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Discovering Etna, the highest peak in Europe

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February 17, 2020

Discovering Etna, the highest peak in Europe

Etna, the highest volcano in Europe, dominates the eastern coast of Sicily. It is one of the highest volcanoes in the world, and in 2013 it became part of the Unesco world Heritage list. It is one of the predominant symbols of the island, it deserves to be visited in summer and winter, when its peaks are covered with white snow, making the volcano a true spectacle of nature.

A little history of the Etna Volcano

Named Etnaby the Greek colonizers in the 7th century BC, the name literally means to burn and derives from the Greek word “Aiteos”. Over time, it was given various names, such as the appellative “Mongibello” composed of the Latin “mons” and the Arabic “giabal” (mountain).

In ancient times, sailors called it a real natural lighthouse, which gave them the ability to navigate without the need for a compass; in fact this majestic volcano, given its size, is visible even at considerable distances. It also worked as an anemometer, as the direction in which the smoke moved indicated the direction of the wind forces.

Etna is an active volcano, which however, despite its proximity to inhabited centers, does not arouse fear but is a source of pride for all Sicilians. From 693 BC about hundreds of major eruptions followed, which changed the landscape year after year. That of 1669 is considered one of the most disastrous and at the same time spectacular; the lava destroyed several towns and reached Catania, where it surrounded the Ursino castle and poured into the sea for about 2000 meters.

From 1991 to 1993 there was the longest eruption in the history of the volcano of the twentieth century, whose lava was a threat to the town of Zafferana. To date, the last major eruption dates back to January 2011: it lasted 4 hours during which the east face of the Valle del Bove caught fire.

A little bit of geography

As in a postcard, it rises above the city of Catania, redesigning the panorama and landscape. It overlooks theIonian Sea to the east, while to the north it is bordered by the Alcantarariver. The erosion of these icy waters over time has given rise to the “Gorges of Alcantara“, very high lava gorges where you can take an adventurous walk among waterfalls and small “lakes” of cold water.

Etnais about 3,330 meters high, but its height is constantly growing due to the continuous eruptions of magma. From its highest peaks you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Sicily, and on the clearest days the island of Malta is also visible. When the volcano is erupting, at night, it is a true open-air spectacle: the lava and the jets it throws out illuminate the sky in red, impressing those who admire it from afar.

Observing the structure of the volcano, four craters are clearly visible: the Central Crater (the oldest of the summit craters), the Bocca Nuova (formed in 1968), the North-East Crater (formed in 1911), and finally the youngest, theSoutheast Crater (formed in 1971). The latter has significantly increased in height in recent years, due to the frequent “Strombolian” type eruptions that have occurred in recent years.

All these craters have made its surface very similar to the lunar soil, and it is suggestive to walk on the lava soil, black and typically volcanic, where in some areas it also has fumaroles with the release of steam and other volcanic gases.

How to spend a day discovering Etna

In addition to being loved by geologists and scholars who have been studying it for years, Etnais a fundamental destination for those who spend their holidays in this area of ​​Sicily(and beyond). The landscape, thanks to the variety of the climate, is rich and varied made of citrus groves and vineyards, chestnut trees and oaks and tends to become arid and cold near the craters. An environment rich in flora and fauna that is protected by the vast natural park of Etnaestablished in 1987.

The volcano is a popular destination for those who love adventure, in fact it is possible to visit it thanks to the numerous trails that are open to all visitors. For example, “La Valle del Bove” is one of the volcanic depressions that can be visited on the eastern side; its walls are about 1000 meters high and are carved by deep canyons. Evocative is the “Grotta del Gelo“, a cavity within which a perennial glacier has formed. Also particular are the Alcantara Gorges, already mentioned, created by the erosion of the homonymous river.

Trekking and hiking lovers, walking along the winding paths of the volcano, will discover the wonders that nature has created and creates over time.

How to get to Etna

Mount Etnawas born in a strategic position, in fact at the foot of the volcano there are many beautiful places to visit from Cataniato Taormina, from the magnificent Val diNoto to Syracuse e Pantalica.

Getting there is simple: you can take the provincial road 92 Nicolosi-Rifugio Sapienza or Zafferana Etnea-Rifugio Sapienza; the state road 120 Linguaglossa-Randazzo or 284 Randazzo-Adrano.

To arrive by train from Cataniajust take the Circumetnea: this railway line leaves from the Bordo di Catania station and goes as far as Riposto.

Bus service is also available to take at Cataniacentral station, in Piazza Papa Giovanni XXIII.