Europe’s most dangerous volcano stands right outside Naples. Vesuvius is ideal for a day trip. There are breathtaking views and the opportunity to put a saying into action.
I feel connected to this mountain. When I was a child, I had often secretly watched as the trucks of local copper smeltery dumped the hot slag down the hill. It glowed in the dark and admired it like it was lava. After Germany unified the smeltery was closed and I have seen such melted materials only on TV since then. Around the same time my grandma read to me from a World Almanac and asked me about the highest mountains. Among them were the Etna and Vesuvius as they were the highest volcanoes around.
And yet I see nothing that glows except the sun that keeps burning on my skin. I look down into the crater. A lunar landscape – 600 feet deep of rubble. Hard to believe that this volcano has erupted a few times. Now there is only the smell of rotten eggs, sulfur dioxide, coming from some gaps. This is still the most dangerous volcano in Europe, next to its neighbor on Stromboli island, which is basically the extension of the Vesuvius. Several hundred feet below lies the magma chamber that feeds the whole volcanic system. An inflammation of the earth. Many earthquakes have hit the region. The last devastated parts of Calabria and Naples has partly destroyed in 1980 , as a friendly Italian told me on the way to the Circumvesuviana train.
Peaceful it lies there, this monster. He does not move. He spits fire and no not even growls . But it’s only a matter until the force of Vesuvius discharges again and he roars down the slope and buries every tree, every bush, every wall, every house. He is the permanent sword of Damocles over Naples and throughout the region. The last time he erupted was in 1944. Back then, he even destroyed almost the entire air force base of the Americans who previously had landed in Sicily. The force of nature does not stop at the man-made force.
But going up the steep track pays off well. The views of Naples are breathtaking. The town nestles like a towel directly at the foot of the crater. On the other side of the bay are the Amalfi Coast with its rocks shining in the sun. Not far away you can see Capri, the island escape of Naples. And you can notice fields that are covered with stones and remains of houses . There are the remains of two flourishing cities of the antique. Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed in the explosion of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The Vesuvius is still present when you look back from those places. However, he was supposed to be at least twice the size before the destruction of Pompeii when it exploded in a massive eruption. Before ash and rocks rained down from the sky and toxic gases suffocated all life around. And before the last remaining souls that had survived were were enflamed and buried by a massive pyroclastic flow of ash and froze to stone in their terrifying gestures. One can see it in the ruins of the ancient city.
Feeling this pure elemental force and being so powerless one can only be silent or do something crazy. In a spontaneous mood of madness I took the hand of my girlfriend and made a few steps. Long – long – short – short – long – short – short – long. First step forward with the left. I let Franzi down into my arms. It was short. But we danced on Europe’s most dangerous volcano. Probably the best ceremony to please the spirits of this elemental force.
Hint: In German and in some other languages we have the saying „Dance on a volcano“. It basically means to maintain living on the edge. It’s like something is about to happen all the time.