The volcanic mountain of Mount Vesuvius overlooks the wonderful Italian city of Naples and has much to do with its development and history. Located some six miles to the east of Naples, the stratovolcano has erupted around 50 times in the course of its life and has created much fertile land that Neapolitans and other local inhabitants have exploited for centuries. The impressive sight of Mount Vesuvius can only really be truly appreciated up close. However, because it stands over 1,200 metres high, a trek up to near the peak is only advisable if you are reasonably fit. You don’t need to be particularly experienced with hill walking to mount it, but it is sensible to take precautions, like carrying water and adequate clothing. Buses run from the city to Mount Vesuvius every hour during the day and return ones are also frequent until the early evening.
Naples’ Volcanic Heritage
Mount Vesuvius is, perhaps, best known for its eruption of 79 AD when it destroyed the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum – an event that was documented by classical scholars at the time. Many centuries later, modern archaeologists began to uncover the ruins left behind of these Roman urban centres. In many ways, the volcanic material has perfectly preserved the cities, so it is possible to gain valuable insights into the life of ancient people. The molten ash that spewed from the volcano virtually petrified everything in its way, from animals to household goods. Rich people and slaves were also frozen in time in their last moments. Visitors to either city can see Roman stone works, scrolls and mosaics, thanks to the eruption. Indeed, some of the buildings remain so thoroughly intact that you would hardly believe they date back almost two millennia.
It is probable that most visitors to Naples with an idea of its Roman past will have heard of the unfortunate city of Pompeii. Once a bustling Roman settlement, it is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and the entire city constitutes one of the most important archaeological sites anywhere on the planet. The location of the city was discovered in the middle of the eighteenth century and much of it has since been uncovered by archaeologists. Although many private dwellings and store houses can be seen, it is perhaps the public buildings which are most noteworthy for their impressive stature. Visitors can find the Pompeii’s old Forum situated on a large level area to the south west of the city. There is another, so-called Triangular Forum that stood by edge of the south wall affording views over the Bay of Naples. When looking for Pompeii’s large Amphitheatre, head to the east of the city. Various architectural styles can be seen in the remains, including the House of the Surgeon which is a well-known example of an early inward-looking atrium house, built around 350 BC.
Constructed on a promontory overlooking the bay, a good deal less of the city of Herculaneum has been laid bare. Nevertheless, many public buildings are on show, such as the public baths which were built on a monumental scale. Vividly decorated, they are well worth a visit and constitute a remarkable historic remain. Herculaneum is also noteworthy for the large number shops and commercial buildings which remain well-preserved. Some even still contain some of their stock, like large wine jars. The site is also well-known for its mosaics which can be found in the variety of houses that have been excavated. Some of the best examples of these magnificent works of art are housed at the Villa of the Papyri, a large seafront Roman villa.
Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum can all be explored on your own, but it can be a good idea to opt for an organised tour, too, so that you get the best out of your visit. Either way, these stunning locations should not be missed out on.