Readers’ wildlife photos

October 19, 2023 • 8:15 am

Michael Glenister sent photos of a trip he took to the ancient volcanic areas of Italy: Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Mt. Vesuvius. This will be a two-parter, starting with both Herculaneum and Vesuvius; Pompeii will be the subject of a separate post.

Michael’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

First, a bit of information.  Herculaneum and Pompeii, ancient Roman towns close to each other, were both buried (and all their inhabitants killed) during the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Both were preserved nearly intact by being rapidly covered with ash. Here’s the location of all three places on a map of modern Italy.

On to Michael’s narrative:


I don’t have any new animal photos, but I did do a trip to Europe at the end of July, during which I climbed Mt. Vesuvius and visited Pompeii and Herculaneum.  While I enjoyed the hike and visiting the ruins, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of volcano science in the area.  If you visit Mt. St. Helens, the visitor centres are full of information about different types of volcanoes, the 1980 eruption, etc.  The closest I saw about that at Vesuvius were little gift stands that sold samples of volcanic rock

The view of Herculaneum as you enter the site.  It is definitely an excavation in progress.

One of the many streets in the town.

An example of the artwork inside one of the houses.

The shoreline has moved away from Herculaneum since the eruption.  This is a look down at an area which would have been near the shore at the time, but unfortunately this section wasn’t open to tourists on the day we visited.  Some of the inhabitants of the town sought shelter here when the eruption happened, but were entombed by the pyroclastic flow that buried the town.  This gives you an idea of just how deep the ash layer was.  (Later I’ll show photos of some of the skeletons that were visible in these chambers).

Examples of the artwork that was discovered during the excavation.  I was surprised at the quality of the workmanship of some pieces.

The College of the Augustales.  The Augustales were members of an order made up of freedmen that was dedicated to the imperial cult, and their college was built in Herculaneum while Augustus was still alive.  Paintings showed mythological scenes such as the entrance of Hercules to Mount Olympus, accompanied by Hera, Athena, and Zeus.

Vesuvius hike

Bus tours from the train station near Herculaneum, take you up near the summit of Vesuvius for a 2 hour hike to the top and back.  I was a bit disappointed that there seemed to be nothing discussing the science of volcanism, nor the details of the events of the eruption of 79 AD.  Just souvenir stands selling photos or wall plaques of the mountain, postcards, trinkets, and the occasional sample of volcanic rocks.  Along the summit walk there were at least 5 souvenir stands.  The bus ride was…entertaining…and apparently you needed over 5 years experience driving large (Greyhound?) buses before you are allowed to do the Vesuvius route.  Think steep, narrow, roads with blind hairpin turns, and lots of traffic in both directions, so the driver has to use the horn a lot to warn oncoming traffic.

A view from the bus on the way up.  I believe, but it wasn’t stated or explained, that the hills on the right of the photo are the remains of what was the edge of Vesuvius in 79 AD.  So the mountain as we see it today was what was built up after the eruption.

A view of Naples from the mountain.

The summit of Vesuvius.

View from the summit looking toward Herculaneum.  We are around cloud level, so the clouds blew in over the top as we hiked.

A fumerole in the crater.  You could smell the sulfurous fumes at one point as you hiked around the summit.

 View from the summit looking toward Pompeii.

One of the five or so souvenir stands along the summit.  Note the phallus for sale.  Pompeii was a port town, so lots of sailors visited, and consequently there were lots of brothels.  A winged phallus was the symbol used to direct sailors to the brothels.


12 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. and all their inhabitants killed

    I’m not sure about Herculaneum, but not everybody from Pompeii died.

    Also, the movement of the coast away from the two towns following the eruption is probably what saved them for posterity. Pompeii was a seaport. Had it still be on the coast, it might have been rebuilt.

    1. Many inhabitants of Pompeii left during the ashfall. However Herculaneum was hit with a pyroclastic flow. Since those can travel hundreds of km/h, it isn’t likely that anyone in the city at the time would have survived.

  2. Too bad that there was so little about the geology—a great opportunity lost. Thank you for the excellent pictures and commentary.

  3. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of volcano science in the area. If you visit Mt. St. Helens, the visitor centres are full of information about different types of volcanoes, the 1980 eruption,

