused to the landscape and homes.

Before that, against the threats of the colossus, the Neapolitan people used to rely exclusively on Saint Gennaro, the only one truly capable of appease the power of Vesuvius.

-Alessandro Nappa

Panorama città vesuviane vesuvio
The unusual panorama of the Vesuvian cities from Vesuvius. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo

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