Mount Vesuvius Wishes You Were Here

There is an uneasiness that comes over me when I enter a scenario out of my control. It is similar to that of receiving a test and realizing you should have studied. That piece of paper is out of your hands, yet physically in them, and most likely going to meet an over zealous red pen. Your stomach reverts inward. Heaviness comes over you. You must just guess “C” and move on.

This uneasiness met me one day in Italy. I was entrenched in a scenario out of my control. I just had to trust in nature that everything would turn out as it should.  I entered into the situation just like a test. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I did not know what the outcome could be, with no time to prepare if faced with the worst.

Mount Vesuvius is intimidating. From coastal, lemon filled, and vacation mandatory Sorrento, the volcano looms across the Bay of Naples. You sit taking in the southern Italian sun while waiters offer you overpriced pizza. You can’t help but stop mid bite, fearful of the giant that is Vesuvius sitting across from you.

Mount Vesuvius from Sorrento

Mount Vesuvius became most notorious for its 79 A.D. eruption. That blast whipped out the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. I walk the streets of Pompeii with that uneasiness I mentioned early. Packs of tourists like myself stare at frescoes, streets, and structures that are incredibly preserved due to covered ash. Casts of Pompeii’s residents still remain, capturing the emotion and the grief of a mere moment. We all seem to wander around not thinking anything of the volcano looking over us. Most of the tour groups I see aren’t staring at the ominous Vesuvius. I however, can’t take my eyes off the big man. It is like that feeling you get when you can tell someone is staring at you. I know Vesuvius is watching me.

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius duke it out for tourist attention

The treasures to be seen at Pompeii are remarkable. I’m not denying that fact, but my mind is not settled. I am walking just below a ticking time bomb. Mount Vesuvius’ last major eruption came during World War II. Geologists say it is really not when the volcano will blow its top, but just a matter of when. It seems as though they say that about all volcanoes. It has already spilled destruction dozens of times throughout history.

Ruins at Pompeii

Many people live along the slopes of Vesuvius. This is called the “red zone”, meaning these homes are in immediate danger if Vesuvius blows its top. No one seems to think anything of it. The Italian government apparently has offered handsome sums of money for those encroaching on the volcano’s personal space to move, but it is somewhat difficult to relocate a major city like nearby Naples.

Pompeii's protected artwork

After leaving Pompeii that day, a gorgeous sunset from Sorrento put on a show. As the sun faded with the sea, Vesuvius lit up in lavender. With glowing pink surrounding it, I crossed my fingers that red and black wouldn’t enter this color palette any time soon. I guess I will take a note from the Italians and not live in fear, appreciating Pompeii for what it is, what it has survived and what is has not survived. Like unexpected questions on a test, what can you do when a volcano unexpectedly decides to throw a few curve-balls on your vacation. I will just make sure I have on good running shoes the next time I visit Vesuvius.

Mount Vesuvius at Sorrento Sunset


  1. Matt says

    Great photos Suzy! It’s funny you had that feeling around Vesuvius. I took a volcanology class once and we specifically talked about the Italians living on the sides of the volcano. I didn’t know about them, but it was surely on my mind when I went to visit Pompeii as well. You never know, as seen recently with the volcano in Iceland. I guess there is that tradeoff though of fertile ground and beautiful scenery around Vesuvius. It does make for a stunning background!

  2. says

    Yes, I felt the same way about that volcano although I did trust it enough to climb around its rim. I spent a summer working in the excavations in Pompeii. And also speaking of having a different feeling from the throngs of tourists around you, I found it to be a very sad place. I couldn’t stop thinking about the tragedy that had happened there right in the same streets where the backpackers now pose for wacky photos. Also, I hate that the body casts of the victims are displayed.

    PS: I wrote a bit about being an archaeologist in Pompeii here:

  3. says

    Great photos of Vesuvius and the surrounding ruins, would love to check this out at some point. Hopefully when the volcano blows it doesn’t hurt anyone and some things are spared from destruction.


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