Mt. Vesuvius ☆☆☆

Mt. Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius from space, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius, Italy (Photo by NASA/ISS Expedition 4 crew member)
Mt. Vesuvius from space

How to visit the volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum

Though one of the smallest and least regularly active volcanoes in the world, Vesuvius is one of the most famously destructive (more on that in a moment).

The only active volcano on continental Europe, the 4,214-foot-high, broad cone of Mt. Vesuvius dominates the Bay of Naples from the northeastern shore.

How to build a killer volcano

Vesuvius is the worst sort of volcano, built much the way a science fair model might imagine one: a pool of molten magma under the ground with and a long tube running straight up through the center of the mountain to a crater at the top. This volcano lies quiet, seemingly dormant for centuries—even millennia—the crater a wide but kind of boring depression filled with pale russet and gray pumice stone and dirt.

It seems so innocuous that only a few ancient scientists even realized it was a volcano—and even they figured it was extinct—and so safe that Spartacus and his rebel slaves took shelter in it during their revolt. Vesuvius' danger lies unseen beneath the surface.

That "tube" in the mountain's center is blocked by plug of rock and ash, and the boiling magma underneath is slowly building up and superheating a giant pocket of gasses, which put increasing pressure on that plug, like a giant bottle of champagne that been shaken violently.

The 19th century commercial jingle that just won't die

There was once a funicular, or cog railway, running up the slope of Mt. Vesuvius. 

To inaugurate the line in 1880, the builders commissioned a special jingle, and Peppino Turco and Luigi Denza obliged by writing one of the worst gets-stuck-in-your-head songs of all time, Funiculì, Funiculà

(Trust me; if I were to hum it to you, you'd recognize it instantly, even if you don't know the words. I provide the following link to a YouTube recording of Mario Lanza's famed operatic rendition merely as documentary evidence. Don't blame me if you click on it and then can't get the thing out of your head for days.) 

The funicular stopped running after the 1944 eruption.

The song, unfortunately, did not.

Recent Vesuvius eruptions

Vesuvius sounded off with an explosive, pyroclastic flow in 1631, killing around 3,000 people along the shore, and in 1944 gave a spectacular, but relatively mild, show in an effusive eruption that spit some lava and gasses into the air.

Some 650,000 people currently live in the projected "death zone" around Vesuvius. Many pray to the Madonna del Vesuvio to guard against eruptions, and they may be wise to do so.

There have been several hundred micro-earthquakes under Vesuvius in the past several years, and vulcanologists figure there's another big eruption slowly building up force inside.

At best, it will take seven days to evacuate the area fully, but even predictable volcanoes rarely give that much warning.

Vesuvius is anything but predictable, and that is how it made history.

August 24, AD 79—The day Pompeii died

The mountain was acting up with tremors more than usual during the early months of AD 79, but no one in Pompeii or Herculaneum was expecting the cataclysmic eruption that came with little warning at noon on August 24.

The top of Vesuvius blew 12 miles into the air, and lava, ash, and pumice thundered down the sides of the volcano.

By midnight, it was over. Pompeii lay buried under at least ten feet of ash, and Herculaneum under 80 feet of mud.

Lest we forget its nature, this mountain has been named "Vesuvius," from Vesbius, which means "the unextinguished," a reminder handed down through the ages that the horrible volcano but slumbers underneath the placid mountain.

Mt. Vesuvius trip planner

Photo gallery
  • Mt. Vesuvius from space, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by NASA/ISS Expedition 4 crew member)
  • An aerial photo of Vesuvius volcano in Italy, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by Ross Elliott)
  • The long, winding path up the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by Daryl Mitchell from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
  • Panoramic view of the Vesuvius crater, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by Red Garland)
  • Mt. Vesuvius, seen from the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by Jeffrey)
  • A view of Mt. Vesuvius from the Pompeii Forum, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by Valentin Popescu)
  • The Last Days of Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo courtesy of Crew Creative, LTD and the Discovery Channel)
  • Alessandro Sanquirico
  • Last Days of Pompeii (1830–33) by Karl Bryullov, now in The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo in the Public Domain)
  • The 1944 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by unknown)
  • The March 1944 eruption of Vesuvius as seen by a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, 12th USAAF, 340th bomb group, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
  • Late 19C tinted photograph of the funicular up Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Vesuvius (Photo by Unknown)
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for rail travel

