In November, I wrote about the day Bob and I tried to find the road to Vesuvius. We made the mistake of trying to do this on our own, just by looking at our maps and not following the guidebook's suggestions of how to arrive at the top. It was not successful and we ended up a bit frustrated. Just before my sister and her girls arrived we decided it was worth another try, this time following the route suggested and found ourselves driving ever higher up the slopes of the volcano, appreciating the wonderful views of Naples and the bay, trying to ignore the piles of garbage visible in places on the lower slopes (and especially strange as you round the corner and come to a hotel called "Eden" next to an especially obnoxious collection.)
We got an early start and took the Naples-Salerno motorway and the Ercolano exit. We followed that road and the signs that led to "Vesuvio" passing the Observatory (closed at this time) and finally came to a dirt lot where we bought admission tickets and paid 2.50 euros to park there. A dirt path with a somewhat steep incline leads to the top of the volcano and it is impossible to describe the feeling, after walking for about 20 minutes, of looking down into mouth of a volcano and to realize that it still has all the steamy places, fumaroles, like in Solfatara that indicate heat and activity below the surface. Vesuvius has not erupted since 1944 but it is still considered to be an active volcano although at the moment it is dormant - a sleeping giant. The Observatory keeps a close watch however and it is said that they can predict an eruption one month prior to an actual event, which must be a comfort to all those people still living on its slopes, cultivating their vineyards and growing their tomatoes, apricots and olive trees.
The Vesuvius National Park covers a huge area. The volcano itself is made up of the older Monte Somma and the younger Vesuvius, whose cone is actually inside Somma. The eruption that buried Pompeii and other less famous cities in the area blew the top off the volcano so that now it looks like a big saddle in between the two mountains and it is amazing to imagine how much lava, ash, rock and debris rained down, dramatically changing its shape, along with the local landscape and burying entire cities so that only the tops of the tallest buildings - three stores high in some cases - were visible when the dust settled.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (closed Tuesdays but open without pause from 9am to 7pm daily) houses a wonderful collection of some of the best mosaics, sculptures, frescoes and household items found in the ruins and it is truly impressive to see them. They are so incredibly preserved and so gorgeous to see, we sincerely recommend anyone coming to this area to see Pompeii and Vesuvius, that they stop in Naples to complete the picture of this catastrophic event that left such a rich legacy and helped the world to understand what daily life was like during this time in the Roman Empire. We have been completely fascinated by this bit of history and plan to post photos of the ruins of not only Pompeii but also the smaller Herculaneum, the wonderful villa at Oplontis and some of the items we saw at the museum and hope you enjoy seeing them as much as we did.
Rosemary and Bob