Fascination to cross
Everything that nature has of great,
everything that it has of pleasant,
everything that it has of fearful,
can be compared to Etna,
and Etna can’t be compared to anything.
(Dominique Vivand Denon, “Voyage en Sicilie”, 1788)
The Etna, declared UNESCO World Heritage Site for being one of the “most emblematic and active in the world”, is also the highest volcano in Europe with its 3,340 meters above sea level. Its craters, lava flows, lava caves and the transformations that it has undergone over time are the main aspects of interest for research. In particular eruptions, that recur periodically, fascinate tourists and scientists making the volcano become famous worldwide for its spectacular flaming tongues of lava.
Located on the eastern side of Sicily, between the rivers Alcantara and Simeto, the Etna dominates with its imposingness throughout the province of Catania. With its 135 km of perimeter and 3,340 m above sea level, it is the result of several geological events that have taken place over many tens of thousands of years. Its first eruptions are to date back to the middle-lower Pleistocene period (570,000 / 600,000 years ago). The current volcano building, the height of which undergoes constant changes due to the accumulation of materials or collapse of the walls, was built on the old volcanoes of Trifoglietto (whose collapse has generated the pit crater of the Valle del Bove) and Mongibello (from Arabic “Gebel” meaning the “mountain of mountains”), which is still in activity.
The summit of the volcano consists of the Central crater (Voragine and Bocca Nuova), the North-East crater (1911) and the South-East crater (1971).
In addition to the upper craters there are of particular interest the Montagnola and the Monti Silvestri. The Montagnola is one of the most impressive secondary cones of the Etna: it rises on the south of the Central Crater, on the high southern slopes where it is implanted at an altitude of 2,500 meters following the eruption of 1763.
The Monti Silvestri were formed as a result of the eruption of 1892. Between the Upper and Lower Monti Silvestri passes the road that leads from Zafferana Etnea and Nicolosi to Rifugio Sapienza and the square of the cableway, a destination for all visitors who are going to start climbing the volcano.
At 2,900 m altitude is the famous “Torre del Filosofo” (Tower of the Philosopher), a building so named in memory of Empedocles (492 BC. – 430 a. C. approximately), the philosopher of Agrigento who climbed the volcano to study the phenomena and set there his own home. The legend tells that the philosopher died by falling into the mouth of the volcano, but does not clarify whether this happened accidentally or deliberately.
It is thought that the “Torre del Filosofo” was built by Emperor Hadrian, who went, between 117 and 138 AD, several times on the Etna, fascinated by its majesty and amplitude of the view enjoyed from this strategic vantage point on the province of Catania.