    Is Mt St Helens in the municipal district of … Seattle? … the closest city?
    I suspect that the Tourist Board of Naples municipality, which extends beyond Pompeii, SE of the volcano, and W to the Phlegraean Fields supervolcano caldera (about the same distance in the opposite direction), find the subject of volcano knowledge a slightly touchy one. The consequences of a minor eruption of Vesuvius on Pompeii and Herculaneum (and several less well located villages and cities) are well known, but the recent outburst of the Phlegraean Fields volcano puts that into a cocked hat. (“Recent” in geologist-speak meaning “after the invention of flour, but before the invention of agriculture”, about 40kyr BP ; certainly after the settlement by Anatomically Modern Humans.) The deposits of that eruption spread a ~10m thick bed of incandescent ash up to 100km from the Phlegraean Fields. Which would have really messed up the tourist trade.
    Good on you for getting to see the area before it gets obliterated. The activity levels in the Phlegraean Fields are increasing enough to have volcanologists … concerned (the prosecution of Italian seismologists after the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake has had the desired (by prosecutors) effect of suppressing in-country discussion of the risk) about when the next major eruption is going to happen. Which would have a bad effect on the tourist trade. The best (not most likely) outcome of the Phlegraean Fields deciding to “go off” would be the evacuation of several million people from Naples, and the likely re-carpeting of the region. That’s a displacement of people on the scale of the end of WW2, the Syrian refugee crisis, or the pending earth-scorching of the Gaza Strip. Which is going to strain Europe’s ability to cope to the limit.
    I wonder why the Naples Tourist Board don’t encourage volcano information in front of the paying guests. I bet the city’s rat traps aren’t brightly labelled “Rat Trap” in tourist-friendly languages. But they’re there, nonetheless.
    Seattle is in a rather less threatening situation. Yes, the ash-fall from a major Cascadia eruption will be a problem, but a more manageable one. The big threat is from lahars – mixtures of ash and melted snow/ rain forming mud avalanches running form the volcanoes into the city. And they follow fairly predictable courses (river valleys) down the slopes.
    That was a small observation that talks to big underlying issues.

    1. Mt St Helens is approx 100 miles south of Seattle and 50 miles north of Portland, OR. I don’t think either city had major damage or deaths. Lots of ash, of course. If Mt. Rainier blows, I think it will be very bad for Seattle. There is evidence it erupted 2,200 years ago, and iirc it would have had devastating effects to the surrounding cities that exist today.

      Anyway, interesting observation about the suppression of earthquake information in that area of Italy.

  4. Wonderful post! It looks like quite a place to see. The bus ride sounds a little thrilling but the sight looks quite a place to see.
    Thank you.

  5. Very interesting! On a photography web site that I hang around on, one person presented a detailed tour of the former brothel area in Pompeii. So lots of very wall paintings of Romans “doing it”. He mentioned that that leg of the tour was packed with ogling tourists.

    The family is planning on a trip to Italy in several months, and I was hoping to see some of these ruins.

  6. I believe, but it wasn’t stated or explained, that the hills on the right of the photo are the remains of what was the edge of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

    That is the Monte Somma, the edge of an earlier profile of the mountain. But it’s formation pre-dates the 79 AD eruption by some thousands of years (though it’s a lot younger than the Campanian Ignimbrite, sourced from the Phlegraean Fields). The Somma (and the volcano that it was part of) are principally composed of lava flows – as you can see from the steep cliffs. But from about 25kyr BP to 1700AD (0.25kyr BP) the dominant activity of the volcano changed to explosive/ pyroclastic (reflecting a change in the underlying plumbing), producing considerably weaker rocks and the shallower (angle-of-repose : 30~35°) slopes of the recent central cone.
    The Pompeii 79AD eruption was a classical, literally textbook, pyroclastic-dominated eruption. To this day, volcanologists describe the sequence of events reported by Pliny (the Younger) from this eruption as reflecting the formation of a “Plinian” column (with the impressive heights, penetrating the stratosphere) from which small, cool pebbles are displaced by the wind. Then, sort-of periodically, the Plinian column collapses and the hot, gas-exsolving pebbles up to 10cm collapse to the ground, and outwards buoyed by their gas emissions and entrapped surrounding (and heated) air, delivering a coarser bed of pebbles some of which can be hot enough to flow and “weld” together while cooler beds remain as almost incohesive pebble layers. This sequence of eruptions typically produced about 2 of pumice each, equivalent to about 0.8 of “dense rock” (so, about 50% bubble, 50% rock), and the Pompeii eruption was fairly normal in this interval.
    There have been lava-dominated eruptions for the last couple of hundred years – another change in the internal plumbing – of typically 10~30 million cu.m (0.01~0.03 But they’re more frequent than the Plinian eruptions, and the net effusion rate of “dense rock” seems to be similar on the millennial scale. Which suggests that the plumbing change is in where the magma de-gasses – underground and venting through many loci at the surface, versus de-gassing in the volcano “throat” and producing a Plinian eruption.
    Oddly, with several million people in the danger zone, and a major industrial and port city, there is a fair amount of work that is done on trying to work out what is going on under Naples. Unfortunately there are 4~6km of rock in the way to see what is happening, let alone predict what happens next.
    Wasn’t that Kirk Douglas “I’m Spartacus too!” film set about real events around the valley between Monte Somma and the recent Vesuvius cone? I recall Hollywood somewhat overplaying the difficulty of access to the Somma-cone valley. But the gaps to NW and SSE through which recent (<25kyr BP) lavas have exited are still rough enough to make a very defensible location. Damned-all flat land for farming – which is why Spartacus et al had to raid the region for food. But a reasonably secure base.

  7. I’m very interested in learning about ancient cities buried under volcanic ash. I’ve always enjoyed studying history and geology, but I don’t have much time for it because of my studies. For now, I can only look at photos and read essay samples from people who have been to such fascinating places. I also want to visit Italy and see it all with my own eyes. Perhaps someday…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *