Explosive History: April 4th, 1906 Vesuvius Eruption

April 4, 2021Kayla Thompson, Adult Services Coordinator

Many people know of the great Vesuvius explosion that decimated Pompeii in 79 A.D. The ruins have become a huge tourist attraction, and archaeologists, historians, and scientists alike have been enamored with the story of Pompeii and its demise. But how many people know much more than that? Did you know that the volcano is still active today and threatens the hundreds of thousands of lives that live at the base and around this highly destructive volcano? Or that over the years since 79 A.D. the volcano has erupted more than once and even more than 10 or 20 times? How about the 1906 explosion that killed more than 100 civilian lives? There is more to Vesuvius than its ancient roots. Let’s look a little more into the history of this interesting earthly phenomenon!

Pompeii 79 A.D.: This eruption is considered one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions of all time. According to Wikipedia, the explosion released a large cloud of stones, volcanic ash, and gases about 21 miles into the air and released 100,000 times the thermal energy of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into the surrounding areas. This eruption destroyed both the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum at this time. Though it is still not possible to ascertain how many people actually died during this time, casts of 1,044 victims found in ash fall deposits have been made and the bones of over 102 people have been recovered from Pompeii and another 322 have been discovered at Herculaneum. This is in no way an accurate count and is only what has been discovered in the ruins.

Over the years, the volcano has continued to erupt and has been thought to have erupted over three dozen times from the 3rd to 19th centuries. The most recent eruptions being 1906, 1926, 1929, and the last eruption was in 1944.

1906 Vesuvius Eruption: According to an article titled “The Grand Eruption of Vesuvius in 1906” written by William Herbert Hobbs from The Journal of Geology vol. 14, the eruption of lava began around May of 1905. This light flow of lava continued until early April when activity started to increase. April 5th the explosive eruptions became more violent and activity peaked around April 7th when earthquakes were felt in Naples. In the end, the greatest loss of life was in the city of San Giuseppe, where about 100 people were killed mostly due to roof cave ins. A great number of the deaths happened in a church where citizens sought refuge, but were ultimately killed when the roof collapsed due to the amount of ash that was piling up.

During this time, Italy was going to host the 1908 Olympics but due to the damage in Naples and the surrounding areas a new site had to be found. The games ended up being held in London that year.

According to Wikipedia, the volcano is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanic sites in the world due to the 3,000,000 people living close enough to be directly impacted by another eruption. About 600,000 people live directly in the danger zone and is “the most densely populated volcanic region in the world”.

Isn’t it kind of crazy how, even given its dangerous history, people still settle in these areas? It reminds me a little bit of the Akrotiri ruins I visited a few years ago on the island of Santorini, Greece. The ruins are actually a series of cities and towns built upon each other. The further down you dig, the more cities are uncovered. This is due to cities being built and then destroyed by volcanic eruptions and then people coming back to settle the area only for it to happen again. It is really interesting how the earth tells its stories and how people end up following the same patterns.

You can learn more about Akrotiri by clicking on this link: Akrotiri

You can learn a little bit more about Vesuvius here: Vesuvius

Books About Pompeii and Vesuvius:

The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny by Daisy Dunn (Biography, Print)
The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found Mary Beard (Nonfiction 937.725, Print)
Pompeii: A Guide to the Ancient City by Salvator Nappo (Nonfiction 937.07, Print)
In the Shadow of Vesuvius by Tasha Alexander (Mystery, Print)
Pompeii by T.L. Higley (Fiction, eBook)
Pompeii by Robert Harris (Fiction, Large Type and Regular Print)

Other Volcanic Eruptions:

When Humans Nearly Vanished: The Catastrophic Explosion of the Toba Volcano by Donald R. Prothero (Nonfiction 551.21, Print)
The Last Volcano: A Man, a Romance, and the Quest to Understand Nature’s Most Magnificent Fury by John Dvorak (Biography, Print)
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester (Large Type Nonfiction 959.802, Print)

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