"The Vesuvius is in front of me. Now it is blazing and smoking. What an extraordinary sight! imagine an enormous firework that does not stop for even a minute"
Nicolaj V. Gogol', 1838
On Vesuvius, on the top of the world's most famous volcano
The cone of the Vesuvius, with its verdant slopes, is the absolute star of one of the most famous italian landscapes.
Nature and history are closely connected, as is proved by the extraordinary sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis (today's Torre Annunziata), which appear to the visitor in their ancient beauty. At the foot of the volcano, along the coast between San Giorgio a Cremano and Torre del Greco, the "Golden Mile" unwinds: here the visitor will encounter the Portici Royal Palace, commissioned in 1738 by Charles III Bourbon, and the elegant residences of the aristocrats, who, following the example of the sovereign, learned to appreciate the charm of these places. The most sumptuous? Villa campolieto and Villa Favorita, both in Herculaneum.
Vesuvius National Park
The Vesuvius National Park is about 8.800 hectares and in 1997 it was included in the network of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme. The environment is rich in plants and animals that inhabit the lava zones and forests. The two volcanic bodies, formed by Vesuvius and Mount Somma, have different environmental features: the Vesuvian side, where lava rocks prevail, has typical Mediterranean vegetation, whereas the Somma side, which faces north and is consequently cooler and moister, is covered with chestnuts, oaks, maples, holm-oaks and birches. Vegetation starts to grow on the lava only a long time after eruption. The "forerunner" is a silver-grey lichen called Stereocaulon vesuvianum, which can be seen on the cooled lava rocks of the 1944 eruption. About 900 registered floral species - among which broom (mentioned by the poet Leopardi) - alternate with the more parched and barren areas near the crater to make up a unique environment. The slopes are covered with orchards and vineyards that yeld some of the most typical and renowned produce of Campania.
The network of itineraries of the Park comprises 15 tracks or trails. It proposes different types, which include nature trails, rural trails, panoramic trails and educational trails. Visitors with physical and visual disabilities can enjoy the experimental trail 3, with guides for blind and deaf-blind people, suitable illustrative material and educational activities, and labs for handicapped kids. Inside the Park there are 2 cycle tracks.
On the Gran Cono there are small fumaroles, which indicate the state of quiescence, meaning the active rest of the volcano. The crater is 1.282 metres above sea level, 230 metres deep and has a diameter of about 650 metres. A depression, the so-called Valley of the Giant, which is divided into the Wall of the Horse and the Valley of the Hell (which can be reached via nature trail 1, level of difficulty: high) divides Vesuvius from Mount Somma which, with Punta Nasona, is 1.132 metres high. The old edge of the crater is characterised by several peaks called "cognoli", which are mainly visible from nature trail 2 (level of difficult: high). The Tirone-Alto Vesuvio Nature Reserve, easily practicable along trail 4, was established in 1972 in order to safeguard the whole crater boundary. The aspect of the landscape is typical of the Vesuvian side: holm-oaks, pinewoods and alders and an underwood of broom and red valerian.
The fauna of the Park is very interesting: among the mammals you can see hedgehogs, moles, garden dormice, stone martens, foxes, wild rabbits and hares. About 140 species of bird inhabit the lava rocks and woods: woodcock, thrushes, black redstart, sparrowhawks, spotted woddpeckers, hawks and imperial ravens (to name but a few). There are a large number of amphibians and reptiles, among which the coluber, one of the biggest and fastest Italian snakes. It is not poisonous, but it is very aggressive and can bite people. It is generally green and yellow, but the species that lives on Vesuvius is black, to camouflage itself among the rocks.
The present appearance of the volcano is due to sequences over the centuries of explosive eruptions, during which the magma puors out in the form of lapilluses, pumice and volcanic ash, and effusive eruptions, with the predominant emission of streams of lava. The earliest eruptions, about 25.000 years ago, destroyed Mount Somma, the most ancient volcano, and, later, the Gran Cono. The most famous eruption took place on August 24th, 79 AD and destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis. The latest eruption dates back to 1944, which is responsible for the present shape of the crater. The volcano, at the moment, is sleeping but it is closely watched by the scientists of the Vesuvian Observatory.
(source: "Nature and Parks", cured by Assessorato al turismo della Regione Campania).