The best guide to visit Amalfi and Sorrento Coast

venerdì 4 giugno 2010

Mt Vesuvius - The Volcano

Mount Vesuvius is certainly the symbol and the main feature in the Neapolitan landscape, and it is one of the smallest active volcanoes in the world (1277 mt high). It consists of a truncated cone, Monte Somma, which rises to the height of 1152 mt in punta Nasone, on the Northern side. In it there is a smaller cone, the Mt. Vesuvius (1281 metres), divided by lowering named Valle del Gigante (Giants Valley), a part of the ancient caldron where in a later period, perhaps during the 79 A.D. eruption, the Gran Cono (Great Cone) or Mt. Vesuvius arose. The Valle del Gigante is still divided in Atrio del Cavallo on the west and the Valle dell'Inferno on the east. The Somma's ancient crater is well preserved as far as its entire northern part is concerned, in fact in historic times it was less exposed to the volcano's devastating violence, because it was well protected by the height of the internal face that has prevented the downflow of lava on its slopes. The slopes, which vary in their steepness, are furrowed by profound radial grooves produced by the erosion of the meteoric waters. The whole section is then characterized by dikes and fringes of dark volcanic rock. The old crater edge is a stream of summits called “cognoli”. While the height of mount Somma and its profile have remained the same for centuries, the height and the profile of the mount Vesuvius have suffered considerable variation, because of the following eruptions, with raisings and lowerings. Mt. Vesuvius is a characteristic polygenic mixed volcano, meaning that it is constituted by lava of different chemical composition (for example trachytes, tephrites, leucitites) and formed either by casting of lava or pyroclastic deposits. All the zones at the slopes of the mountain are formed by transported earth of lava mud which goes down from the steep slopes in the rainy seasons through deep and narrow grooves called channels or more commonly "lagni". The high embankments are formed by piles of lavic scoriae, which precipitated in incandescent state and spread towards the low slopes, proving precious for the vegetation thanks to their fertile material, rich in silicon and potassium. Proceeding along the rim of the crater, one can observe the whole extent of the southern part of the volcano and, during days with good visibility, it is possible to see the entire gulf of Naples, from the Sorrento peninsula to Cape Miseno, Procida and Ischia. It is also possible to note the large number of buildings which have been built on the vulnerable flanks of the mountain.


The park was founded to preserve animal and vegetable species, vegetable and forest associations, geological peculiarities, palaeontological formations, biological communities, biotopes, scenic and panoramic values, natural processes, ecological balances. Also, its purposes are the application of ways of management or environmental restoration suitable to realize an integration between man and the natural habitat, also through the protection anthropological, archaeological, historical and architectural values and the protection of traditional and pastoral activities; the promotion of educational and formative activities of scientifis research, that can be interdisciplinary too, the promotion of compatible recreational activities as well; another purpose is the defence and the reconstitution of hydraulic and hydrogeological balances. The task and the values concerning the Vesuvius National Park are even wider because we have to defend the most famous volcano in the world, and at the same time one of the five most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the high urban conurbation that ahs recently grown up around it, disrespectful of the laws forbidding the construction of buildings. Therefore the Vesuvius National Park represents an anomaly among the European National Parks, a sort of challenge aimed to rescue the wild and enchanting beauty of Vesuvius and Monte Somma (Somma Mountain), pulling them away from the incredible deterioration and giving them back to the pleasure of the old and the new generations they belong to.

Enviroment and nature

The territories around the Vesuvius and Monte Somma are different for various environmental seasons but, at the same time, they share some aspects, in particular the strong anthropization that characterizes the lowest slopes of both mountains. Speaking of the differences, it is necessary to point out that the first area is drier and sunnier than the other, with a typical Mediterranean vegetation, artificial grown pinewoods and ilex trees, which are occupying more ground in comparison with pines, and are reforming the splendid Mediterranean forest. The second (Monte Somma) is damper with a wood vegetation similar to the Apennine one, with chestnut woods, oak trees, alders, maples, ilexes; among these there is, even if rarely found, the wonderful birch, a very unusual presence in a Mediterranean habitat. The colonization of lava grounds by the numerous plants, begins after the cool down and is due to the liche Stereocaulon vesuvianum, which has a coral shape, it is grey and is the first living being which installed itself on the cold lava by preparing the land in receiving roots of the plants. It entirely covers the Vesuvian lava making it change to grey, giving the lava a silvery reflection during the full-moon nights. The list of plants includes 906 different species. Among these species we can observe interesting types, such as the Neapolitan maple, the Neapolitan alder and the Helichrysum litoreum, particularly abundant on the Vesuvius. We can point out also the large number of orchids (23) and the broom present in different species: Genista tinctoria, Genista aetnensis; the last one was imported from Etna in 1906 and today it is widespread on the entire Vesuvian territory.


