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Mt. Etna (Catania Province) is (alt. 3300 m) the highest volcano in Europe. Its base has a diameter of 212 km. The territory surrounding the volcano constitutes the Parco dell'Etna (Etna Park), which includes 18 towns in the provinces of Messina and Catania and covers 57,000 hectares (220 sq miles) - one of the largest protected areas in Italy.
The origins of the volcano are to be found in the area of Aci Castello and Aci Trezza, going back some 500,000/600,000 years. Subsequently the Valle Colonna-Valle del Bove system was formed, also known as "Premordial Etna". This system collapsed, and after a dormant period the present-day Etna was formed. It is also called Mongibello (or 'a Muntagna). One characteristic of the present volcanic formation of Etna is the variability of the shape of the eruptive cone, depending whether the eruptive activity is constructive or destructive, which is the main factor in determining variations in the volcano's altitude.
Its intensive avtivity even today has not prevented the population of its slopes, where Catania itself stands, and has determined, according the the various historical moments, an adaptation of the flora to various situations that have never been longlasting. Climbing from the lower slopes, washed by the sea and often barren, we encounter interesting forms of vegitation, among which citrus fruits and vineyards predominate. At higher altitudes, above chestnut and hazelnut woods, we find oaks and holm-oaks, apple orchards, pines and beech-trees, and even higher (300m) the plants that are really typical of Etna, such as the birch tree, broom and the Etna violet.
Although among the fauna the larger mammals have been lost, we can still find various medium-sized mammals such as porcupines, foxes, martens, rabbits and hares. Among the smaller mammals are dormice, stoats and hedgehogs.
Among the birds, we see not only common crows and ravens, but also some rare birds of prey, including the golden eagle.
Lake Gurrida, a seasonal phenomenon, welcomes herons and ducks. Other birds, many of them songbirds, are to be found in the woods. The fauna is completed by vipers, dangerous only when disurbed, frogs and insects.
The ferrovia circumetnea (round-Etna railway) was awaited with with great enthusiasm and expectancy in the 19th century. Travelling on it today we can enjoy views of Etna from a thousand different angles. The writer Edmondo de Amicis described his "exploration" in 1908.
Of the numerous eruptions in the past, one is described by Pindarus and Aeschylus, that of 475 BC. There were numerous eruptions in the 19th century (1853-86 and 1898). In the 20th century there have been serious eruptions in 1908, 1910-11 (with earth-quakes), 1928, 1957-58, 1971, 1983 and 1991-2. In fact, Etna has been active for the last two years (1999-2000), so much so that a couple of live-cams have been installed there to monitor the activity (Etna Current Activity).
A cable-car system connects the snowy peaks of Etna and the city of Catania so that it is possible on fine winter mornings to ski in the morning on the northern slopes and to sunbathe in the afternoon on the beach. The cable-car station on the south side was severly damaged in 2002 in the lava flow.
Links to learn more about Mt. Etna include:
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My latest book on CD is titled Sicily, Part 1 and Part 2 is now available on 2 CDs. With a file for each town (plus many other files), it relates the history of Sicily as reflected in the photos, records and festivals of its towns. It contains over 2500 text and photo files and can be ordered at CD order.
© Kathy Kirkpatrick 1997-2012
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