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by Larry Ray NUg translator July 26th, 2011

Fables, legends and fairy tales abound in ancient places around the world. We are told about great spirits creating fantastic magical places instantly with the wave of a wand or after secret incantations. So what about a story of an almost 500 foot tall, steep, cone-shaped hill appearing in a flat seaside expanse in a matter of a few days? And what if this incredible transformation took place with hundreds upon hundreds of eyewitnesses documenting the whole event? And what if all this happened less than five hundred years ago? Nahhhh . . . 

Actually, Yes, all true! In Naples, Italy, there are endless marvels, mysteries and delights, and Monte Nuovo, or "New Mountain" is certainly one of them. It was formed seemingly overnight, not that long ago, and it can be visited and explored today, just a few kilometers around a curve in the coastline from bella Napoli.

An aerial view today of the area up the coast to the Northwest between Naples and the ancient city of Pozzuoli, shows a crater-pocked moonscape which contains a live, active caldera called "La Solfatara" where one may enter a gigantic sunken circle with soaring, steep sides all around it. The air is thick with the pungent smell of sulfur, and fumaroles cause large pools of gray, mineral laden mud to bubble up menacingly. This geothermal energy from huge molten magma pools beneath the area today is part the same system that made a "New Mountain" appear in six days starting late in the day, September 29th, 1538. It is called the "Campl Flegrei" or "burning fields."

This entire area around Naples is part of an unstable, earthquake prone volcanic network extending way back around the coastline down to the Volcano Vesuvius whose eruptions buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD to the area around the city of Pozzouli.

This zone includes ancient volcanic crater lakes and long dormant mountainous cones whose craters have long been dormant. Before Monte Nuovo forever changed the coastline, for centuries there had been a relatively flat area between the shore of Lake Averno and Monte Barbaro, with breathtaking views of offshore islands and the surrounding cone shaped hills. The area, where powerful Romans maintained vacation villas, was described by Petrarch who detailed its scenic majesty and serene beauty. 

Starting on the evening of September 27th, 1538, terrifying earthquake activity developed in the whole area with its worst violence concentrated around the city of Pozzouli. Tension-stressed tectonic plates caused the ground to heave upwards then plunge back down in excursions measured in "the hundreds of feet." More than twenty powerful seismic shocks shook the town of Pozzuoli, "in rapid succession" that evening.

By noon on the 28th, of September, 1538, the sea began to retreat from the shore near Lake Lucrino, racing outward more than three hundred yards. Local fishermen and residents alike ventured out upon the exposed sea bottom loading up carts with the thousands of fish left stranded by the outward racing water. The entire flat area between Lake Averno and the sea, later that day, also began to be violently forced upwards.

At eight o'clock the following morning, September 29th, the same ground that had been thrust up began to subside, falling back and was not accompanied by any noticeable violent actions. The downward subsidence fell in one concentrated area and continued to sink down to a depth of some thirteen to fifteen feet. As the curious and fearful watched these astounding changes to their familiar land, suddenly from the bottom of the sunken area a gusher of what seemed to be cold water blasted upwards. Some of the braver villagers cautiously tested the water and found it instead to be lukewarm and sulfurous.

Those who had gathered around the large sunken area noticed, around mid morning that the ground was now rising back up at an alarming rate. It rose so fast that by noon, the sunken hollow had been pushed upward forming a substantial hill and onlookers said the newly formed slopes "swelled and rose where never yet had there been a rising ground." Shortly thereafter the crest of the hill exploded belching fire upon its summit. Pozzouli resident, Francesco del Nero, watched the amazing transformation that morning:

"About this time fire issued forth with such a force, noise and shining light that I, who was standing in my garden, was seized with great terror."  After climbing up the slope of a high hill in Pozzuoli about level with the newly formed hill, del Nero continued, "By my troth it was a splendid fire that threw up for a long time much earth and many stones. Towards Pozzouli it has formed a hill nearly the height of Monte Morello, and for a distance of seventy miles, the earth and trees are covered with ashes. On my own estate I have neither a leaf on a tree or a blade of grass. The ashes that fell were soft, sulfurous and heavy. They not only threw down the trees, but an immense number of birds, hares and other animals were killed."  These observations, documented for posterity, make visiting Monte Nuovo today a much more vivid and personal exploration. 1]

What would be just another a casual trek up its densely wooded slopes today for a look down into the deep parabola that forms its verdant inner crater, Monte Nuovo, with little imagination and this bit of background now allows one to picture what Francesco del Nero witnessed as flat ground as it turned into what visitors see today, making a visit, in person or by video, a much more personal experience.

So, with this quick bit of history, the Napoliunderground Video linked below takes you on a personal visit up Monte Nuovo today where it is a protected environmental park with many marked trails and breathtaking overlooks. It is not at all necessary to speak Italian to come along as a visitor with this beautifully done video. The sweeping panoramas of the coastline today makes it easy to understand why magnificent Roman villas, clad in marble, once ringed this dangerously beautiful stretch of seaside splendor.

Notice near the end that there can be found, if one knows where to look, live, active small geothermal vents which are hot, and actively issue forth sulfurous, steamy wisps as if to say, "Never say a volcano is dormant."

We hope you enjoy this inside look at, Monte Nuovo . . . the "New Mountain," 439 feet tall and a youthful 473 years old, making it the newest European volcano!

Larry Ray,
NUg translator and contributor

VIDEO LINK: MONTE NUOVO

PHOTOS: Il Monte Nuovo

1] Detailed eyewitness accounts may be read in many historic documents including the masterful writing and summations in Arthur R. Norway's two volume, 1901 work, "Naples Past and Present," from which I have borrowed liberally for the eyewitness accounts described herein.

The videos: Il Monte Nuovo

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