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Located in the Gulf of Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano most famous for its eruption in A.D. 79, which destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
In the last 17,000 years, the volcano has had eight major eruptions. But the one that made Mount Vesuvius famous was the eruption in A.D. 79, which killed more than 16,000 people, spewing lava and ash over the local towns. This catastrophic event preserved the towns it destroyed, which can still be uncovered today in remarkable detail, even though the eruption took place thousands of years ago.
Ironically, the thing that led to the death of so many is what keeps their stories alive today. When you visit Pompeii, you can see bodies, faces, clothing, and other artefacts preserved from the day of Mount Vesuvius’s tragic eruption.
The history of Mount Vesuvius goes back roughly 25,000 years when it was formed due to the collision of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. Though several eruptions occurred prior to A.D. 79, this eruption is widely considered one of the most catastrophic volcanic eruptions of all time.
It was preceded in A.D. 62 by a powerful earthquake, which destroyed a great deal of the Bay of Naples area, including Pompeii. Much of the destruction had not even been repaired by the time of the great eruption 17 years later.
The events of the A.D. 79 eruption are famously recounted by Pliny the Younger in two letters he wrote to historian Tacitus. Combined with geological evidence, much of the information we have now about Mount Vesuvius and this eruption is thanks to Pliny the Younger, who provided the only surviving eyewitness account of these events.
In the letters, Pliny the Younger describes the last days of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. He wrote that his uncle noticed early volcanic activity occurring across the Bay of Naples and organized a rescue mission. He describes how his uncle died due to a mass of sulfurous gas.
One of the best Mount Vesuvius facts is related to this: the term “Plinian eruption” comes from the account of Pliny the Younger. These eruptions created a column of volcanic ash and gasses that can rise miles into the earth’s atmosphere and up into the stratosphere. These types of eruptions are also widely known as “Vesuvian eruptions.”
Geologists believe there were three significant Mount Vesuvius eruptions prior to the eruption in A.D. 79. The most famous of the three was the one in 1800 B.C., which engulfed a number of Bronze Age settlements.
In 1631, the volcano entered a period of frequent volcanic activity, erupting 15 times from that year to the end of the 19th century. The most violent of these eruptions was in 1872 and the most recent occurred in 1944.
Luckily, the Vesuvius Observatory is constantly monitoring the volcano’s seismic activity, which will give the local communities more warning and enough time to evacuate next time.