Monte Nuovo: the mountain born in one night

by Yuri Buono

How and when was Monte Nuovo born? Well, to tell you well, need first make a hat, or rather a crater, on the Campi Flegrei. Here, in the municipalities of Pozzuoli, Bacoli, Monte di Procida, Quarto and in most of the municipalities west of Naples, there is no Vesuvius, there is not a single volcano, but there is a single large caldera, now in a state of quiescence, with a radius of about 15 km and with at least 24 small volcanic buildings.

Il Monte Nuovo: la montagna nata in una notte
The Monte Nuovo

The term "Flegreo"

The word "phlegrean" comes from the Greek "flègo”And it means "Ardo". In fact, in this large area of Phlegraean beauty, phenomena such as bradyseism, effusive gaseous manifestations (such as the Solfatara) and thermal springs coexist; and it is from these waters that our story begins.

We know well that the Romans were really the lovers of thermal treatments; it is testimony to this the Villa of Poppea in Torre Annunziata, but also the ancient village of Tripergole, a settlement on a tuff hill close to Lake Lucrino, where not only the villa of Cicero stood, but where in more modern times, King Charles II of Anjou even had a hospital built which could accommodate up to thirty patients, cared for thanks to the amenity of the area.

The end of Tripergole

The toponym "Tripergole" could derive both from the "three rooms" used in the thermal complexes (frigidarium, tepidarium e calidarium), and the possible presence of three taverns. It must be said, however, that if this place was chosen by the Romans precisely to be able to take advantage of pleasant "thermal treatments", it was due to the fact that, for 3,000 years, the entire area had not given any signs of eruptive awakenings. , at least until the date that interests us today: September 29, 1538.

Testimonies report of an eruptive phenomenon lasting several days and that in all probability, also in the light of the findings that have been made, start right from that serene Sunday at the end of September.

Il Monte Nuovo: la montagna nata in una notte

The eruption

The Puteolans were celebrating because from the day before they had witnessed a phenomenon that had led the sea to retreat for more than 350 meters and that it had left an infinite number of dead fish on the bottom. Thus it was that a large part was sold in Naples, considering this event a "manna from heaven". Only the next day, on 29 September, did the inhabitants of the Phlegraean area understand why, instead, what had happened was about to bring very unpleasant consequences.

A few hours before the eruption an intense seismic phase began, the Tripergole area suffered a sinking of almost four meters, and then rise again, with a consequent swelling, at the peak of which the eruptive vent will open which will sweep away the ancient and famous spa village.

The eruption, which began around 7:30 pm, was preceded by a very strong earthquake, with the consequent breaking of the seabed and the release of vapors. As in any self-respecting eruption, there are different materials expelled from the eruptive mouth and which, depending on the weight, fall into different places. Thousands of pumice will cover an area of eight kilometers, with a good part floating on the water; a wet ash, very similar to mud, it will reach Naples, while drier and thinner ashes will reach, "cradled by the wind", Cilento, Puglia and Calabria, covering an area of about ten thousand square kilometers. Something was about to happen. Monte Nuovo was about to be born.

The arrival of Don Pedro of Toledo

Monday 30 September, the Viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro of Toledo, he went with his entire court, in the company of philosophers and knights, to witness the phenomenon up close. He was forced to stop near the Church of San Gennaro alla Solfatara, both to enjoy a much wider view, and because it was not possible to continue further, due to the intense eruptive activity that continued to "drop" stones around the whole area.

He was very impressed by the event and, later, to revive the fortunes of Pozzuoli, he exempted from paying taxes the Puteolans who had returned to the city and had a villa built, encouraging the nobles to do the same.

In the next days, the famous doctor Pietro Giacomo Toleto, taking advantage of a pause in the eruptive activity, he went to the top of the crater and described the scene that presented itself before his eyes, as a bubbling of stones in a cauldron on the fire. He was lucky, because the next day a new, violent, albeit brief eruption, "dropped" large stones up to Nisida, to then decrease its activity again, to the point of making us believe that it was finally over.

And instead, after just seven days from the start of the eruption, On Sunday 6 October, at around 16:00, twenty-four people lost their lives, precisely because - believing that the eruptions were over - they decided to go to the crater, thus finding themselves in the midst of the last eruption and becoming the only victims of the whole affair, as the bulk of the population had already fled to Naples.

Il Monte Nuovo: la montagna nata in una notte

The birth of Monte Nuovo

The fact that there were no victims, with the exception of those who ventured on the crater, should not, however, suggest a minor eruption. It was, in fact, an event that changed the entire coastal morphology, to the point that the surfaces of Lake Lucrino and Lake Averno were considerably reduced, interrupting the communication between them. Pozzuoli was destroyed, the houses that resisted were very few, half the Duomo collapsed and the city was completely covered with ash, while the ancient village of Tripergole was razed to the ground and incorporated into the eruptive products.

The last eruption of the Phlegraean Fields, therefore, gave birth to a new pyroclastic cone called Monte Nuovo and which is currently about 134 meters high. In reality, at the beginning of its history, Monte Nuovo was called "Mons Ceneris", for obvious reasons and, subsequently, with the rebirth of the flora, it took on a new captivating aspect, to the point that many foreign travelers began to visit it, also becoming a stop on the Grand Tour.

So it was that the English botanist John Ray, in 1663, described Monte Nuovo as a place where myrtle, heather and mastic grew there. Once again, a story made of death and destruction, brings with it the "new" that you do not expect; that "new" that redesigns a territory giving it beauty and fertility.

Sources consulted:

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