This was sleep, not death. In 1631 the awakening came in an eruption of terrible violence. Almost in a moment the green mantle of woodland and shrubbery was torn away and death and destruction left where peace and safety had seemed assured.
Seven streams of lava poured from the crater and swept rapidly down the mountain side, leaving ruin along their paths. Resina, Granasello and Torre del Greco, three villages that had grown up during the period of quiescence, were more or less overwhelmed by the molten lava. Great torrents of hot water also poured out, adding to the work of desolation. It was estimated that eighteen thousand of the inhabitants were killed.
What made the horror all the greater was a frightful error of judgment, similar to that of the Governor of Martinique at St. Pierre. The Governor of Torre del Greco had refused to be warned in time, and prevented the people from making their escape until it was too late. Not until the lava had actually reached the walls was the order for departure given. Before the order could be acted upon the molten streams burst through the walls into the crowded streets, and overwhelmed the vast majority of the inhabitants.
In this violent paroxysm the whole top of the mountain is said to have been swept away, the new crater which took the place of the old one being greatly lowered. From that date Vesuvius has never been at rest for any long interval, and eruptions of some degree of violence have been rarely more than a few years apart. Of its various later manifestations of energy we select for description that of 1767, of which an interesting account by a careful observer is extant.
From the 10th of December, 1766, to March, 1767, Vesuvius was quiet; then it began to throw up stones from time to time. In April the throws were more frequent, and at night the red glare grew stronger on the cloudy columns which hung over the crater. These repeated throws of cinders, ashes and pumice-stones so much increased the small cone of eruption which had been left in the centre of the flat crateral space that its top became visible at a distance.
On the 7th of August there issued a small stream of lava from a breach in the side of a small cone; the lava gradually filled the space between the cone and the crateral edge; on the 12th of September it overflowed the crater, and ran down the mountain. Stones were ejected which took ten seconds in their fall, from which it may be computed that the height which the stones reached was 1,600 feet. Padre Torre, a great observer of Vesuvius, says they went up above a thousand feet. The lava ceased on the 18th of October, but at 8 A. M. on the 19th it rushed out at a different place, after volleys of stones had been thrown to an immense height, and the huge traditional pine-tree of smoke reappeared. On this occasion that vast phantom extended its menacing shadow over Capri, at a distance of twenty-eight miles from Vesuvius.