Looking upon the work of the volcano as essentially destructive, as we naturally do, we have here a valuable example of its power as a preservative agent; and it is certainly singular that it is to a volcano we owe much of what we know concerning the cities, dwellings and domestic life of the people of the Roman Empire.
It would be very fortunate for students of antiquity if similar disasters had happened to cities in other ancient civilized lands, however unfortunate it might have been to their inhabitants. But doubtless we are better off without knowledge gained from ruins thus produced.
Eruptions of Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli.
Mount Vesuvius is of especial interest as being the only active volcano on the continent of Europe—all others of that region being on the islands of the Mediterranean—and for the famous ancient eruption described in the last chapter. Before this it had borne the reputation of being extinct, but since then it has frequently shown that its fires have not burned out, and has on several occasions given a vigorous display of its powers.
During the fifteen hundred years succeeding the destructive event described eruptions were of occasional occurrence, though of no great magnitude. But throughout the long intervals when Vesuvius was at rest it was noted that Etna and Ischia were more or less disturbed.
THE BIRTH OF MONTE NUOVO
In 1538 a startling evidence was given that there was no decline of energy in the volcanic system of Southern Italy. This was the sudden birth of the mountain still known as Monte Nuovo, or New Mountain, which was thrown up in the Campania near Avernus, on the spot formerly occupied by the Lucrine Lake.
For about two years prior to this event the district had been disturbed by earthquakes, which on September 27 and 28, 1538, became almost continuous. The low shore was slightly elevated, so that the sea retreated, leaving bare a strip about two hundred feet in width. The surface cracked, steam escaped, and at last, early on the morning of the 29th, a greater rent was made, from which were vomited furiously “smoke, fire, stones and mud composed of ashes, making at the time of its opening a noise like the loudest thunder.”
The ejected material in less than twelve hours built the hill which has lasted substantially in the same form to our day. It is a noteworthy fact that since the formation of Monte Nuovo there has been no volcanic disturbance in any part of the Neapolitan district except in Vesuvius, which for five centuries previous had remained largely at rest.
LAVA FROM VESUVIUS
The first recognised appearance of lava in the eruptions of Vesuvius was in the violent eruption of 1036. This was succeeded at intervals by five other outbreaks, none of them of great energy. After 1500 the crater became completely quiet, the whole mountain in time being grown over with luxuriant vegetation, while by the next century the interior of the crater became green with shrubbery, indicating that no injurious gases were escaping.