English (inglese) Italian (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...train station la ferroviaria [or] la stazione lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah [or] lah stat-zee-YO-nay
ticket un biglietto oon beel-YET-toh
first class prima classe PREE-mah CLAH-say
second class seconda classe say-CONE-dah CLAH-say
one way solo andata SO-low ahn-DAHT-tah
round trip (return) andata e ritorno ahn-DAH-tah ay ree-TOUR-noh
Just the supplement Soltanto il supplemento soul-TAHN-toh eel sou-play-MEN-toh
Just a seat reservation Soltanto una prenotazione soal-TAHN-toh oo-nah pray-no-tah-tsee-YOH-nay
I have a Eurailpass Ho il Eurailpass oh eel YOO-rail-pahs
sleeping couchette una cucetta oo-nah koo-CHET-tah
berth in a sleeping car un posto nel vagone letto oon POH-sto nell vah-GOAN-nay LET-toh
track binario been-AR-ree-yoh
train treno TRE-no
car (carriage) carozza ka-RO-tza
seat posto PO-sto
departures partenze par-TEN-zay
arrivals arrivi ah-REE-vee
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay
left luggage deposito bagagli day-PO-zee-toh ba-GAHL-yee
punch your ticket timbrare il biglietto teem-BRA-ray eel beel-YET-toh
Is this the right platform for the Rome train? E questo il binario per il treno à Roma? ay KWAY-sto eel been-AR-ree-yo pair eel TRE-no ah RO-ma? 
delayed in retardo een ree-TAR-do
strike sciopero SHO-pair-oh
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
City / Train station names
English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Main station
Rome Roma Termini
Florence Firenze Santa Maria Novella
Venice Venezia Santa Lucia
Milan Milano Centrale
Genoa Genova Porta Principe
Naples Napoli Centrale
Leghorn Livorno Centrale
Turin Torino Porta Nuova

Useful Italian for air travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)   Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
the airport l'aeroporto LAHW-ro-port-oh
the airplane l'aereo LAIR-reh-oh
terminal terminal TEAR-me-nahl
flight volo VOH-lo
gate uscita d'imbarco oo-SHEE-tah deem-BARK-oh
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
departures partenze par-TEN-zay
arrivals arrivi ah-REE-vee
delayed in ritardo een ree-TAR-doh
on time in orario een oh-RAH-ree-yo
early in avanti een ah-VAHN-tee
boarding imbarco eem-BARK-o
connecting flight la coincidenza la ko-een-chee-DEN-za
check-in accettazione ah-chet-ta-zee-YO-nee
immigration controllo passaporti cone-TRO-lo pah-sa-POR-tee
security check controllo di sicurezza kohn-TRO-lo dee see-kur-AY-tzah
customs dogana do-GA-na
shuttle la navetta lah na-VET-tah
boarding pass carta d'imbarco kart-ta deem-BARK-o
baggage claim ritiro bagagli ree-TEER-oh bah-GA-lyee
carry-on luggage bagaglio à mano bah-GA-lyo ah MA_no
checked luggage bagalio bah-GA-lyo

Useful Italian for car travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
car automobile ow-toh-MO-bee-lay
scooter/motorboke un motorino oon mo-tair-EE-no
gas station stazione di servizio stah-zee-YO-nay dee sair-VEE-tzee-yo
gas benzina ben-ZEE-nah
diesel gasolio [or] diesel gah-ZOH-lee-oh [or] DEE-zell
Fill it up, please al pieno, per favore ahl pee-YAY-noh, pair fa-VOHR-ray
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the highway l'autostrada lout-oh-STRA-dah
...the state highway la statale [written "SS"] lah sta-TAHL-eh
...the road for Rome la strada per Roma lah STRA-dah pair RO-mah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
to cross attraversare ah-tra-vair-SAR-ay
toll pedaggio peh-DA-jo
parking parcheggio par-KEH-jo
road map carta stradale kar-ta stra-DA-lay
where can I pay the fine? dove posso pagare la multa DOH-veh Po-so pag-GAR-ray la MOOL-tah

Typical road signs / terms » more

English (anglais) French (français) 
Stop Stop
Exit  Uscita
Staffic light Semaforo
One-way Senso unico
Dead-end Strada senza uscita
Parking prohibited No parcheggio or parcheggio proibito
Pedestrian zone Area pedonale
Limited Traffic Zone (you pay to drive in) ZTL or Zona Traffico Limitato

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).