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Traveling with Art: Mount Vesuvius and Naples, Italy

By A. Sianos.

The legendary Mount Vesuvius sits nearby Naples, Italy, and has inspired both horror and awe in its nearby residents.

The painting you see above shows a Southeastern view of Naples, with the Vesuvius volcano in the background behind the Tyrrhenian gulf.

In the mythology of the labors of Hercules, Hercules finds a place called “the Phlegraean Plain” or “plain of fire” “from a hill which anciently vomited out fire … now called Vesuvius.” Historians suggest that Hercules may have been considered a patron of the volcano.

Someone's having a bad day

An 1872 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Despite the cheeriness of the painting, Mount Vesuvius is the volcano famous for its eruption in 79 AD that buried and destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in layers of ash. Since then, it has erupted 50 more times.

The city Herculaneum was buried in 75 feet of ash!

Pliny the Younger provided a valuable first person witness of the 79 AD eruption. Twenty-five years after the eruption, he wrote an account to his friend describing Pliny the Elder, his uncle’s, death through the burying of Pompeii. Pliny the Elder commanded a fleet of warships and attempted to use the ships to save the people on the shores of Pompeii. But his attempt was unsuccessful, as Pliny the Younger describes:

“. . . the flames and smell of sulphur which gave warning of the approaching fire drove the others to take flight and roused him to stand up . . . then [he] suddenly collapsed . . . his body was found intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death.”

At the time, Pliny the Younger was 18 miles away and fled with his mother as far away as possible from the eruption.

800px-Mount_Vesuvius_in_Naples,_Italy,_Napoli1

A modern view of the sunset over Mount Vesuvius and Naples.

Vesuvius had erupted before 79 AD, about every century until 1037 AD, when it quieted for 600 years. But it woke up once again in 1631 and, since the area had grown around the sleeping mountain, killed about four thousand people.

How’s that for some cheerful history?

Today, the city of Naples, Italy looks out on its beautiful gulf. The city has issues with homelessness and keeping clean, but inhabitants will tell you that it’s like no other city in Italy in its environment and culture. Naples does not have a huge influx of tourists, thereby allowing visitors to really get to know the place by admiring the beautiful gulf of Naples and exploring its many pizzerias. 745px-Partenope_Street_Naples_Italy

Naples has a special population, too. Many stray dogs live there, but they are better cared for than any stray dogs you’ll find elsewhere. The tour guides to the ruins of Pompeii regularly pool together money to feed the dogs. And the dogs have reportedly fine-tuned their begging performance to tourists in restaurants. Visitors report that the dogs seem happy and friendly, and that they have become a part of the city’s culture.

Naples truly has an aura unlike any other city in Italy, and with Mount Vesuvius looking down on the city, it’s an unforgettable place.

Sources:

Pliny the Younger’s account

Naples tourism

The Wiki

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