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Volcanoes continue to grab our imagination--and Vesuvius is the most famous of them all. There have been nearly thirty major eruptions since AD 79, but none has matched the cataclysm of the eruption which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum within hours. Since then Vesuvius has been speculated upon, feared and celebrated by writers and artists and hordes of visitors. It is unquestionably a Wonder of the World.
For Greeks and Romans Vesuvius was a fearsome sacred place. Spartacus launched his slave rebellion from its crater. The Enlightenment brought the serious study of the phenomenon of volcanic activity. Its famous visitors included Goethe and Mozart, Byron and the Shelleys, Madame de Stael and Lady Hamilton. Painters popular and serious (from Wright of Derby to Andy Warhol) made its exploding or dormant outline an instantly recognisable icon. Vesuvius has remained a focus for tourism and modern life. At the last big eruption in 1944 the Allied forces assumed they were witnessing the detonation of an immense bomb. Rampant modern development means that millions could be at risk when it next erupts. As Dickens said, Vesuvius is 'the genius of the scene...biding its terrible time'.
Gillian Darley writes widely in the arts media, mostly about architecture and landscape. She is the author of two acclaimed biographies, both shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography--of John Evelyn and John Soane. She lives in London.
"Gillian Darley's book has the pace, colour and deliberation of a Vesuvian eruption"
– James Hamilton, Spectator
"In the best tradition of English letters, this is a book of which even Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, would roar his approval"
– Ross Leckie, Country Life