a slow journalism project with Tomo Tomo Books

text and photos

The area of Campi Flegrei in Campania, well known since the Classical period for its beauty, fertility and natural thermals, is actually one of the most dangerous geological spots in the world. Poet Virgil, indeed, in the Eneide chose this place as the door of the Underworld. Millennia of eruptions covered the region in ashes, and its effects had an impact on global climate. What we see on the surface is just a glimpse of its strength: geysers, fumaroles, boiling muds. Bradyseism - what the scientists refer to as “the breath of the volcano”, terrifies the population, so that the frequent earthquakes in the last ten years have forced the residents of many areas of Pozzuoli to displace. The project of “functional thinning”, which aimed to gradually decrease demographic rate in risk areas, never got started. On the contrary, political deadlock and speculation even caused new settlements.

Both regular and emergency urbanizations can be seen in the dozens of volcanic rock buildings, clearly visible at the satellite images. Places like Rione Toiano and Monterusciello have the same features and problems as other Italian suburbs. The supervolcano is a vibrant place. Its valleys host horse racings, tourists, and the ex-biggest steel factory of Italy, now closed. Air Force Academy stands proudly on top of a hill; thousands of students attend flaegrea Universities; Pozzuoli nightlife is mesmerizing, and San Paolo stadium hosts the Champion’s League matches.

The latest eruption dates back to 1538. In that year, on September 27th, the sea started retiring on Lake Lucrino’s coast and the soil cracked and exploded. When the big cloud of ashes disappeared, a newborn mountain was revealed.Nowadays the disaster doesn’t seem to be imminent, but the volcanic activity is gradually rising. It is regularly controlled by the scientists of the Vesuvian Observatory, the caretakers of the caldera. Reports from the geologists are carefully written weekly, from which the level of danger can be compared. Italian Civil Protection has marked the level as yellow since 2012. The real concern is about how to eventually displace a half-million inhabitants in case of emergency. During the bradyseism phenomena in the 80s the ground rose up by two meters, but it was just a false alarm.

The “red-zone” is wide extended, as it includes the metropolitan area of Naples, up to the hilly districts. It has been designed considering a medium-level eruption. The area includes all the possible places that could be hit by pyroclastic flows: clouds of eruptive materials thrown up in the air at about 400 degrees and running at the speed of 80 km/h. Just as it happened in 79 d.C., in the famous eruption that hit Erculaneum and Pompeii, instantly killing thousands of people. To this day, there is no evacuation plan yet defined, and experts are divided on how to deal with scientific predictions: interpreting data is way uneasy, since there is not enough information to create a recent well documented “eruptive story”.

The Project “Supervulcano” is completely unpublished. The goal is to unravel, through a visual journalistic language, the complexity of these lands. The research is going to develop into three different narrative layers. The historical/archeological one will investigate on the story of the caldera, as seen by the witnesses of ancient times; the contemporary layer will analyze the phenomena tied to the latest urbanization, the changing of the quarters and life habits in Flaegrea suburbs; last, the geological/scientific layer will clarify the situation harmed by the volcanic risk and how it affects the citizens’ minds.

The work will feature among the publications released by the independent publishing house Tomo Tomo, as part of a series of slow journalism.