A view of Mount Etna from the sea

Mount Etna

Prepare to be amazed as we delve into the captivating history and hidden secrets of Mount Etna, the mighty volcano with a past that will leave you in awe.

Mount Etna

Located on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, Mount Etna stands as a magnificent and active stratovolcano, reaching a towering height of 3,357m (11,014ft) and covering an expansive area of 1,190km² (459sqmi).This majestic volcano has a significant impact on both agriculture and the tourism industry in the region. Despite the occasional eruptions and the threat they pose, the fertile volcanic soils of Mount Etna support extensive agriculture, including vineyards and orchards.

The volcanic ash and minerals enrich the soil, creating ideal conditions for cultivation. This has led to the production of high-quality wines, fruits, and vegetables unique to the area. Additionally, Mount Etna's awe-inspiring beauty and the thrill of witnessing its occasional eruptions attract tourists from around the world. The volcano's eruptions provide captivating spectacle and valuable research opportunities for scientists studying volcanic activity and geology. This Italian active volcano nested in the hearth of the mediterranean sea truly showcases the powerful forces of nature while also contributing to the local economy through agriculture and tourism.

Where is mount etna located?

Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, is majestically located on the east coast of  the island of Sicily, Italy, near the vibrant town of Catania. The volcano falls within the geographical boundaries of Catania district.

Etymology and mythology

As we shift our focus to the intriguing world of Mount Etna's etymology and mythology, let's uncover the captivating stories and origins behind this majestic stratovolcano. The name 'Etna' is derived from the Greek word 'aithō,' meaning 'I burn,' or the Phoenician word 'attuna,' meaning 'furnace' or 'chimney.' In Greek and Roman mythology, the god Vulcan (Hephaestus) had his forge under Mount Etna, adding to its fiery reputation.

This volcano is also known as 'Muncibbeḍḍu' in Sicilian and 'Mongibello' in Italian. The name 'Mongibello' may come from the Latin term 'Mulciber qui ignem mulcet,' meaning 'one who placates the fire.' Mount Etna's significance in popular culture extends to the Arthurian legend, where it's associated with the otherworld castle of Morgan le Fay.

Geology of Mount Etna

the geology of mount etna, the bove valley
A very realistic A.I. image of the bove valley

The geology of this majestic volcano is a captivating story, filled with fiery eruptions, . But what lies beneath the surface? What forces have shaped this natural wonder? With a geological history spanning half a million years, Mount Etna stands as a formidable testament to the raw power and significance of volcanic activity. Mount etna was born as a submarine volcano, his first eruptive events took place under the surface of the mediterranean sea.

The lava were trapped in layers of tick  clays where they cooled, just to be exposed thousands of years later due to the tectonic forces and the lowering of the sea level. Traces of this Vulcanic activity are visible now a days in the coastal town of Acitrezza where the black Faraglioni stand in the middle of the bay. As the explosive and effusive activity continued for several thousand of years cones formed and the area filled with pyroclastic material and lava until what was a large bay became filled by lava and mount Etna formed. Around 9 thousand years ago a gravitational slide coupled up with the upwelling force of the magma caused a massive collapse of the east flank forming the majestic Bove valley.

The debris of such a large event were found by geologist in the portion of territory that goes from the sea side town of Riposto to Torre Archirafi and Acireale.  This majestic stratovolcano, awe-inspiring eruptions have attracted tourists and scientists from around the world, offering unique opportunities for both tourism and scientific research. The volcano's designation as a Decade Volcano by the United Nations, and its inclusion in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, further highlights its significance. As researchers delve into its geological history, Mount Etna continues to captivate with its fiery legacy, providing invaluable insights into volcanic activity and geology.

The Bove Valley on Mount Etna

The Bove Valley on Mount Etna is one of the largest volcanic depressions in the world, measuring about 37 square kilometers in size. This stunning natural formation, located on the eastern side of the volcano, is characterized by its rugged cliffs, lava flows, and picturesque landscapes But there's more to the Bove Valley than just its impressive size. As you journey through this captivating valley, you'll discover a rich history, unique geological features, and diverse flora and fauna,

The Bove Valley was formed by the collapse of a massive volcanic caldera, resulting in a vast depression that stretches for miles. This geological feature has been a witness to numerous eruptions throughout history, with lava flows and pyroclastic materials covering the valley floor. The dikes visible inside the bove valley are a great attraction to hikers.

