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Mount Vesuvius: Facts, Eruptions & History

Instructor: Jeff Fennell

Jeff has a master's in engineering and has taught Earth science both domestically and internationally.

Mount Vesuvius destroyed the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum during its 79 A.D. eruption. Learn facts about the history of this active stratovolcano along the Bay of Naples, as well as the dates when it erupted. Updated: 02/04/2022

Mount Vesuvius

The Mediterranean is a very seismically active region on Earth, stressed by Africa pushing into Europe. This region is home to a number of volcanoes that are still active today. Located in this region is Mount Vesuvius, one of the world's most famous volcanoes. With an elevation of 1,281 m (4,200 ft.), Mount Vesuvius is an active stratovolcano in southwestern Italy located on the coast of the Bay of Naples. Two million people live on the lower slopes of the volcano.

Vesuvius first formed in the late Pleistocene geological history, possibly less than 200,000 years ago. Although Vesuvius is a relatively young volcano, it has reportedly erupted many times from AD 79-1631. Vesuvius is best known for the eruption in 79 AD that destroyed the city of Pompeii. The eruption is believed to have killed more than 16,000 people and destroyed the city of Pompeii by ash, mud and rocks from the eruption.

Mount Vesuvius in Italy

79 A.D. Eruption

Seismic activity was common in the area, so citizens paid little attention in early August of 79 AD when several earthquakes shook beneath Pompeii. People were unprepared for the explosion that took place shortly after noon on the 24th of August. By 1 p.m., the sun in Pompeii was blocked by ash, and heavy ash was falling at a rate of six inches (15 centimeters) per hour.

Shortly after midnight, a wall of volcanic mud engulfed the town of Herculaneum, obliterating the town as many of its citizens fled toward Pompeii. The next morning at about 6:30 a.m., a glowing cloud of volcanic gases and debris rolled down Vesuvius' slopes and engulfed the city of Pompeii. Most of the victims died instantly as superheated air rushed through the city, leaving the bodies in a semi-curled position to be quickly buried in ash and thus preserved in detail for hundreds of years.

Buried bodies of the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD

It is largely from the accounts of a survivor of the eruption, Pliny the Younger, that people today know the details of the eruption. Excavations by archaeologists since 1800 have completed the story.

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

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