World Facts

When Did Mount Vesuvius Erupt?

The major eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred in the year 79 CE.

Mount Vesuvius, known in Italian as Monte Vesuvio, is a volcanic mountain located in the Gulf of Naples, Campania, Italy, about 5.6 miles west of the city of Naples. Together with other mountains and volcanic features, such as Mount Epomeo and Phlegraean Fields, Mount Vesuvius is part of the Campanian volcanic arc. The height of the mountain has fluctuated in response to eruptions but had an elevation of approximately 4,203 feet in 2013.

Major Eruption

Experts estimate that the mountain was formed some 200,000 years ago, but did not initially exist as a volcano. Historically, the mountain has experienced numerous eruptions, the most significant of which occurred in the year 79 CE and is considered to be one of the most disastrous volcanic eruptions in history. The eruption covered with ash and destroyed numerous towns, namely Pompeii, Stabiae, Oplontis, and Herculaneum. It is estimated that the eruption released energy equal to about 100,000 times that of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the exact number is unknown, the remains of more than 1,000 bodies have since been recovered.

Mount Vesuvius has since erupted numerous times. For example, nine eruptions were recorded between the year 79 and 1037. One major eruption during this period occurred in 512. Due to its severity, Theodoric the Great, the Gothic king of Italy at that time, excused the population that lived on the mountain from their tax obligations. Today, approximately three million people live near Mount Vesuvius, which is the only volcanic mountain on mainland Europe to experience a major eruption within the past century. For this reason, it is classified among the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

Most Recent Eruption

Mount Vesuvius erupted eight times during the 19th century, and another four times in the 20th century. The last major eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred on March 17, 1944. Prior to that, the mountain erupted in in 1906, 1926, and 1929. The 1944 eruption began on March 17 and lasted for a week and a half. The eruption was characterized by 3.2 feet of ash deposits in some places, as well as lava full or rocks and debris. In addition, there were explosions and violent eruptions of lava.

In total, the 1944 eruption released material that had a volume of about 0.01 cubic kilometers. According to the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), the 1944 eruption is classified as VEI 3, while the eruption from 79 was VEI 5. The 1944 eruption resulted in the death of 26 Italian civilians and displaced an additional 12,000 people. Military units from the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) 340th Bombardment Group were also stationed near the area but suffered no casualties. Most civilians killed lived close to the town of Salerno, which experienced intense ash fall. Reports also state that two children were among the dead after ash boiled water in a tank until it exploded in San Sebastiano. The Vesuvius Observatory was founded in 1841 to monitor future activity and study its past and is also responsible for providing warnings for future eruptions.

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