Lava tube on Mt. Etna

Deep below the surface of Mount Etna, hidden within its volcanic landscape, lies a fascinating network of lava tubes. These subterranean tunnels form during volcanic eruptions when slow-flowing lava cools on the surface, creating a crust. Underneath this crust, hot lava continues to flow, carving out intricate tunnels. These caves, once empty of lava, serve as a unique exploration site for researchers studying cave formation, underground ecosystems, and volcanic tube research. Additionally, lava tube tourism offers visitors a chance to marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of these underground wonders. Some of this lava tubes on the north side of Mount Etna were used until the 50’ of the twenty century to produce large quantity of ice.

MOunt etna Eruptions

A AI image of an ancient eruption on mount etna

Ancient eruptions of Mt. Etna

During ancient times, Mount Etna experienced several significant eruptions that impacted surrounding areas and left lasting effects. The first known record of eruption at Etna is that of Diodorus Siculus. In 396 BCE, an eruption reportedly thwarted the Carthaginians in their attempt to advance on Syracuse during the Second Sicilian War. This eruption showcased the power of Mount Etna and its ability to affect military strategies. Another notable eruption occurred in 122 BCE, known as a violent explosive summit eruption.

This eruption caused heavy tephra falls to the southeast, including the town of Catania, where many roofs collapsed. To aid in the reconstruction efforts after the devastating effects of the eruption, the Roman government exempted the population of Catania from paying taxes for ten years. This shows the significant impact that Mount Etna's eruptions had on the surrounding communities and the measures taken to aid in recovery.

Additionally, the Roman poet Virgil gave a first-hand description of an eruption in the Aeneid, further highlighting the historical significance of these ancient eruptions. The 1669 eruption is undoubtedly the most important in terms of destruction and impact (since the one of 122 BCE) in the life of the city of Catania. The eruption of 1669 started the 11th of March and finished the five weeks later when the wall of Catania were overwhelmed by the destructive power of the lava flow.

Along the journey from the crater the lava wiped out at least 10 villages. Contrary to some wrong information’s  circulating on internet that claims that 20000 thousand people perished due to the eruption of 1669 contemporaneous accounts written both in Italian and English mention no deaths related to the 1669 eruption (but give very precise figures of the number of buildings destroyed, the area of cultivated land lost, and the economic damage). These eruptions during ancient times demonstrate the long history of volcanic activity on Mount Etna and its impact on the surrounding areas.

Modern day eruption from 1928

Since 1923, Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, has experienced several notable eruptions up to the present day. One major eruption occurred in June 1923, lasting for almost a month. This eruption resulted in a significant lava flow and had destructive consequences. Another significant eruption took place in 1928, which led to the destruction of a population center for the first time since the 1669 eruption. This eruption started high on the volcano's northeast flank and new fissures opened, gradually descending down the flank.

The most vigorous of these fissures opened at a low elevation, causing severe damage to the village of Mascali. The village was nearly completely destroyed in just two days, with only a few buildings surviving. The eruption also disrupted the Messina-Catania railway line and destroyed the train station of Mascali. It's worth noting that Mussolini's fascist regime used this event for propaganda purposes, showcasing the evacuation, aid, and rebuilding operations as examples of fascist planning.

The village of Mascali was eventually rebuilt on a new site, and its church now contains the Italian fascist symbol of the torch above the statue of Jesus Christ. These eruptions serve as reminders of the destructive power of Mount Etna and the need for preparedness and resilience in the face of nature's forces. During the 20th century, Mount Etna experienced several major eruptions, adding to its history of volcanic activity and posing challenges for nearby communities.

In addition to the notable eruptions in 2001, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2008-2009, 2012, 2018, and 2021, there were significant eruptions in 1949, 1971, 1979, 1981, 1983, and 1991-1993. These eruptions had devastating effects on the surrounding areas. For example, in 1971, lava destroyed the Etna Observatory and threatened several small villages on the volcano's east flank. In 1981, the town of Randazzo narrowly escaped destruction by fast-moving lava flows, similar to the 1928 eruption that destroyed Mascali.

The eruption from 1991 to 1993 posed a threat to the town of Zafferana, but successful diversion efforts saved the town with only one building lost. Engineers used explosives to disrupt a lava tube system, diverting the lava away from the town. This tactic proved effective, as the lava never advanced close to the town again during the remainder of the eruption. Mount Etna's eruptions during the 20th century demonstrated the need for constant vigilance and preparedness in the face of volcanic activity. The communities surrounding the volcano have had to develop strategies to mitigate the potential risks and protect their homes and livelihoods.