The observatory was built during the reign of Ferdinand II of Borbon between 1841 and 1845 and it is located at 600 m asl, and it has survived some notable eruptions (in 1850,1855, 1861, 1868, 1872, 1906, 1929, 1944) without being damaged. It was built on the southern border of the Somma caldera, between two deep valleys bordering the hill. These valleys have now been filled by the lava flows of the above-mentioned eruptions.
Since 1983, the National Group for Vulcanology has encouraged research in the geological structure of the volcano, and improved its monitoring. In the 80s there was a significant number of earthquakes, called bradysism, in the Phlegrean Fields and particularly in Pozzuoli that made the earth rise about 1,8 m and after which 30.000 people were evacuated to other nearby areas. Now everything seems to be quiet ot within the limits of natural movement of the earth mass. The only evident exterior activities are the steam fumaroles inside the crater of Vesuvius, in the Phlegrean Fields and on the isle of Ischia. In the historical building of the Osservatorio Vesuviano is a volcanological museum where old instruments are on display. The exhibition takes the visitor on a fascinating tour through the world of volcanoes. It starts off with a description of the various types of eruption and how dangerous they are, and finishes with observation, in real time, of seismic and geochemical data recorded by the Vesuvius Observatory surveillance team. And everything is brought to life with the aid of video clips, illustrations, collections of rocks and minerals, historical instruments, books, paintings… It is also possible to look through the camera’s eye deep into the craters of Vesuvius, Etna, Vulcano and Stromboli. One of the Observatory guides will show visitors round. The entrance is free.

By car
If you have a car, you can reach Mt. Vesuvius going through the motorway A3 Salerno - Napoli till the exit of “Torre del Greco”: at that exit you have to turn right, then you have to go straight toward the first crossroads. Left this crossroads, go straight through Via De Nicola and then Via Vesuvio; an easy path 3 kilometres (1,86 miles) long take to crossroad with the road getting on from Ercolano (next to La Siesta restaurant), where you need to turn right and go on. After passing the aforesaid crossroad, you have to continue going up, and after 3 kilometres ( 1,86 miles) you meet with another crossroad: turning right you can reach the old and new Vesuvius Observatory. If you want to reach the crater, instead, you have to go straight on, but the road divides further: the right fork take to the ex-chair-lift (not more operating), where there is a pleasant bar with a sight-seeing terrace; take the left fork, which stops after 2 kilometres (1,2 miles) in a wide parking at 1000 metres (0,62 miles) of altitude where you have to continue on foot.

By train, bus and taxi

Who comes from Sorrento or Pompeii, can reach Ercolano-Scavi station taking the Sorrento-Napoli or Pompei-Napoli lines. A bus service, managed by Trasporti Vesuviani, and a taxi service is available from Ercolano-Scavi station to Mt. Vesuvius, until 1000 metres (0,62 miles) of altitude.

The access to the crater

When you arrive by car, bus or taxi at 1000 metres of altitude, from the parking there is a short trail 860 metres long, with a drop of 135 metres and an average slope of 14%, which in about 15 minutes arrives on the west crater rim (1180 metres) where there is a refreshment-point and the ticket office. The crater can be visited all the year, except when weather forecast aren't good. The access to the crater is allowed from 9.00 to 15.00, upon buying a ticket of 6.5 Euro for grown-ups, and 4.5 Euro for school-children supplied with pupil list and for boys from 6 to 12 years. From the ticket office starts a conducted tour, accompanied by the local volcanological guides. The crater presents inside a cavity over 300 metres deep, a circumference of the crateral rim about 500 metres long. The path continues among characteristic projections and briefly takes to the Capannuccia (1170 metres) and then to the highest point of Mt. Vesuvius (1281 metres). Shoes and dresses must be suitable for an excursion above 1000 metres of altitude on unpared terrain.

Driving distances and approximate driving times

Sorrento: 41 km / 25 miles / 62 min.
Praiano: 55 km / 34 miles / 75 min.
Positano: 51 km / 32 miles / 70 min.
Ravello: 47 km / 29 miles / 67 min.
Pompeii: 17 km / 11 miles / 29 min.
Naples: 32 km / 20 miles / 47 min.
Caserta: 58 km / 36 miles / 64 min.
Rome: 249 km / 155 miles / 175 min.
Salerno: 47 km / 29 miles / 54 min.
Paestum: 91 km / 56 miles / 93 min.
Castellabate: 112 km / 70 miles / 111 min.
Marina di Camerota: 173 km / 108 miles / 180 min.

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