Although Pompeii is one of the most famous attractions in Italy, visitors to the ruins of the old Roman city often drive right by Mt. Vesuvius. In doing so, they are missing one of the most awe-inspiring, and historically important sites in all of Campania – the mountain whose volcanic eruptions not only created the ruins of Pompeii as we know them but changed the entire history of the region. Half natural monument, half symbol of the apocalypse; One of Europe’s last active volcanoes is equal parts history, myth, and geology. The AD 79 eruption that buried Pompeii and the nearby town of Herculaneum, is Vesuvius’ most famous eruption but by no means its only one. Historical records show at least 36 others, the most recent of which happened in 1944. Luckily, today it’s closely monitored for any signs of activity and a trip to the summit is a unique way to learn how the geology of Italy has shaped its history and culture.
Visiting Mt. Vesuvius: Things to See
The crater of Mt. Vesuvius is roughly 1.2 miles in diameter. At various points in its history it has spewed forth so much molten lava and debris that ash has rained down on Istanbul, some 750 miles away. Needless to say, this is the focal point of some immense natural forces. The land around Vesuvius was declared a national park in June 1995 (the Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio) and there are nine separate nature walks around the volcano. Remember, though: you can only walk the edge of the crater with a certified guide. Walking the crater’s lunar landscape is one of Italy’s best outdoors adventures, and offers a hike that’s completely different to almost any other in Europe. Watch as steam from small vents inside the crater shoots up, reminding you that while the volcano may currently be dormant, it certainly isn’t dead.
99% of visitors look up at Mt. Vesuvius, but trust us, looking down from the summit is much better. From up there you can see all of Pompeii, Naples, the spectacular bay of Naples, some of the Appenine mountains and a large swathe of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a vantage point that feels so omnipotent you’ll have an easy time understanding why the volcano was long thought to be the domain of gods and monsters. It will also give you a sense of just how big the AD 79 eruption was, and how much devastation it caused. You can spend as much time as you want on the summit soaking up the human and geological history of the mountain or you can simply sit back at the cafe and enjoy a cool drink and take in the sights.
You can’t tell the story of Mt. Vesuvius without talking about Pompeii and vice versa. The sleepy Roman resort town was completely covered by ash and sediment that rolled down the mountain during its AD 79 eruption. Although it was bad news for the inhabitants (many of whom escaped but lost their homes) it had the unexpected “benefit” of preserving the town in a sort of volcanic time capsule. While Roman cities were sacked, destroyed, abandoned or recycled into new cities over the next thousand years, Pompeii remained untouched until treasure hunters, academics, and engineers began to excavate it in the 19th century. Today it stands alongside Ostia Antica as one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world and is a major stop on most visitors’ Italian itineraries.
Tips for Visiting Mt. Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius National Park is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm in July and August. From April through June and also September it closes at 5:00pm. In March and October it closes at 4:00pm. The ticket office for crater tours closes one hour before the park closes.
Because Mt. Vesuvius sits inside a National Park it does not require tickets to visit it. However, you cannot go to the summit unless you are in the company of a certified guide, who you can book through the Park offices or through tour agencies like Walks of Italy.
You can’t visit the crater without a certified guide. These can be arranged through the park offices or on one of Walks of Italy’s guided tours to Mt. Vesuvius.
The Best Time to Visit Mt. Vesuvius
A trip to Mt. Vesuvius is best taken in conjunction with a trip to Pompeii. The best time to visit Pompeii is typically in the off-season (roughly October through April) because it tends to be very crowded in the summer. Unfortunately, the off season can be a difficult time to see the summit of Vesuvius because it can be closed due to inclement weather like fog or the occasional snow. Weather and crowd-wise, spring and early fall are the best times to visit the mountain along with the ruins below.
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