The eruption of 2002-2003 untill 2024

The eruption in 2002-2003 on Mount Etna was a significant event, with a massive column of ash visible from space and causing structural damage to houses on the volcano's flanks. This eruption was much larger compared to previous ones, and the impact was felt far beyond the immediate vicinity of the volcano. The eruption threw up a huge column of ash that could be seen from space and even reached as far as Libya, 600 km (370 mi) south across the Mediterranean Sea. The seismic activity during this eruption caused the eastern flanks of the volcano to slip by up to two meters, resulting in structural damage to many houses on the volcano's slopes. The eruption also had devastating consequences for the tourist infrastructure.

The tourist station Piano Provenzana, located on the northeastern flank of the volcano, was completely destroyed. Additionally, part of the tourist station 'Etna Sud' around the Rifugio Sapienza on the south flank was also affected. It's worth noting that footage from these eruptions was recorded by Lucasfilm and incorporated into the landscape of the planet Mustafar in the 2005 film Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Despite the destruction caused, efforts have been made to rebuild and restore the affected areas, including the cable car station near the Rifugio Sapienza.

On December 3, 2015, an eruption occurred that reached its climax between 03:20 and 04:10 local time. The Voragine crater( one of the four active craters at the summit) showcased a lava fountain soaring to a height of 1 kilometer (3,300 feet), accompanied by an ash plume that reached an impressive 3 kilometers (9,800 feet) high. This activity continued in the following days, with an ash plume that escalated to a staggering 7 kilometers (23,000 feet) in height, temporarily shutting down Catania airport.

Mount Etna's volcanic gas emissions are closely monitored using a multi-component gas analyzer system. This helps detect pre-eruptive degassing of rising magmas, aiding in the prediction of volcanic activity. However, on March 16, 2017, an eruption took an unexpected turn, (see you tube video) injuring 10 individuals, including a BBC News television crew. The magma exploded upon contact with snow, causing significant harm. Another significant eruption occurred on December 24, 2018, when ash spewed into the air due to a dyke intrusion at shallow depth. This forced the closure of airspace around Mount Etna. Two days later, a magnitude 4.9 earthquake shook the town of Fleri and surrounding areas, causing damage to buildings and injuring four people. Starting in February 2021, Mount Etna initiated a series of explosive eruptions, impacting nearby villages and cities. Volcanic ash and rock fell as far as Catania. In just three weeks, the volcano has erupted 11 times as of March 12, 2021.

These eruptions consistently sent ash clouds over 10 kilometers (33,000 feet) into the air, resulting in the closure of Sicilian airports. Fortunately, there have been no reports of injuries during this recent period of activity. During the recent series of eruptions, Mount Etna has had a significant impact on nearby villages and cities. In February 2022, two eruptions occurred, with the first one on the 11th. Lava fountains erupted from the Southeast Crater, transforming into a Strombolian eruption. By 7 pm, it had reached a height of nearly 1,000 m, accompanied by the throwing of lava bombs over a considerable distance. The wind blew ash westward, later turning southeast, while a large lava flow occurred on the western flank. On the 19th of February, another explosive eruption took place, once again from the Southeast Crater. This eruption featured high lava fountains and lava flows, with the longest flow descending towards the Bove Valley in the northeast. A significant event occurred on May 29, 2022, when the Southeast Crater experienced a sudden collapse, creating a fracture on its northern flank. This led to a small lava flow that headed towards the Leone Valley, just above the larger Bove Valley. The flow continued for three days and was accompanied by sporadic eruptions from two vents at the top of the crater. In recent years, Mount Etna has also been known for producing smoke rings during its eruptions. These smoke rings, a rare phenomenon, were first recorded in the 1970s and occurred again in 2000. Videos captured the event on June 8, 2000. Another smoke ring event took place on April 11, 2013, with similar occurrences happening during the summer of 2023. The volcanic activity of Mount Etna is a constant reminder of its power and potential impact on the surrounding areas. In January 2024 some mild summit activity with emission of a short lived lava flow was recorded.

Physical geography

The mountain has three ecological zones, one above the other, each exhibiting its own charateristc vegetation. The lowest zone, sloping gradually upward to perhaps 3,000 feet (915 metres), is fertile and rich in vineyards, olive groves, citrus plantations, and orchards. Several densely populated settlements, notably the city of Catania, are found on the lower slopes, but settlements become less frequent as the height increases. Above, the mountain grows steeper and is covered with forests of chestnut, beech, oak, pine and birch. At heights of more than 6,500 feet (1,980 metres), the mountain is covered with ashes, sand, and fragments of lava and slag; there are a few scattered plants such as Astragalus aetnensis (local name: spino santo), which typically forms bushes almost 1 yard (about 0.9 metre) high, while some alpine plants manage to survive even near the top. Algae have been found near the steam outlets at 9,800 feet (2,990 metres).

