Mount Vesuvius, Italy

March 19, 2016

Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii in A.D. 79.

It is the only active volcano on mainland Europe.

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Vesuvius fumaroles

Mount Vesuvius is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the large population of the city of Naples and the surrounding towns on the slopes nearby.

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It not at all unsafe to visit Mount Vesuvius. Vehicles do not go to the top but will drop you off at an altitude of around 1000m.

The trail to the top climbs just under another 200m. For most people in reasonable condition its no problem but if you are not 100% fit or have a medical problem you may want to take advice.

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Naples

Mount Vesuvius has had a roughly 20-year eruption cycle, but the last serious eruption was in 1944.

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The last truly major explosion that devastated Naples was in 1631. When the main phase of the eruption was over, at least 3000 and maybe up to 6000 people were dead.

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Top of Mount Vesuvius

Pizzeria Borgo Antico di Pasquale Piscopo

I ended the day with a visit to a genuine Neapolitan pizzeria that follows the rules proposed by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

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Neapolitan pizza (Italian: pizza napoletana) can be made with ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana, made with the milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio in a semi-wild state.

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The pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 485 °C (905 °F) stone oven with an oak-wood fire. When cooked, it should be soft, elastic, tender and fragrant.

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Fontanelle Cemetery

The Fontanelle is a combination of natural caves, tuff mines, and ancient Greek and Roman tunnels.

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Tuff (from the Italian tufo) is a type of rock made of volcanic ash ejected from a vent during a volcanic eruption. Following ejection and deposition, the ash is compacted into a solid rock in a process called consolidation.

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Like many ossuaries in Europe, the Cimitero Fontanelle began as an secondary burial ground when the church yards and crypts began to overflow.

By the time the Spanish moved into the city in the early 16th century, there was already concern over where to locate cemeteries, and moves had been taken to locate graves outside of the city walls.

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Many Neapolitans, however, insisted on being interred in their local churches. To make space in the churches for the newly interred, undertakers started removing earlier remains outside the city to the cave, the future Fontanelle cemetery. The remains were interred shallowly and then joined in 1656 by thousands of anonymous corpses, victims of the great plague of that year.

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Sometime in the late 17th century, great floods washed the remains out and into the streets, presenting a grisly spectacle. The anonymous remains were returned to the cave, at which point the cave became the unofficial final resting place for the indigent of the city in the succeeding years—a vast paupers' cemetery.

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It was codified officially as such in the early 19th century under the French rule of Naples. The last great "deposit" of the indigent dead seems to have been in the wake of the cholera epidemic of 1837.

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Then, in 1872, Father Gaetano Barbati had the chaotically buried skeletal remains disinterred and catalogued. They remained on the surface, stored in makeshift crypts, in boxes and on wooden racks.

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A spontaneous cult of devotion to the remains of these unnamed dead developed in Naples. Defenders of the cult pointed out that they were paying respect to those who had had none in life, who had been too poor even to have a proper burial.

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Devotees paid visits to the skulls, cleaned them—"adopted" them, in a way, even giving the skulls back their "living" names (revealed to their caretakers in dreams).

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An entire cult sprang up, devoted to caring for the skulls, talking to them, asking for favors, bringing them flowers, etc. A small church, Maria Santissima del Carmine, was built at the entrance.

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The cult of devotion to the skulls of the Fontanelle cemetery lasted into the mid-20th century.

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In 1969, Cardinal Ursi of Naples decided that such devotion had degenerated into fetishism and ordered the cemetery to be closed.

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Restoration efforts started again in 2000-2004 to again sort the remains as well as reinforce the structure of the cave.

After years of being off limits, it is now open to the general public.