Tag Archives: italy

Esplora i Vulcani Italiani

Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields – the burning heart of Italy

2000 Years after the last giant eruption which destroyed the area around the famous vulcano, we visit Vesuvius and Campi Fegrei. A volcanic unstable area in mid Italy, now populated by many, many people again. As was the case in 79 AD, when an impressive eruption of Vesuvius destroyed cities like Pompeii and Herculaneum, killing over 10000 people. I have read the book ‘Pompeii’ by Robert Harris for reference. I liked it a lot and now want to see things with my own eyes. 

First stop is Costiera Amalfi, the beautiful coast just South of Napels, and the lovely villages of Amalfi and Positano. A hectic drive where we first get lost in the outskirts of Napels, then drive along a narrow coastal road to finally end up in beautiful, typical Italian villages. Yes very, very touristic, but amazingly beautiful. This is a nice start of our holiday. 

Next visit is mount Vesuvius. We can see it watching us from a distance, overlooking the whole region. It is like a giant sleeping evil mountain. I am impressed by its size and presence, especially when I think back at the story in the book and realising what it is capable of. However, reaching the parking I am not so impressed anymore to be honest. The walk up is easy and the crater is just a hole with a bunch of rocks. No, certainly not what I had imagined. The view from the top is great, that is at least something. Knowing this volcano is not extinct and seeing the houses of over 4.5 million people living in Napels I just realize this will end dramatic again in future.

We vist Herculaneum, nowadays called Ercolaneo. It is a city destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius. The excavations are located in the middle of a new town, with the volcano standing in the background. It feels impressive to be able to walk on and in history. I like this place a lot, especially with the beautiful mosaic and wall paintings. It is very well preserved and relatively quiet.

Proceeding on our tour along the Phlagraean Fields we pass Solfatara. A dormant volcanic crater, smelling like rotten eggs with its active sulpuric fumaroles and mud pools. Amazing to find a place like this in a dense populated area. We get our free facial treatment walking around the fumes and move on to Miseno. In a newsletter of the Dutch Geological Society I read an item about the Piscina Mirabilis. It is one of the largest cisterns dating back to the Roman times and is currently privately owned. We ring a doorbell, a grumpy Italian lady opens the door and we ask very friendly if we may visit the site. She opens the gate with a large key and leaves us to it. Hilarious, but so beautiful. And sinister in a way, walking in this underground, damp, spooky place. There are no other tourists around, surprisingly. I love it!

A trip to this area is not complete without visiting Pompeii of course. One of the most famous Italian cities. I have been here before, some years ago. And still it is very impressive. I can feel, see, almost smell the live as it was lived two thousand years ago. Streets, houses, theater, bath house, squares, it is all still there, overlooked by this impressive evil mountain in the background. Brrr… I do not want to think of how these peolle must have felt during the eruption. I do see the plaster casts of people and their pets, reminding us of their sudden death by the hot, acid gasses. Impressive. Is that where the phrase “see Napels and die” comes from?

“Vedi Napoli e poi muori”


Il fuego & il mare

For years and years I knew I wanted to see lava. I just never knew where to go to, until my work made sure I got connected with geologists. I learned  about Stromboli soon enough. A volcano, close by, erupting 360 days a year in the Mediterranean. In May 2010 I finally made the trip to Stromboli & Sicily with some friends. We arrive in Catania, get our rental car and drive to the north.
We stay the first day in the historic town of Milazzo. A quiet town, nice buildings, good coffee and beautiful views on the Mediterranean. We buy our ferry tickets to Stromboli for the next morning. A ferry takes us in no time to a typical volcano fantasy. A strato volcano in the sea. The sight is impressive and very quiet. No traffic on this island, just some small tricycle scooters. And the weather is lovely. We will go up the mountain at the end of the next day, so we enjoy the scenery and the superb food.

Hiking up Stromboli is a touristic event. The number of visitors is regulated, due to the danger on the volcano. We get a helmet, a safety talk (don’t run when she erupts, watch where the lava bombs are falling and duck away in time) and we leave around 4pm. The idea is to be on top when the sun sets. For an extra spectacular view. The hike up is easy and nice. Fantastic views on the island, searching for some small hexagonal pieces of lava in the ashes on the slopes. When we get to the top, the sun is already setting slowly and beautifully. Between us and the sunset is something I hoped to see. Stromboli is erupting from 3 craters. Wow! Red hot lava is spit meters high in the air. How powerful nature can be. The sound is like crisping wood in a fireplace. It keeps on exploding, and more, and more… until we need to go down. Unfortunately we only get roughly 30 minutes on the top to enjoy this show. Then we have to go down, skiing downhil through the ashes on our shoes, in the dark! We end the day in a restaurant, with a bad pizza and a nice bottle of wine. A little tipsy we enjoy the fantastic experience of the day. Something to remember for ever!

The next day we go back to mainland Sicily. We have a few more days and decide to visit another famous volcano, Mount Etna. After driving some hours through the countryside, passing historic villages and meeting a few locals in their orange orchard, we stay over in Linguaglossa, a small town with a beautiful view on Mt Etna. With its roughly 3.3 km height (this differs from eruption to eruption) it is the second highest volcano in Europe, after Mt. Elbrus. It is on the list of World Heritage Sites from Unesco, it is more than twice as high as Mt. Vesuvius and it is one of the most active volcanoes in world. We drive though a beautifull forrest and natural area when all of a sudden the road passes through a lava field. And then, in the distance, the volcano is looming out of the trees. Still with some snow on the top. It looks impressive and seems so harmless. The size of the lavafield, remains from very recent eruptions, tells us otherwise. We enjoy the scenery for a while and drive down to Catania.

In Catania we stay the night. But not before we do some sight seeing. It is a nice town, very Sicilian, with churches and a nice square. We enjoy a tasty sea food dinner and a good glass of wine (Nero d’Avola). It was a very short break, but worthwile in many ways. I am sure I will come back one day! Addio…

In Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (Voyage au Centre de la Terre), Axel and Otto Lidenbrock emerge from their subterranean journey from the volcano on Stromboli:

Right above our heads, at a great height, opened the crater of a volcano from which escaped, from one quarter of an hour to the other, with a very loud expression, a lofty jet of flame mingled with pumice stone, cinders, and lava. I could feel the convulsions of Nature in the mountain, which breathed like a huge whale, throwing up from time to time fire and air through its enormous vents…

‘Come si noma questa isola?’ – ‘What is the name of this island?’ ‘Stromboli,’ replied the rickety little shepherd, dashing away from Hans and disappearing into the olive groves. We thought little enough about him.

“Stromboli! What effect on the imagination did these few words produce! We were in the center of the Mediterranean, amidst the eastern archipelago of mythological memory, in the ancient Strongylos, where Aeolus kept the wind and the tempest chained up. And those blue mountains, which rose toward the rising of the sun, were the mountains of Calabria.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne