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How the Duke of Anhalt-Dessau Built a Volcano for His Peasants

80beatsBy Sophie BushwickSeptember 1, 2012 5:25 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news Explore the history of science outreach, and you'll discover some pretty strange episodes. One of the strangest occurred in the 1700s, when Leopold III Friedrich Franz ruled the province of Anhalt-Dessau as duke. Perhaps inspired by a European tour that included a trip to Mount Vesuvius, Franz decided to recreate the famous volcano in his own backyard and enlighten his subjects, who would never have the chance to visit Vesuvius in person. At, Andrew Curry describes the structure that the eccentric ruler established at his Woerlitz estate.

Franz had his architects build a brick inner building nearly five stories high and cover it with local boulders. At the top, a hollow cone housed a high-ceilinged chamber with three fireplaces. The building's roof also included an artificial "crater," which could be filled with water. Nearby, Franz built a Greek-style amphitheater and a small villa to serve as his personal study and flooded the corner of his estate to surround the "Stone Island" with water. Then, according to historical accounts, he invited his friends to watch his personal volcano erupt.

But after Franz’s death, the volcano fell into disuse. That is, until a chemistry professor from Brandenburg Technical University and the staff historian at Woerlitz researched how Franz made the volcano erupt back in the 18^th century---and recreated the feat. Since 2005, the Stone Island has had a volcanic explosion about once a year. Check out the 2010 eruption above, and click here to discover more about how it was created.

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