Under the Volcano: Miracles of Naples

Cari Amici,

At our next event of the Cities of Italy series, Jon Snyder, Professor of Italian Studies, UC Santa Barbara will  talk about  Naples and the Vesuvius.  Below is the synopsis of his presentation entitled:  Under the Volcano: Miracles of Naples.

For thousands of years the people of Naples have lived around the fertile slopes of Mount Vesuvius, one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. In learning to interact with their environment, in which life and death are so tightly intertwined, Neapolitans have over the centuries developed a truly unique cultural toolkit. In this talk we will take a closer look at how the inhabitants of this beautiful city think—in terms at once magical and practical—about the precarious relationship of their civilization to the volcano slumbering for now in their midst.

Are you interested to learn more about Naples and its long history?  Please scroll to the end of this post for a “Brief History of Naples.”

Our event will begin with a lovely lunch at La Cumbre Country Club followed by Prof. Snyder’s talk.   Here are the details:

Saturday, October 21st, 2017
12 Noon Luncheon followed by Professor Snyder’s Presentation
La Cumbre Country Club
4015 Via Laguna, Santa Barbara


 Cost: $40.00 pp

Reservations are required and the payment must accompany your reservation.

Deadline to reserve is Monday, October 16, 2017

Questions?  As in the past, you can call 805-969-1018.


How to reserve and pay:

BY CHECK:  please click on this LINK for a downloadable and printable RSVP form;

BY CREDIT CARD:  please click on the yellow button and then follow directions:





Naples was founded around 600 BCE as Neapolis (“New City”) and originated as a Greek settlement, almost certainly an extension of Greek colonies established during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE on the nearby island of Pithecusa (now Ischia) and at Cumae on the adjacent mainland, where remarkable Greek ruins may be visited today.

The whole region became the dominion of Rome in 4th century BCE.  In Roman times Naples and the adjacent towns were adorned with temples and baths and with arenas similar to those surviving at Pozzuoli and Pompeii and became much-prized vacation spots for wealthy Romans who built lavish villas there. Principal Roman roads connected the city to the capital, and aqueducts supplied fresh water. The Vesuvius eruption of 79 BCE destroyed much of that area.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, and for many centuries, Naples and its territories were periodically overrun and conquered by people such as the Byzantines, the Goths, the Swabians and the French. In 1503 Naples was added to the Spanish Empire as the Kingdom of Naples and was under Spanish rule until the 1707 Austrian conquest.

In 1806, Napoleon grants the Kingdom of Naples to his brother Joseph.

In 1816, after the fall of Napoleon and his Empire, the kingdom of Naples became the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies under the Bourbon Dynasty.

In 1861, Garibaldi landed in Sicily with the aim of inciting the people to rebel against the Bourbon rule.  The rebellion was successful and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was later annexed to the newly formed Kingdom of Italy under the rule of the Savoia Dynasty.

Today, Naples is the capital of the region of Campania. The name of the region derives from ‘Campania felix’, Latin for “fertile and happy countryside”.


  • Naples is the 3rd largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan with a population of about 1 million people.
  • Naples’ historic city center is the largest in Europe covering 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) and enclosing 27 centuries of history.  It is also listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
  • Do you know that Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world? During the second millennium BC, the area was inhabited by Bronze Age Greek settlements.
  • Naples was the most bombed Italian city during World War II.

And on the light side:

  • Do you know that in 1830 the world’s first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, opened its doors in Naples?
  • And, finally, that the Margherita pizza was named to honor Queen Margherita of Italy’s visit to the city in 1889? The Italian flag is thus represented in the colors of the pizza: basil for the green, white for cheese and red for the tomato sauce. Yum!




Mount Vesuvius: Eruption History

Mount Vesuvius has experienced eight major eruptions and about 50 small ones in the last 17,000 years. The 79 AD eruption is one of the most well-known ancient eruptions in the world, and may have killed more than 16,000 people. Ash, mud and rocks from this eruption buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii is famous for the casts the hot ash formed around victims of the eruptions. The unfortunate people suffocated on ash in the air, which then covered them and preserved amazing details of their clothing and faces.

Mount Vesuvius Geology and Hazards

The cone known as Mount Vesuvius began growing in the caldera of the Mount Somma volcano, which last erupted about 17,000 years ago. Most rocks erupted from Vesuvius are andesite, an intermediate volcanic rock (about 53-63% silica). Andesite lava creates explosive eruptions on a variety of scales, which makes Vesuvius an especially dangerous and unpredictable volcano. Strombolian eruptions (explosions of magma from a pool in the volcano’s conduit) and lava flows from the summit and flank fissures are relatively small. Plinian eruptions (huge explosions that create columns of gas, ash and rock which can rise dozens of kilometers into the atmosphere) have a much greater reach, and have destroyed entire ancient cities near Vesuvius with huge ash falls and pyroclastic flows. Vesuvius is currently quiet, with only minor seismic (earthquake) activity and outgassing from fumaroles in its summit crater, but more violent activity could resume in the future.

Why is Mount Vesuvius  such a dynamic, violently explosive and long-lasting volcano? The answer is in the geology of the area.

Mount Vesuvius: Plate Tectonic Setting

Vesuvius is part of the Campanian volcanic arc, a line of volcanoes that formed over a subduction zone created by the convergence of the African and Eurasian plates. This subduction zone stretches the length of the Italian peninsula, and is also the source of other volcanoes like Mount Etna, the Phlegraean Fields (Campi Flegrei), Vulcano, and Stromboli. Under Vesuvius, the lower part of the subducting slab has torn and detached from the upper part to form what is called a “slab window.” This makes Vesuvius’ rocks slightly different chemically from the rocks erupted from the other Campanian volcanoes.



Simplified plate tectonics cross-section showing how Mount Vesuvius is located above a subduction zone formed where the African plate descends beneath Italy. Magma produced from the melting African plate creates the large, violently explosive volcanoes of the Italian Peninsula.