M.t Vesuvius is famous for the destruction that is wreaked upon the unsuspecting Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. But the while the active volcano which made these places famous still casts a long shadow over them, the trek to the top of the smoking crater is an unforgettable experience to say the least.
Years back it has been a dream of mine to visit the mysterious city of Pompeii and its neighbour Herculaneum after watching a documentary on them. The idea of stepping back in time and wandering these almost unchanged streets that the ancient Romans did thousands of years earlier and the eerie ghosts that were left here was something I couldn’t pass up on.
We made the trip as a family way back in 2005 and I wrote about how unforgettable Pompeii was as well as the surprise that was Herculaneum…and how it is actually better than Pompeii as a trip here: The ancient wonders of Pompeii and Herculaneum
But what to do once you have strolled around these magnificent relics of this bygone era? Wandering around I couldn’t help but keep glancing up to the famous peak and its trademark shape. The crater staring back at us like an ominous challenge, a defiant giant that silently sits in the bay of Naples just waiting for its next chance to strike.
I was actually shocked to find that the volcano is still active and in fact last erupted only in 1944, which leave this famously destructive volcano a ticking time bomb for the region. That last eruption flattened several villages and on the drive up to the starting point for the trek we could see half covered remnants of buildings. It is also actually the only active volcano on the European mainland!
Only years before then in 1906 the volcano spewed out the largest amount of lava ever recorded from its crater, killing over 100 people and devastating the city of Naples which had been preparing to host the Olympics.
The future of the volcano is uncertain, but what is for sure is that an eruption will happen and is likely over due. It might never reach the destruction levels of AD79 that wiped out Pompeii and killed over 16,000 people. But it is expected to similar to that of the 1631 eruption which buried several towns, killed 3,000 people and ejected torrents of boiling water for miles around. Since then the volcano has erupted severely in 1660, 1682, 1694, 1698, 1707, 1737, 1760, 1767, 1779, 1794, 1822, 1834, 1839, 1850, 1855, 1861, 1868, 1872, 1906, 1926, 1929, and 1944…so it is most definitely over due!
And yet still people live on the green slopes of this ferocious mountain, taking their chances by building properties in what would otherwise be an idyllic location. The Italian government even offered each resident around 30,000 Euros to leave, but still many stay, lulled by a false sense of security this beautiful sleeping giant gives off.
The areas surrounding the Volcano have been designated a national park to stop building work within the “Red Zone”. The government and councils are working to bring down the evacuation time to only a couple of days for the densely populated areas around the peak as well as monitoring it closely.
Climbing the Volcano:
For hundreds of years the volcano has been an attraction for visitors eager to conquer its slopes and see the crater with their very own eyes. From 1880 a funicular ran to the top of the mountain but was destroyed in the 1944 eruption and never re built.
Now a series of paths wind up the steep and unrelenting slopes to the smoking crater. Roads are accessible up to around the 1000 foot point where the lush green meadows give way to a rocky and barren waste land.
The climbing is not the most difficult, since then I have tacked some quite challenging routes on the UK’s largest mountains, but back then this was my first mountain! In the baking Italian summer sun the teenage me found it tough going! But spurred on by the legend of the mountain we made it to the top!
The summit was much narrower than expected and the steep drop into the deep crater only protected by a single knee high chain. Looking down you couldn’t help but get a tingle of fear knowing an eruption was due. But also the history of the place was rather overwhelming too.
The views up here where also spectacular, sitting on the edge of the bay the peak offers amazing views right over Naples and the surrounding regions…including Pompeii from this 4,203 ft, 17,000 year old Mountain!
How to climb Vesuvius
If you have access to a car the climb is simple enough.
Drive to the high carpark around 3/4 of the way to the summit and pay the 10EUR entrance fee to walk up the rest of the way.
You will be offered a stick to assist you on your trek which once handed back over at the bottom a small donation will be expected.
Without a car:
If you don’t have a car then the trip can be a little more tricky and it is unfortunately easiest just to book at tour at one of the many operators in the nearby town of Sorrento (where we stayed) or Naples. Other popular towns and resorts as well as your hotel will also have information on tours which usually cost around £30.
Pompeii and Herculaneum are quite easy to do on your own with train stations very close to the sites. But it might be worth the money getting a combination tour too depending on time.
The walk only takes around 45 minutes from the car park and most people of reasonable fitness should find it quite easy. But do wear sensible shoes and hiking boots if possible and make sure to take water, a hat and suncream as it does get very hot.
Would you chance the trek up this active volcano?
Read about Pompeii here: visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum
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