Historical Significance of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
In 79AD Mount Vesuvius in what is now the Campania region of Italy famously erupted, killing thousands of people, destroying the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae, and burying them deep beneath the ash falls. This momentous event remains one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in human history and has been examined and studied by scientists, historians and archaeologists ever since.
The area affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius stretches roughly 16 kilometres from north to south, with the city of Pompeii located in the southernmost reach of the pyroclastic surge, near the modern-day town of Torre del Greco. Estimates vary as to the exact distance of Pompeii from Mount Vesuvius – some experts posit it is as far as 19 kilometres, others suggest a shorter distance of 13 kilometres. The likelihood of this being accurate may not be clear as the exact location of Mount Vesuvius is not conclusively known.
The uncertainty of the exact location of the volcano is echoed by the confusion that arises when studying the figure of the number of people killed in the eruption. Calculations range from 16,000, to an estimate of more than 25,000. In the days immediately after the eruption it is thought the Romans were too busy in the rescue and relief operations to note the precise numbers, meaning the exact death toll remains a mystery.
Research and Discoveries Uncovering the Events of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Since thorough excavation efforts began in the late 18th century, many artefacts, frescoes and human remains have been uncovered in the cities entombed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of the bones and artefacts found have been tested using radiocarbon testing and shown to date back to the 1st century AD, proving the eruption of Mount Vesuvius obliterated the area in 79AD.
Scientific research has enabled archaeologists to build an accurate chronology of the events of 79AD. According to experts, the initial eruption at Mount Vesuvius began during the morning of 24th August 79AD and lasted for 18 hours. The first plume of smoke and dust rose 30 kilometres in the air and by sunset had travelled upwards of five hundred kilometres. This devastating event was followed by a quiet period of around two days before eruptive activity resumed and lasted for a further two days.
Archeologists have suggested that the duration of the whole eruption period was only a few days, leaving the estimated death toll at the behest of its intensity. Pliny the Younger, the Roman statesman who lived during the time of the late eruption, noted that a cloud of smoke and dust was visible from Misenum, a time some 34 kilometres away, suggesting the height of the eruption column was estimated to be around 30 kilometres.
Aftermath of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The days and months after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius were chaotic and devastating for the residents of Pompeii, and the wider region. The ash-fall from the eruption had buried the whole area, and people were scrambling to find their loved ones and belongings. The majority of the citizens that perished in the devastation were buried in elevated ash, leaving the cities uninhabitable for nearly 2000 years, until excavations began in the 1700s.
The effects of the eruption had been so far reaching that it was recorded by Pliny the Younger, and an illustrious Roman civil servant in Ravenna referred to the event in a letter written to an official in Rome, which is believed to have been written just weeks after the disaster. This letter described the area around Pompeii as ‘buried in a blanket of ashes’.
Though the world moved on, those affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD were left without the chance to rebuild their lives. The count of the dead will remain unknown, but the magnitude of the event remains unquestioned.
Changes in Landscape, Climate and Way of Life as a Result of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The destructive power of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius was unprecedented and operated to reshape the land and the climate in the region for years afterwards. The devastation and displacement caused by the eruption had a profound effect on the local and regional economy, leaving the people in the area forever changed – and poorer – by the experience.
The ash and debris from the eruption left behind a thick layer of material, up to five meters deep in places, which is thought to have had a significant effect on the local soil, preventing anything from growing in certain areas. Moreover, the industrialisation of the area during the 1970s has increased the likelihood of previously uninhabitable ground becoming farmable.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius, then, has impacted not just the physical landscape of the area, but the way in which people live. In particular, the agricultural sector in the area is thriving, with a range of produce available in the markets and restaurants of the modern-day towns of Naples, Sorrento and Ischia.
Popular Culture Inspired by the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The devastation of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius has been immortalised in popular culture and has inspired a range of works of art, literature and film. The most famous of these is likely to be the novel ‘The Last Day of Pompeii’ by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, which inspired the film of the same name released in 1913.
The story follows the fictitious love story between Glaucus and Ione, who, as the city of Pompeii crumbles around them, struggle to save each other, and eventually succumb to the power of the eruption. Similarly, the 1980 film ‘Herculaneum’ – based on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius – follows the parallel story of a wealthy father and his daughter and her beloved travelling to their villa in the city of Herculaneum and becoming overwhelmed by the catastrophe they face.
More recently, the destruction of the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius has been the backdrop for television shows such as the popular ABC drama ‘Time After Time’, which centres around a time travelling character attempting to save his beloved from the destruction of Pompeii.
Tourist Attractions Inspired by the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The destruction of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius has led to a huge variety of tourist attractions in the area, from the ruins of ancient Pompeii – excavated over two centuries ago – to the modern cities that swirl around the volcano. It is now possible for tourists to get an up-close look at the mountain, as well as learn about its history and the destruction it created.
The most popular tourist attraction in the area is the city of Pompeii, which draws thousands of visitors annually. The archaeological park hosts a variety of ancient structures, ranging from villas, bathhouses and temples, while guided tours of the sprawling complex – as well as informative videos and collections of artefacts – allow visitors to learn more about the events of 79AD.
The view from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius is also stunning, and tourists flock to the summit for a breathtaking panorama of the Bay of Naples and the sweeping landscape of the area. Despite the destructive legacy of the mountain, it has become a symbol of resilience and beauty in the modern day.
Celebrations in Memory of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
It is not uncommon to see celebrations in remembrance of the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the city of Pompeii, as well as in the surrounding area. While many of the events are spontaneous, organised festivities, such as the Vesusian Horse Races and the Vesuvian Games, have become a regular occurence in the region.
The Vesuvian Games are held every two years, for two days in August, and attract both young and old to compete in a number of sporting activities and challenges. Meanwhile, the Vesuvian Horse Races, second only in popularity to the Games, are celebrated in the city of Naples and other locations close to the mountain where a variety of fun races and shows are held for the local community.
These memorable occasions not only mark the momentous events of 79AD, but provide a focus for local residents to reunite and celebrate the beauty of the area and its culture.
Commemorations of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius was, and still is, an important event in Italian history and culture, and many commemorations have been created to remember and honour the event. In particular, the Vesuvian Monument – a huge bronze relief set atop of a granite column – has become a focal point in Naples and stands as a memorial to the victims of the volcanic eruption.
The Monument, which is located on the Lungomare in Naples and was erected in 1927, features four reliefs depicting the city’s history from antiquity to the modern day, including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Further, the monument is flanked by two vast sculptures of a woman and a man – designed by two world-renowned sculptors – which commemorate the citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum, who tragically lost their lives in the eruption.
Though the disaster of 79AD has been memorialised in many ways, it is also remembered in smaller, less publicised, ways. Every first Sunday of May, for example, the local community of Torre del Greco, located in the shadow of the mountain, host Mass to remember those who lost their lives during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago.