The still active volcano dominates the landscape, looming ominously over Napoli. The last eruption in 1944 blasted open the cone and the plume of smoke, that had long been a constant reminder of the peril, also disappeared.
This may have eased the minds of some, but living in the shadow of Vesuvio is akin to staying on the fault line in Los Angeles - scientists consider more eruptions a sure thing.
Its name is probably derived from the Greek besubios or besbios, which means fire. The volcano erupted with such ferocity on 24 August 79 AD that it all but destroyed the towns of Pompei and Ercolano and pushed the coastline out several kilometres. The subsequent years have witnessed regular displays of the mountain's wrath, the more destructive being those of 1631, 1794 ( when the town Torre del Greco was destroyed ), 1906 and, most recently, 1944 when poverty-stricken Napoli was struggling back onto its feet under Allied occupation.
To reach the summit of Vesuvio you can catch a Trasporto Vesuviano bus from Ercolano train station. There are five a day leaving at 8.30, 9.30 and 11 am and 12.40 and 1.40 pm from Pompei. If you are travelling by car, take the A3 and exit Ercolano. You can follow the signs through the town, but a road map would also be handy. The bus will take you to summit car park, from were you walk a distance of 1.5km (it takes 30 minutes if you are quick). Work on a funicular railway to replace the long out-of-service chair lift is yet to get underway. You must pay L 9000 to enter the summit area and be accompanied by a guide, although some people do sneak through unaccompanied. Once there, you can walk around the top of the crater. There are several bars at the summit car park. Those with cars can drive on past the turn-off for the summit car park and head closer up to the crater.