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

By Sophie Bushwick | September 1, 2012 8:25 am

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 18th 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.

  • Georg

    Anhalt-Dessau was not a prussian province then,
    no “price” can rule beside/under an other “prince”.
    2nd “Peasants” is some phenomen in Britain or France,
    not in central Germany

    • Veronique Greenwood

      Ah, I see where things got mixed up here…changes made. Thanks!

      And thank you for the kind words–we try hard to give you the most interesting, solid stuff out there, and we appreciate it when you readers point out inaccuracies.

  • Nessy D

    Georg, I´ve got to tell you, that you´re absolutely right. First of all, that guy wasn´t a prince. He was a duke. Secondly, Anhalt-Dessau belonged to him and not Prussia. Would you like to know my source? I checked it up on the German wikipedia. My German happens to be just as perfect as my English, so that was a piece of cake. Apparently, that guy had joined the prussian army for a while. Perhaps that fact got twisted to an extent of : “Geez I think he was a prince, and not just any prince, but the prince of Prussia too..“. Oh well, it´s good for a chuckle, isn´t it?

    I would like to add, that I´ve got ambiguous feelings myself concerning this particular issue. On the one hand, most articles on Discover are certainly worth reading, so how about let the author get away with it? After all, people are permitted to make harmless mistakes, aren´t they? On the other hand, I am dying to find out, if the writer of this issue is going to revise this article, which would be an appropriate action, the way I see it. We´ll see. Either way, it´s okay, as 80 Beats on Discover is as fantastic as the internet can ever get, so don´t give up on yourself 80 Beats! Your readers may be providing you with hard love every now and then, but you must have gotten used to that by now, haven´t you? And you know your readers – well at least this is true for me – truly relish reading your articles anyway. They may not always be perfect, but they are intriguing. And most websites are far from anything close to that.

  • scribbler

    Actually, rather impressive display!!! Especially for the time and seeing as it looks rather safe. All in all, very impressive indeed!!!


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