By Antonio Malara
Vesuvio is an explosive volcano that reaches 1,281 meters in height. Its explosive character makes it more dangerous than an eruptive volcano. Since 79 A.D. the eruptions have followed one another with more or less regular cycles. However, after the 1944 eruption, the volcano completely stopped its activity. This is unusual and when they discovered that there is a large amount of magma underground, they started monitoring it regularly. The fact that it is surrounded by densely populated areas makes it even more dangerous. This uncertainty about the future of Vesuvio gave me a kind of anxiety that I decided to put the volcano on my wishlist. Being not far from where I live I managed to include the visit to Vesuvio in the same trip I went to visit Matera. While the trip to Matera was the first stop on the road to our destination for a rhythm gymnastics competition, Mount Vesuvio was the stop on our return trip to home. For this new hiking on Mount Vesuvio, we also had the company of a cousin of us with his family who lived in Naples. So it would have been even more interesting to also have a reunion with a relative who doesn’t live in our city anymore. We deal to see each other in Ercolano, just near the freeway exit. After the greetings I found out that my cousin never been on top of Vesuvio and he actually didn’t know how to go there but he’s a brave guy and he said “follow me I’ll find the way”. Despite he wasn’t sure about what road to take, he was speeding fast and a some point he went through a tiny and winding road with bumps which was fun to go. So without stopping for information, always speedy, turning here and there, we finally started to see the the mount and the directions sings to it.
The parking lot where we arrived was at 1.000 meters altitude and from there you could see the top of Vesuvio. I made a rough calculation and concluded that the top was not very high, so the climb didn't have to be very complex. At this point, even having my hiking shoes, I preferred to keep sneakers. We bought tickets and we all started the climb together. After a few meters we split up, both for physical reasons (who was slower, who faster) and because everyone enjoyed the view in their own way. “Il Sentiero del Gran Cono” is the name of the dirt road that, starting from a thousand meters, climbs from the north-west side and once at the top it turns all around the crater. After three uphill curves, the view of the city of Naples opens wide in front. In fact this is the first panorama that can be enjoyed after a few hundred meters. I stopped immediately to start taking pictures before the path turned completely west, leaving on the right side the view of Naples. From this point the panorama is very particular, not only can you see the whole city, but also the area of Pozzuoli, the island of Procida and the largest island of Ischia. Luckily this whole area was exposed to the sun so that I could take photos where all these details were quite visible.
When we arrived at the crater we all gathered together to rest and take a breath. The crater was not very large and could be seen very well thanks to the light, which at that moment illuminated it creating only few shadows. The east part that was seen in front was practically perpendicular with a sandy bottom, while looking at some ridge, you could see small gas fumes coming out. The path we had traveled was quite wide and with protections, but looking carefully at the top of the east side, I realized that there were groups of people visible as dots. The thing that impressed me was that there were no protections on that side and if it weren't for the presence of people it wasn't even clear that there was a path there. At this point I understood that at least there were two completely different ways to visit the volcano. Probably the east peak (which was even higher) could be visited with a guide. In other words I have underestimated Vesuvio because if ours could be a simple walk on the hill, reaching the top of the east was a real hiking exercise in which not only the shoes I had brought would be enough.
In that part of the volcano that opened on the crater there were refreshment areas, here it was full not only of tourists who spoke different languages but also of foreign school groups. These groups were made up of very young guys, this confirmed my idea that the path we were following would not be hard to run. Between one photo and another we continued on the path, at this point a new scenario opened up from the west side. The view opened out over the sea, and you could see the island of Capri and the coast of Sorrento but there was a problem. In this precise position the landscape was completely backlit so everything was seen covered in mist. It was a limited view not only for sight but also for photography. I realized that if you wanted to have a better view of that part, it would have been better to climb Vesuvius in the afternoon. Before arriving on the south side we walked a wooden walkway, in fact this small stretch was the only one without a path because it was very rocky, even here the path was not a danger. Arrived at the south, the route ended right in front of a kind of ticket office, probably from here started the tours to the highest part of the volcano. The view from here was not as beautiful as the one from which you could admire Naples, but I liked the path more. It was a wide and long straight, looking from east to west, the path seemed to get lost in the sky, this was a perspective that I liked very much. We stopped a bit in this area, taking photos together and chatting. We had so relaxed that it seemed we were outside a bar rather than on top of the volcano. After our break we started the descent.
Having found that this was only a partial visit to Vesuvio, I had an ambivalence of feelings. I hadn't planned a longer stop and I didn't know that a visit could be made to the east peak with a guide. All in all it was a pleasant experience. As I said it was more of a walk than a hike, climbing Vesuvio as we did it is like climbing a mountain. The crater itself is not very particular, it is not active so it remains a nice walk with a simply magnificent panorama. So I consider the climb to the top, more like reaching a peak from where you can admire a unique landscape rather than visiting a volcano.
The "Napoletana" experience could not be concluded without one of the greatest local traditions; "la pizza"! On the way back we stopped in a restaurant and ate a fabulous pizza. After lunch we said goodbye and left. Here too, as happened for Etna, I realized that we have unique places near home, however we do not undertake to visit them. Vesuvio is about five hours away from my house but if it hadn't been for a gymnastics competition I would not have gone to visit it, despite being in fact a “daily trip”.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D3s