Etna ( in sicilian: Mungibeddu) is a complex volcano which was born during the Quaternary e it is the highest active volcano within the Eurasian Plate; It is also the highest active volcano of Europe and the second in the world. In the 2013, UNESCO added it to the World Heritage Sites.
Position and Characteristics
The Mount Etna is situated in the province of Catania, Sicilian West Coast, and cover an area of 1265 square meter. It borders with the Ionio Sea to the east, with Alcantara and Simeto rivers to the north and with the Piana di Catania to the south. The height of Etna frequently changes due to incessant eruptions. Right now it has an altitude of 3350 m. There is a varied enviornment: thick woods, urban landsacape and desertic areas.
Etna is a “shield volcano” (built almost entirely of fluid lava flows) and he constant activity changed all the enviornment which surrounds it.
On the Etna there is a big central crater which is made up by Voragine (1778) e Bocca Nuova (1968). Other main craters are: Monti Rossi (1669); Montagnola (1763); Monte Nuovo (1763); Monte Luna (1763); Monti Calcarazzi (1766); Voragine del Cratere Centrale (1778); Monte Simone (1812); Monti Centenari (1853); monti Sartorius (1865); Monte Leone (1883); Monti Silvestri (1892); Monti Recupero (1910); Cratere Nord Est (1911); Bocca Nuova (1968); Crateri Ponte (1971); Cratere Sud Est (1971); Monti de Fiore (1974); Monte Cumin (1976); Sudestino (2000).
The first information are about 3000 years ago and they were founded on Diodoro and Pindaro’s writings. Diodoro Siculo says that people who lived near the Etna, i Sicani, had to leave the place due to one of the most violent eruptive activity on the Etna. Hereafter, many scientists had a part in the study of the Volcano. For example: Lyell, Sartorius von Waltershausen and Gemmelaro, who understood that it was made up of different smaller volcanos. They, later, found out two main eruptive mouths: Trifogliette (the oldest) and Mongibello (the newest). Around 60’s, J. Klerkx found out erupetive products older than Mongibello. Later, it was discovered that the structure included several eruptive zone completely different one from another.
Remarkable Eruptions in the History
The longest eruption in the historical memory dates back to 1614 and it lasted 10 years. The end of this extraordinary activity created a series of caverns which nowdays you can visit: Frost (Gelo) and Raspberry (Lamponi) caverns.
In 1892, there was another important eruption which generated Monti Silvestri.
1971 has to be remembered due to a huge eruption (75 millions cubic meters of lava) that detroyed the funicular railway and the astronomical observatory.
Another impressive eruption was during the 1983 (131 days and 100 million cubic meters of lava). This tragic event destroyed restaurants, turistic sructures and, again, the funicular railwway. This occurrence was particularly importante because, for the first time, it was used explosive to divert the lava flow.
The longest mount Etna eruption of XX century was in 1991. The activity lasted 473 days. Military engineering had to intervene do to the dangerouesness of this phenomena to save the little city of Zafferana Etnea. They built a 20 metres bank which stopped the lava flow. In 2001, italian marine special forces intervened at an altitude of 2200 m. to redirect, using explosive, the lava flow.
The mt Etna, thanks to its frequent eruptions, it has always been the center of several greek and roman mythological legends. For example, popular convictions said that god Aeolus, ruler of the winds, imprisoned the winds under the Etna’s caverns. Another legends talks about that Giant Enceladus, defeated by Athena, was buried under a pile of soul becoming Sicily and his mouth, just beneath Etna, spits fire everytime he yells. Another famous belief is that about Hephaestus’ forge, god of volcano and blacksmith of divinities, which should be collocated under the volcano Etna. In the end, a legend known by few is about King Artù, which would live in a castle on the Etna.
Fauna and Flora
There are many animal species and in spite of deforestation and hunting. You can find: porcupines, foxes, wild cats, martens, rabbits, hares, weasels, dormice, dormouse and several species of mice and bats. Among flying animals: sparrow hawks, buzzards, kestrels, peregrin falcon, golden eagle, barn owl, owl as well as various water birds like herons and ducks. In the area where the vegetation is dense: jay, coturince, pigeon, cuckoo and many others.
You can find Flora in different species and forms. It is not unusual, during the journey, to see sudden changes in the landscape. It keeps changing due to the frequent eruption and differences in climate and altitude. Starting with the lowest part, the land is full of vineyards, wood of oak, chestnut and apple orchards. At 2000 mt, you can find trees like beech and birch. Between 2000 and 2500 mt, there is the astragalus. From here to 3000 mt there is few vegetation. Beyond 3000 mt, there is only the vulcanic ground where flora does not survive.
Agriculture and Viticulture
During the centuries, inhabitants always enjoyed the prosperity of the vulcanic ground. The human being built majestic structures: terracing, storehouses, wine cellar, all situtated at the bottom of the mountain. The park of the Etna is well known for its biological agriculture. At this moment, the Volcano is surrounded by olive groves, vineyards, hazelnut, pistachio groves and orchards. The strong interest for agriculture led new interesting types of fruits: “Cola”, “Ice cream” and “cola-ice cream” apple, or “Ucciardona” and “Spinella” pears.
Visiting the 20 cities within the Etna’s territory, you can find an alternation of typical flavors and colors. The Park made many efforts to preserve and promote this treasure made up of a wide range of typical products.