flora and fauna on Mount Etna

In the diverse ecosystem of Mount Etna, a wide range of flora and fauna thrive, from majestic birds of prey to unique plant species, creating a captivating natural landscape. At lower altitudes, birch trees, hazelnut, almond, and chestnut trees flourish alongside the renowned Etna broom. As we ascend, we enter the semi-desert zone, where endemic flowers like the Holy Thorn and multicolored violets adorn the slopes. Towards the highest peaks, the volcanic desert dominates, home to some lizard and insects.

tourism and outdoor activietes on Etna

a couple of hikers on mount etna
A couple of hikers marvell at the wild nature of mount Etna

There are plenty of exciting tourism and outdoor activities to enjoy on Mount Etna. From hiking to sightseeing, Mount Etna offers a range of thrilling adventures. Take a guided tour to the summit and walk around the rim of the big active craters for a breathtaking view. Explore the lush forest and lava desert on mountain bike tours. Experience the spectacular nature on horseback, riding through the pine forest and on top of some craters. Join a full-day trip tour to Mount Etna and the Alcantara Gorges to hike through the forest, climb beautiful craters, and visit a lava cave. For those who prefer a more leisurely experience, take an Etna wine tour and enjoy the phenomenal view of smoking craters and vineyards. With so many options, Mount Etna promises an adventure of a lifetime.

mount etna wine district

Nestled on the fertile slopes of Mount Etna, the renowned wine district showcases Sicily's exceptional winemaking heritage and offers a captivating experience for wine enthusiasts and travelers alike.With volcanic soil benefits, Mount Etna vineyards produce exquisite wines from indigenous grape varieties such as Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio, Caricante, and Cataratto. These wines have gained international recognition, contributing to Sicilian wine exports. Exploring the Mount Etna wine tours allows you to discover the diverse flavors and aromas that make this region a haven for wine lovers.

Facilities on Mount etna

Mount Etna has one skilifts, one at Piano Provenzana on the north side of the volcano, not far from the small mountain town of Linguaglossa and a cable car at Rifugio Sapienza on the south side close to the city of Catania.  Scattered around the volcano along the "Pista altomontana" (a 45 km long trail) there are several shelters, (Rifugi di montagna) where to spent the night, some are better organized than others, but they all have a fire place and a table. This shelters are free but not all of them are open. Read our article on "Mount Etna shelters". The two only hotels on Mount Etna above 1300 meters are " The rifugio Clan dei ragazzi" on Etna north side and "Rifugio Sapienza" on Etna south side.


Frequently Asked Questions about Mt. etna

What Is the Current Status of Mount Etna's Activity?

Mt. Etna is closely monitored. Researchers keep an eye on the lava flows, volcanic gases, and even try to predict eruptions.

Are There Any Safety Precautions That Visitors Should Take When Visiting Mount Etna During an Eruption?

When visiting Mount Etna during an eruption, it's important to follow safety measures and visitor guidelines. Be aware of volcanic hazards and the risk assessment. Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

How Have Past Eruptions of Mount Etna Affected the Surrounding Towns and Villages?

Past eruptions of Mount Etna have had significant impacts on the surrounding towns and villages. The damage assessment revealed destroyed buildings, disrupted infrastructure, and economic implications. However, through recovery efforts and community resilience, these areas have managed to bounce back.

What Are Some Unique Flora and Fauna That Can Be Found on Mount Etna?

On Mount Etna, you'll find unique flora like the Sicilian fir, the birch of mount Etna and the Etna broom, along with rare fauna such as the Etna grasshopper and the Etna tree cricket. This biodiversity hotspot is of great ecological importance, leading to conservation efforts.

What Are Some Popular Tourism and Outdoor Activities That Visitors Can Engage in on Mount Etna?

Hiking adventures, Mountain Bike tours, volcano tours, wine tasting, skiing and snowboarding, and cable car rides are popular activities on Mount Etna.

What Are Some Popular Tourism and Outdoor Activities That Visitors Can Engage in on Mount Etna?

Yes mount Etna is an active volcano and while the emission of gasses and explosions take place very often, eruption with outcome of lava are not continues. To give an idea in the last 24 months this Italian volcano has erupted at five times. Mount etna is surely one of the most active volcanos on earth.

 How often does Mount Etna erupt?

To give an idea in the last 24 months this Italian volcano has erupted at five times. Mount etna is surely one of the most active volcanos on earth. Since 1750, seven of Etna's eruptions have had durations of more than 5 years, more than any other volcano except Vesuvius.