79 AD

"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." by Pliney the younger (ad 61-113)

One of the most impressive things to see in Europe these days, well, assuming you don’t live in Europe, and also assuming you are a bit of a history buff; is mount Vesuvius and it’s two historic ruined cities Pompeii and Herculaneum. We have all heard the story of the devastation that took place almost two thousand years ago, and many of us have been there to tour the ruins of the once great cities and witness first hand the tragedy of the contorted body casts of the victims.

But did you know that Vesuvius has not been silent since that historic eruption in 79 AD when Pliny the Younger watched from Misenum as his uncle, Pliny the Elder, sailed his fleet of Quadriremes war ships across the Bay of Naples to rescue Rectina and as many people as he could from the doomed land? No, in fact, Vesuvius has erupted more than one hundred times since then! The most recent eruption in modern times being in March 1944 when Vesuvius erupted with enough force to destroy the surrounding villages of Ottaviano, San Sebastiano El Vesuvio, and Massa di Somma, not to mention eighty eight U.S. B52 bombers with engines clogged from the ash. ( this photo of Vesuvius erupting in 1944 by Jack Reinhardt, B24 Tailgunner during WW2)

Today however, only sixty years after it’s last eruption, people live carefree along the bottom of the great volcano. A little over three million of them in fact. The mountain is quiet, and actually seems to radiate a sort of calm over the area as it slumbers.

For me, Vesuvius is one of those famous historic sites that brings your imagination to life. Seeing this peaceful mountain now, and then remembering the destruction and devastation it caused and the cities it destroyed can bring Goosebumps to your skin. This powerful ancient beast not only killed thousands with it's massive eruption, but made it’s own ancient snapshots of some of its victims, forever freezing them in time so that future generations like us could still bear witness to its power two thousand years later. ( The cast of a man who seems to be covering his face from the rushing cloud of ash, instantly preserved in time, a snapshot of destruction left to us by Vesuvius)

Today, you can actually climb to the top of Vesuvius. Have an intimate relationship with this infamous mountain and follow the spiraling path to its rim. It is a historic national park area now. If you have never had the chance to see Vesuvius in person, you know what I always say. Go, go now. It’s worth the effort.

And what became of Pliny the Elder who in 79 AD sailed his ships across the bay to study the phenomenon of the erupting Vesuvius and rescue the people? Well, the wind was not cooperative. Favorable to those who wanted to go to the danger yes, but unfavorable to those who wanted to escape. I will let Pliny the Younger tell it in his own words, the words of the only surviving eyewitness account that is considered reliable;

“They tied pillows on top of their heads as protection against the shower of rock. It was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night. But they had torches and other lights. They decided to go down to the shore, to see from close up if anything was possible by sea. But it remained as rough and uncooperative as before. Resting in the shade of a sail he drank once or twice from the cold water he had asked for. Then came an smell of sulfur, announcing the flames, and the flames themselves, sending others into flight but reviving him. Supported by two small slaves he stood up, and immediately collapsed. As I understand it, his breathing was obstructed by the dust-laden air, and his innards, which were never strong and often blocked or upset, simply shut down. When daylight came again 2 days after he died, his body was found untouched, unharmed, in the clothing that he had had on. He looked more asleep than dead." Pliny the Younger
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