Mount Vesuvius

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25,000 years before present to 1944

Mount Vesuvius (Italian: Monte Vesuvio, Latin: Mons Vesuvius) is a stratovolcano on the Bay of Naples, Italy, about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting. The two other major active volcanoes in Italy, Etna and Stromboli, are located on islands.

Mount Vesuvius is best known for its eruption in AD 79 that led to the destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. They were never rebuilt, although surviving townspeople and probably looters did undertake extensive salvage work after the destructions. The towns' locations were eventually forgotten until their accidental rediscovery in the 18th century.

The eruption also changed the course of the Sarno River and raised the sea beach, so that Pompeii was now neither on the river nor adjacent to the coast. Vesuvius itself underwent major changes – its slopes were denuded of vegetation and its summit changed considerably due to the force of the eruption. Vesuvius has erupted many times since and is today regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of 3,000,000 people living nearby and its tendency towards explosive (Plinian) eruptions. It is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.[1]

Vesuvius has a long historic and literary tradition. It was considered a divinity of the genius type at the time of the eruption of 79 AD: it appears under the inscribed name Vesuvius as a serpent in the decorative frescos of many lararia, or household shrines, surviving from Pompeii. An inscription from Capua[2] to IOVI VESVVIO indicates that he was worshipped as a power of Jupiter; that is, Jupiter Vesuvius.[3]

The historian, Diodorus Siculus, relates a tradition that Hercules, in the performance of his labors, passed through the country of nearby Cumae on his way to Sicily and found there a place called "the Phlegraean Plain" (phlegraion pedion, "plain of fire"), "from a hill which anciently vomited out fire ... now called Vesuvius."[4] It was inhabited by bandits, "the sons of the Earth," who were giants. With the assistance of the gods he pacified the region and went on. The facts behind the tradition, if any, remain unknown, as does whether Herculaneum was named after it. An ode by the poet, Martial, in 88 AD suggests that both Venus, patroness of Pompeii, and Hercules were worshipped in the region devastated by the eruption of 79.[5] Whether Hercules was ever considered some sort of patron of the volcano itself is debatable.

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