A.D. 79: Mount Vesuvius erupted with a mighty force, obliterating the Roman town of Pompeii and all its inhabitants. Pliny the Younger described the frightening scene to historian Tacitus in a letter:
“Ash was falling onto the ships now, darker and denser the closer they went. Now it was bits of pumice, and rocks that were blackened and burned and shattered by the fire. Now the sea is shoal; debris from the mountain blocks the shore. He paused for a moment wondering whether to turn back as the helmsman urged him. ‘Fortune helps the brave,’ he said, ‘Head for Pomponianus.'"
Today Italy's volcanos are a little more predictable, which is what makes them the perfect day-out from some of the major southern cities and islands...
Mount Vesuvius can only be described with superlatives. The most studied and most populated volcano with nearly half a million people living in the evacuation area, it is the only mainland European volcano to have erupted in the last century. Its deadly eruption in A.D. 79 is a significant chapter in world history, well-recorded by both archaeological studies and literature. The last eruptions took place on 7 April 1906, with about 100 casualties, and in March 1944, destroying a few villages.
Figures of Pompeii © Carlo Mirante/Flickr.com
Vesuvius National Park boasts an incredible fauna and flora across 13 municipalities, which celebrate the dormant volcano's heritage with events throughout the year. A walk along any one of the nine challenging, colour-coded trails provides insights into people’s fascination with Vesuvius, and their dependence on the rich volcanic soil for agriculture since time immemorial. www.parconazionaledelvesuvio.it
Etna eruption on 3 December 2015, by Ian Sample, source: Flickr/quapan
At 3,350 metres, Mount Etna is not only Europe's highest, but also the world's most active volcano having last erupted in December 2015 in spectacular fashion. Continuous eruptions over the past 500,000 years have allowed scientists to develop a greater understanding of volcanology. Along with the abundant ecosystems that it supports, Mount Etna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that comprises nearly 20,000 hectares.
Etna © urban82-flickr.com
Stretching across 20 cities with a total population of about 240,000, the Etna Regional Nature Park offers two tourist areas where you can find accommodation, restaurants, car parks and cablecars, in addition to the Catania Astrophysics Observatory and a well-established network of hiking routes. Make reservations for guided drives or tours to make the most of your visit. www.parcoetna.it
Stromboli © David Schroeder
The awesome Stromboli rises from the Tyrrhenian Sea in all its fire-spouting, lava-streaming majesty. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits on one of the eight stunning Aeolian Islands which have been described in Greek mythology and Ulysses' Odyssey. The volcano has minor eruptions all the time, and so it is nicknamed the Mediterranean's Lighthouse.
With less than 1,000 inhabitants, the isle of Stromboli can be reached from many ports, but principally Milazzo on Sicily. Leave your car here and travel around the volcanic island by scooter, as the roads are too narrow for automobiles. You can either take the inland route towards San Vincenzo Church, or stay on the coast that wraps around Ficogrande and Piscità. Ustica Lines and Siremar run hydrofoil and ferry services between Milazzo and Stromboli. For more information: www.usticalines.it or www.siremar.it