Vesuvius - The Most Famous Volcano In The World

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0120110516

Actress, Emma Fielding reads Gillian Darley's 'Vesuvius, The Most Famous Volcano in the World'.

Dormant since 1944, but still a potential threat to those who live at its foot, Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland.

In AD 79 thousands perished whilst fleeing the lava's path, hit by what is known as a pyroclastic surge, during which a hurtling jet of gas, carrying along the detritus of the eruption, at immense speed and horrifyingly high temperatures simply incinerated everything in its path.

It was, in effect, a horizontal H-bomb and thousands perished.

Amongst the volcano's victims was Pliny the Elder, and on hand to record events was his nephew, Pliny the Younger.

He wrote that the devastation was so complete that the inhabitants of Naples 'besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.'

As the belief in the power of the gods gave way to Christianity, medieval Neapolitans adopted a patron saint, Saint Januarius, to defend them from the terrible ferocity of Vesuvius' power.

The success of Januarius, (or San Genarro to the Neapolitans), depended on the miraculous liquefaction of phials of his (allegedly) dried blood.

He came into his own during the violent eruption of 1631, when he apparently intervened to halt the volcano's lava just short of the city.

After that, a whole chapel was given over to the cult of the saint.

His head was placed by the altar along with the phials of his blood and a series of priests rocked slowly to and fro for hours, if not days.

From them on, the inhabitants of Naples placed their entire faith in Januarius to save them from the volcano's fury.

With additional readings by Simon Tcherniak.

Abridged by Olivia Seligman.

Producer: Olivia Seligman

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Pliny the Younger describes the 79AD eruption.

Read by Emma Fielding.

0220110517

Actress Emma Fielding reads Gillian Darley's 'Vesuvius, The Most Famous Volcano in the World'.

Dormant since 1944, but still a potential threat to the thousands who live at its foot, Vesuvius has produced its own literature, imagery and scientific insights.

The philosopher and cleric, Bishop Berkeley visited the volcano in 1717 and was overwhelmed by its 'roaring and groaning'.

Fascinated by it, he climbed Vesuvius in the dead of night, taking a risk too far and having to run for his life.

He was captivated by the psychological and aesthetic power of the volcano, as was William Hamilton, the British Ambassador in Naples from 1764.

Smitten and obsessed, he dedicated himself to climbing the volcano and recording its terrifying moods.

He frequently risked his life getting too close to the edge of its crater, and he and his trusted one-eyed guide, Bartolomeo Pumo (known as the Cyclops of Vesuvius), often had to run for their lives.

Simultaneously Hamilton was carrying out his ambassadorial duties.

These included entertaining the young Mozart, who performed at his house against a percussive accompaniment of volcanic activity.

After the death of Hamilton's wife, he married the notorious Emma, a voluptuous figure who was rarely drawn or painted without the outline of the volcano behind her.

Emma Hamilton was to cuckold her husband, becoming Nelson's mistress, and bearing him a child, Horatia.

Meanwhile the slopes of the volcano were starting to become the playground of smart Neapolitans, and other Europeans who had embarked on the Grand Tour.

All were inclined to look on the prospect of volcanic activity as a bonus rather than a hazard.

Additional readings by Simon Tcherniak.

Abridged by Olivia Seligman.

Producer: Olivia Seligman

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

The volcano ensnares Bishop Berkeley, and the Grand Tourists of the 18th century.

0320110518

Actress Emma Fielding reads Gillian Darley's 'Vesuvius, The Most Famous Volcano in the World'.

Dormant since 1944, but still a potential threat to the thousands who live at its foot, Vesuvius has produced its own literature, imagery and scientific insights.

The Romantics were particularly intrigued by its mysterious violence and the German writer and polymath, Goethe, visited the volcano in 1787.

The sight of Vesuvius erupting one evening was completely overwhelming for him.

No subsequent scene would ever provide such a combination of thrilling and spiritual calm, 'the emotions and the senses in complete equilibrium'.

The poet, Shelley, who was fond of invoking volcanoes for their political message, climbed Vesuvius with his wife, Mary.

The intensity of the experience brought him close to a breakdown and he wove his impressions of the volcano into his famous play, Prometheus Unbound.

