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Destructive Volcanic Eruptions of Mount Vesuvius Over the Years

Gaynor Borade Jun 23, 2019
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano located about 10 kilometers east of the present day city of Naples, in Italy. Though its last recorded eruption was in 1944, it is still considered to be the most dangerous volcano in the world. Here is a little more on the various eruptions of Vesuvius.

Did You Know?

History reveals that eruptions from Vesuvius used to spew blankets of ash as far as Istanbul.
Located in the Bay of Naples along the south-western coast of Italy, Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano built-up by many layers of lava, ash, and pumice from previous eruptions. It is part of the Campanian Volcanic Arc, that is formed by a number of volcanoes in the Campania region of Italy.
Being a stratovolcano, and due to the various eruptions, the height of the mountain keeps changing; at present it stands a little above 4,200 feet tall. In spite of the heavy lava flows from numerous eruptions, there is a lot of vegetation present on the slopes.
The volcanic mountain is also referred to as Somma-Vesuvius or Somma-Vesuvio due to the collapse of Monte Somma, a higher structure in the peripheral, during the AD 79 eruption.
Tagged as the only volcano in mainland Europe to have erupted in the last hundred years, there is a long history to the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius.
With 8 major eruptions under its belt, and a multitude of smaller, minor eruptions, Vesuvius has been a very busy volcano indeed. In the following paragraphs we tell you more about the various times the mountain has erupted in the past.

Eruptions of Mount Vesuvius

Eruptions of Mount Vesuvius are characterized by viscous andesite lava, pumice, and scoria. There have been numerous eruptions, with many of these not documented.
Of course, the most famous of these, or rather ill-famed of these, was the 79 AD eruption, which buried the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Here are some of the more notable eruptions of Vesuvius.

Recent Eruptions

Top View of the Crater on Mount Vesuvius
The volcano has not erupted since 1944, which was the last time it erupted in the 20th century. While exact figures of injury, death are not known, the 1944 eruption has been classified as a major one.
It destroyed many villages, including San Sebastiano al Vesuvio on the western slopes of the mountain, the municipality of Massa di Somma, the municipality of Ottaviano, and the residential town of San Giorgio a Cremano. People in San Giorgio a Cremano took refuge in the church, with the lava flow from the eruption stopping at the steps of the church.
The eruption also destroyed almost 80 aircraft of the US Air Force, that were stationed at the Pompeii Airfield. The Vesuvius eruption of 1944 lasted from March 18th to March 23rd, and caused significant damage to property.
Vesuvius also erupted in 1906, 1926, and 1929, but these were not considered, or not documented, as major eruptions. However, the eruption in 1906 is known to have taken an estimated 100 lives, caused destruction to the city of Naples, which was getting ready to host the 1908 Olympics. The resultant damage caused the venue of the 1908 Olympics to be changed.

Earlier Eruptions

Prior to the 20th century, the volcano erupted numerous times, with the 79 AD eruption being the greatest. After 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted more than 30 times, with the most recent being the one in 1944.
These include the eruption of 472, which flung ash and other debris as far as Constantinople, and the eruption of 512, which caused so much destruction, that the residents around the volcano were exempt from paying taxes.
Nearly half a dozen eruptions were documented from the 6th to the 13th century, and these also included the first lava flows. From the 13th to the 16th century, the volcano was relatively quiet, allowing growth of vegetation on the slopes, and even in the crater.
The 17th century saw another major eruption that took the lives of 3,000 people. Many villages were buried by lava flows in this eruption, which took place in December 1631. Along with lava flows, boiling water spewed out of the volcano and caused significant damage.
The Avellino eruption of 1660 BC is believed to have destroyed several Bronze Age settlements. This was the start of a string of eruptions, which lasted up to the 20th century.

The 79 AD Eruption

Mount Vesuvius is most famously known for its eruption in 79 AD, that completely buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
This eruption is considered the most famous and deadliest eruption of the volcano till date.
Ash and other volcanic matter were ejected out of the volcano to a height of over 20 miles, that caused heavy damage, both to life and property. Both towns were completely buried, and the death toll was said to be an estimated 16,000 people.
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, a magistrate of Ancient Rome, was one of the few survivors of the 79 AD eruption, and was able to provide an eyewitness account of the disaster. In his many letters, some of which survive till today, he described the eruption in great detail. The eruption is said to have occurred on 24th August, lasting for 2 days.
The first day saw the eruption of ash and other volcanic matter, while the second day saw the lava flows that caused the destruction of the 2 towns. Lava flows were moving at an estimated 100 miles per hour, knocking down everything in their path. So great was the volume of the flow, that it was rumored that the coastline of the Bay of Naples was altered.
Most of the casualties were caused by the collapsing of structures under the weight of the debris spewed out by the volcano. High temperatures and lava flows were also a major cause. In spite of the eyewitness accounts, much is not known about this eruption, only that it was one of the worst eruptions of Vesuvius till date.
Almost 2000 years later, excavations are still on at Pompeii, revealing even more facts about this gargantuan disaster.

Future Eruptions

Mount Vesuvius has not erupted since the 1944 eruption, though this does not mean that it will never erupt again.
Taking in to account the history of the mountain, and various other factors, scientists have predicted that the next eruption will be similar to the eruption of 1631. However, due to the increased population in and around Vesuvius, the damage caused would be far greater.
With more than half a million people living there, there is scope for a disaster of unprecedented proportions. The government of Italy has taken measures to ensure that this does not happen, like creating a National Park on the slopes of the mountain to deter residential buildings, an emergency evacuation plan, and demolishing illegal residences.
Mount Vesuvius has a long history of eruptions. Though the volcano has been quiescent since 1944, it is being monitored by Osservatorio Vesuvio, an observatory comprising extensive seismic and gravimetric station networks, and GPS-based geodetic and radar equipment. One can only hope that the next time Vesuvius decides to spit, mankind will be ready.