Doc Etna: symbol of the city of Catania, it was the firts sicilial wine which got, 1968, the DOC status. The vine varieties are: Nerello mascalese and Cappuccio for the red wine, the Carricante e Catarratto for the white and the Carricante for the white Superiore. There are about 600 producers and, every year, they produce 15 thousands of hectolitres.
Cherry: cultivated on 500 hectares with a limitated production which does not go over 1000 tons.
Pistachio nut Verde of Bronte: it is produced only on Bronte, Ragalna, Adrano e Biancavilla, from 100% orignal italian pistachio. Its shiny color gave it the name of “green gold”. This pistachio is cultivated every two years.
Pero tree: there are 34 varieties and all of them are autochthonous.
Etna Prickly Pear: this characteristic sicilian fruit already has the DOP badge (protected denomination of origin). The different types of fruit depend of the period of maturation.
Strawberry from Maletto: this kind of strawberry is cultivated in the town of Maletto, it has a round shape, it smells good and its color is a shiny red.
Etna Apple Cola and Apple Gelato Cola Etna: it is often completely biological. The main quirk of this apple is its size: very small and its strong flavour.
Mt. Etna Oil: it got the DOP badge (protected denomination of origin). It descends from different tree varieties (Nocellara etnea, Brandolfino, Moresca, ecc.)
Pecorino Siciliano DOP: it was one of the most ancient cheese producted in Sicily. It is rigorously producted using sheep milk. The only one which got the DOP badge is the Pecorino aged at least for 4 months.
The beauty of Mt. Etna and of its park is in the opportunity to live a new experience at every visit. You can explore the Etna on your own or with organizated tours. The landscape and the natural and primordial enviornemnt give the Volcano a surreal charm, almost divine. The privilege to experience a sunset at 3000 mt is something that everyone has to live at least once. Despiste its extension, you can visit the Etna in one day.
Places to visit
Silvestri Mounts: created by the eruption of the 1892, they can be divided in Superiori and Inferiori (the main craters). Between these there is the road which leads to Rifugio Sapienza.
Sommitali Craters: the complex is composed of three craters: the Central Crater (Voragina and Bocca Nuova), the North East Crater (1911) and the South East one (1971).
Montagnola: it was born after the eruption of 1763; it is one of the most impressive cones. It is situated at an altitude of 2500 m.
Caverns: There are about 200 caverns on Mt. Etna. The most known are those of Lamponi (Raspberry), del Gelo (Frost), dei Tre Livelli (three levels).
Valle del Bove (Valley of the ox): it is a huge dip (37 square meter) situated on the east sector of the Etna. Scientists say it dates back to 64.000 years ago due to the collapse of the eruptive centers: Trifoglietto I e del Trifoglietto II;
Benedectin Monastery – Park Heasdquarter: In the 2005, the Institution which runs the Park of the Etna got new offices.
Paths for Excursions
Thanks to the huge area, there are several paths which are suitable for everyone. Through them you can go deep to an uncontaminated nature.
Walkable on foot by everyone (people with mobility limitation included) in one hours, it is a low level difficulty, 1153 km long. It perfectly matches people with a strong passion for history and flora.
701 Pista alto montana dell’Etna – Italia Track
You can travel this track on foot or by bike. The departure is at Cancello Demanio Forestale Regionale Feliciusa Milia (1685 mt high) and the arrival at Caserma Pitarrone, zona Pineta Linguaglossa (1421 mt high). The travel time is about 3 days, the lenght 42km and it is medium-high difficulty.
723 Citelli – Serracozzo – Mountain Fitness Track
Mountain Fitness Tracks represent a new approach to the mountain. You can use these tracks to improve your phisical performances and at the same time your heatlh. Walkable on foot, you can experience surreal landscapes. Ideal for those who love history, geology and flora.
736 Piano Dei Grilli
This track is 15km long (round-trip). Its an easy difficul path which an average duration of 7 hours. It starts at Casermetta Piano dei Grilli and ends in the North East part of the Etna.
717 Case Pirao – Monte Spagnolo
Another easy track, duration of 5 hours (10 km – round-trip). It starts at Case Pirao and ends in the North part of the Etna.
724 Pietracannone – Cubania – Sentiero Italia
The lenght of this track is 4 km (round-trip). It is easily walkable in 2 hours and 30 minutes. It starts at Case Pietracannone and ends at Rifugio Paternò Castello.
Sentiero Natura Monti Sartorius
Lenght: 4 km. Duration: about 2 hours. Difficulty: easy. Fort those who love landscapes, flora and geology.
Sentiero Natura Monte Nero degli Zappini
Lenght: 4 km. Duration: about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Difficulty: easy.
Schiena dell’Asino (Donkey back)
Lenght: 5 km (round-trip). Duration: about 4 hours. Difficulty: average.
How to reach Mt. Etna
There are different solutions:
- A/18 Messina – Catania that is A/29 Palermo -Catania.
- A/29 – Catenanuova Exit – proceed toward Catania and reach la S.S. 121 through Calanchi road (toward Biancavilla) and Dimeto Valley
- S.S.113 Coastal Palermo – Messina, S.Agata Militello Exit, proceed through Parco dei Nebrodi.
- S.S 120 Centro Occidentale Sicula through Troina and Cesarò.
- S.S. 121 Enna – Catania through Regalbuto.
- Catania Fontanarossa Airport.
- Messina – Catania – Siracusa Railroad line.