Scientists, Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday, celebrated the defeat of Napoleon with a huge, euphoric midnight feast on the slopes of the volcano, accompanied by toasts to 'Old England' and the singing of 'God Save The King' and 'Rule Britannia'.

They were followed by Charles Dickens, who finally managed to visit Vesuvius in 1845.

He undertook a memorable moonlit climb, accompanied by his wife and daughter, and a 'rather heavy' gentleman from Naples, whose ascent required a lifting party of fifteen men.

But scientists, poets and writers were not alone in their fascination with Vesuvius.

It was starting to inspire novels, plays, and recreations of the volcano itself the world over, as the general public was increasingly drawn to its marvels.

Abridged by Olivia Seligman.

Additional readings by Simon Tcherniak

Producer: Olivia Seligman

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Shelley and Dickens visit the volcano and scientists Faraday and Davy feast on its slopes.

0420110519

Actress Emma Fielding reads Gillian Darley's 'Vesuvius, The Most Famous Volcano in the World'.

Dormant since 1944, but still a potential threat to the thousands who live at its foot, Vesuvius has produced its own literature, imagery and scientific insights.

In the early nineteenth century, geologists long used to seeing the volcano as a giant chemistry set, were now all set to use it as a research laboratory for fieldwork using first-hand evidence.

Industrialists were also fascinated and the great iron master and inventor, James Naysmith, climbed the volcano in 1865, tied a card from his Bridgewater Foundry to a piece of lava, and chucked it into the volcano as a 'token of respectful civility to Vulcan, the head of our craft'.

For him, as for the ancients, the volcano potentially held the secrets of the universe.

Polymath, Mary Somerville, founder of the Oxford women's college, moved from Rome to Naples, from where she could observe the volcano's behaviour with great attention.

She was to witness and be moved by the terrible destruction of the 1872 eruption.

Afterwards, volcanologist, Frank Perret, an American electrical engineer, took the first steps towards predicting an eruption as well as being one of the first to photograph the eruption of 1906 in great detail.

He also observed the terrible scene in Naples itself, as the population attempted to flee the city, a sight which had changed little since the time of Pompeii.

Perret was amongst those imprisoned by heavy ash in Vesuivus' Observatory during the eruption.

Along with six caribinieri he and other scientists could not leave the building for more than a fortnight, but were able to record a volcanic eruption from inside the volcanic zone for the first time.

Additional readings by Virginia Ironside.

Abridged by Olivia Seligman

Producer: Olivia Seligman

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

James Naysmith and Mary Somerville are fascinated by the volcano.

Emma Fielding reads.

05 LAST20110520

Actress Emma Fielding reads Gillian Darley's 'Vesuvius, The Most Famous Volcano in the World'.

Dormant since 1944, but still a potential threat to the thousands who live at its foot, Vesuvius has produced its own literature, imagery and scientific insights.

It has also attracted visitors from all over the world.

Many of them have flocked to see the perfect casts of a group of fleeing Romans, captured in their final moments as the deadly volcanic ash incarcerated them in Pompeii.

Thomas Cook, the 'Napoleon of Excursions' led his initial tour to the volcano in 1864 and from then on the crowds kept coming, lured by the gruesome prospect of seeing these contorted bodies, the possibility of another major eruption and the many other tourist attractions on offer.Transport improved, first with a funicular for the arduous ascent to the top of the volcanic cone, and then an electrified railway took visitors to its foot.

Freud, along with the Surrealists, was deeply curious about Vesuvius, but tourism and artistic interest came to an end with the start of the Second World War.

A young officer, Norman Lewis, serving in Naples, witnessed the terrible eruption of 1944 at first-hand.

The Allied forces at first thought the noise had come from the detonation of a huge bomb.

He recorded the way the villagers from the badly-affected San Sebastiano reverted to the superstitions of mediaeval times by praying to their own Saints to save them from the terrifying lava flow.

Astonishingly, their prayers were answered.

Since 1944 a huge amount of building has taken place on the dormant slopes of the volcano.

How can Italy really be prepared for the moment when Vesuvius comes to life again, as it surely must?

Additional Readings by Simon Tcherniak.

Abridged by Olivia Seligman.

Producer: Olivia Seligman

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Emma Fielding reads.

Tourists view casts of fleeing victims of Vesuvius in Pompeii.