The Vesuvius National Park was created in June, 1995, to protect the area around the volcano, together with the rich variety of animal and plant species that can be found there. It covers an area of 135 square kilometres around Mount Vesuvius and lies totally within the province of Naples, in the region of Campania.
Mount Vesuvius itself is one of the best known and most studied volcanoes in the world. Its distinct shape can be immediately recognised and has come to symbolise the city of Naples. However, that shape is actually made up of two volcanoes, known as the Somma-Vesuvius volcanic complex. Mount Vesuvius is actually a volcano within a volcano. The outer, broken cone is Mount Somma, now extinct, with the active volcano, Mount Vesuvius, having formed within its crater, probably during the eruption that destroyed Pompei in AD 79.
Mount Vesuvius at its highest point is 1,277 metres and the crater currently has a diameter of 450 metres and a depth of 300 metres. The Vesuvius National Park is also home to 612 plant species and 227 animal species.
One of the most dramatic aspects of the Vesuvius National Park is the opportunity to walk up the side of Mount Vesuvious and look into the crater of an active volcano! The crater is called 'Il Gran Cono'. Visitors initially arrive at the 'Piazzale', or 'Square' which is at an altitude of 1,000 metres. It can be reached by car, bus or train and there is a Visitor Centre that provides useful information and sells maps.
After buying a ticket, it is a relatively easy walk of about 800 metres to the edge of the crater. Throughout the trip, there are spectacular views of the 'Valle del Gigante', the plain that separates Mount Vesuvious from the crater of Mount Somma. You can also see across much of the region of Campania and into Lazio.
In addition to the Volcano itself. the Vesuvius area is home to many historic and cultural experiences. The most well-known are the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneam where visitors can stroll around the Roman towns and imagine what life was like before the fateful eruption of AD 79.
The 'Antiquarium of Herculaneum' is an enhancement of the visit to the ruins, it collects artefacts and statues from Pompei and Herculaneum.
Nearby is the 'MAV' The 'Virtual Archaeological Museum of Herculaneum'. One of the most modern museums in Italy, and located close to the archaeological excavations, it offers over 70 multimedia installations bringing the main archaeological sites of Pompei, Herculaneum, Baia, Stabia and Capri back to life and splendour.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 released energy 100,000 times greater than that created by the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 1,000 people died in the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae, as well other settlements in the surrounding area. A cloud of stones, ash and volcanic gas reached a height of over 30 kilomentres. Although there were many other eruptions before AD 79, several of them more powerful, we know more about that one through the writings of Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the destruction of Pompei from the northern end of the Bay of Naples. This particular type of volcanic eruption is called 'Plinian' after his influence.
Vesuvius has erupted many times since, but none of the eruptions have been as powerful. The most recent eruption was in 1944. At the time, the United States Army Airforces were based at Pompeii Airfield near Terzigno, a few kilometres from the eastern base of the volcano. More than 80 aircraft were destroyed.
Today, Mount Vesuvius is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because more than three million people live near enough to be affected, and more than half a million living in the immediate danger zone. This makes it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world. Vesuvius also has a tendency for violent, explosive eruptions of the 'Plinian' type.