Sunday, January 15, 2006

Independent on Sunday: Lost Resorts

The Broader Picture, by Keith Laidlaw
Photograph by NPA Group: opens in a new window

In ancient times, the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii on the edge of the Bay of Naples (pictured) were popular holiday destinations for wealthy Romans looking to enjoy lavish holidays, and the coastline around them was peppered with opulent villas. So, when Mount Vesuvius erupted at the end of August, AD 79, the area was bloated with summer visitors, many of whom perished and were buried under falling ash.

But, rather than act as a discouragement to visitors, the remains of the resorts are a huge tourist attraction today. Meanwhile, the modern city of Naples has expanded to the edge of Vesuvius, with a million people living within four miles of the cone (Pompeii was five miles away). True, the volcano is enjoying a dormant period, but it is by no means extinct and the last eruption only ended in 1944. Plus, the eruption of AD 79 was far from being the most spectacular in its colourful history of sudden, violent explosions; the Somma Rim (the arc just north of the current crater) is all that's left of an even larger volcano destroyed 17,000 years ago, while the new cone was formed by a series of eruptions, including two in 5960 and 3580 BC, thought to be among the largest Europe has ever seen. The next could start at any time.

The accompanying picture is take from 'Above the World: Stunning Satellite Images from Above Earth' (Cassell Illustrated, £30) which is available now.