Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Dec 2011

onte Nuovo

The bulge (center-left) is Monte Nuovo.                         
The homes on the slopes are the town of Arco Felice. 

Monte Nuovo, near Arco Felice (right on top of it, really) is an interesting feature of the Campi Flegrei. The name means "new mountain" and is entirely appropriate. It was born in a matter of days, beginning early in the morning of September 28, 1538.  In geological terms, mountains don't come much newer than that, or if they do, try to be elsewhere when it happens. A Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies published in Naples in 1816 recounts that the eruption that formed the mountain destroyed a local town and a hospital. It also cites the proverbial wisdom that "grass doesn't grow on Monte Nuovo," then points out how off the mark that bit of folk wisdom is—grass and trees abound on Monte Nuovo, says the encyclopedist.

There were sufficient eye-witnesses to the event to let us reconstruct the event. The eruption did not take the population by surprise as the area of Pozzuoli (in photo, the buildings along the coast in the background) had been continuously shaken by earthquakes during the previous two years. Chroniclers reported that the sea withdrew "more than 200 paces" leaving a large number of fish on dry land. At the same time, the valley leading to Lake Averno, the ground between Monte Barbaro and the Monticello del Pericolo, started to swell. A day later a vast explosion of fire, stone, smoke, mud and ash buried the medieval village of Tripegole as well as destroying ancient monuments such as the remains of a villa belonging to Cicero. Chroniclers say that the sea was covered to such an extent by pumice that the surface of the water looked like a solid field of earth. Even parts of Calabria and Puglia felt some shaking, although true physical damage was limited to the local area.

A woodcut of the event: "Dell'incendio di Pozzuoli"
(1538) by Marco Antonio Delli Falconi

Physical change to the area was significant; the volcano came up in Lake Lucrino (foreground in photo), reducing that body of water to the puddle that it is today. Historically, the lake had been an important part of the facilities of the Roman imperial fleet and was joined by channels to Lake Averno and the sea. Still, 500 years is a long time and people forget; I have seen slipshod, recent maps of Roman Pozzuoli that show the anachronism of Monte Nuovo, making it impossible today to realize that at the time of the Romans no such mountain existed.

Records say that the initial eruption stopped on the third day. This prompted the curious to climb the cone and look down at the splendid sight of a boiling caldera. That was a mistake; another eruption followed shortly thereafter (there were four, lasting until October 6) and took the lives of 24 persons.

Today, Monte Nuovo is a bulge on the landscape. It is covered with Mediterranean scrub; the highest point on the rim is 130 meters above sea-level; the diameter at the base is one kilometer and 400 meters around the rim of the crater, which is 80 meters deep. Monte Nuovo has been an official "nature oasis" since 1996. You can walk around the rim and even down into the crater. There are still hot vapors escaping from fumaroles, and in the crater there is what is left of an exploratory geothermal probe site. 

(This item expands on information in the entries on Campi Flegrei and Geology.

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