The Dormant Beast The Dormant Beast

The Dormant Beast

The Volcanoes of Naples
Maciej Hen
time 13 minutes

Beneath the Phlegraean Fields near Naples there’s a giant lake of liquid magma bubbling away. The entire area includes 24 craters and volcanic cones. An eruption could occur within the next few years.

Just under 40,000 years ago, at a point roughly in the middle of the Gulf of Pozzuoli – the western arm of the Bay of Naples – at least 150 cubic kilometres of magma gushed from the bowels of the Earth to the surface, and three times as much ash and stone shot high into the air. Apparently the climatic changes brought about by this incident were the reason why the Neanderthals died out, which in turn was to open the way for the development of modern man. In other words, it looks as if we are all children of the Phlegraean Fields, because that is the name (from the Greek φλέγω, phlego, ‘I burn’) the ancient Romans gave to the area covered by the hollow, or caldera, of this primaeval super-volcano. Or perhaps of a slightly younger one, dating back only 12,000 years, which erupted at the very centre of the original caldera, but over a slightly smaller area, with a diameter of about 13 kilometres, around today’s city of Pozzuoli (which is also the city where that volcano of femininity, Sophia Loren, is from). The scientists have identified a total of 24 craters and volcanic cones within the Phlegraean Fields, but we non-experts won’t be able to check, because most of them are under the waters of the gulf.

The ancient Romans identified natural passages from our world to the supernatural world at various sites within the Phlegraean Fields. The crater of Solfatara, located in its eastern part, was generally seen to be the entrance to the abode of the god Vulcan, while at its western end, on Lake Averno, there was a gaping cleft in the coastal hillside through which those who so wished – such as Virgil’s Aeneas – could pass through to the Land of the Dead. This is what the poet says about it:



You’ve reached your free article’s limit this month. You can get unlimited access to all our articles and audio content with our digital subscription. If you have an active subscription, please log in.


Also read:

Annihilation from Underground Annihilation from Underground
Illustration by Marek Raczkowski

Annihilation from Underground

How Volcanoes Have Changed the World
Andrzej Krajewski

Today, humanity shivers at the thought of the climate warming by a few degrees Celsius. Yet all you really need is an eruption of a supervolcano to reduce the average temperature on Earth by more than 10 degrees. This has already happened before, but the memory of the event died (along with most of the inhabitants of the planet at the time).

The fear of volcanoes still rattles somewhere in the outer limits of the collective memory of the Homo sapiens species. But unlike hunger, great plagues, floods or earthquakes, people haven’t had much to do with volcano eruptions; nevertheless catastrophes caused by them have always been immediately associated with the end of the world.

Continue reading