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Mount Etna is Sicily’s tallest peak. Although capped with snow for much of the winter, it is one of Europe’s most famous active volcanoes. Its actual height has been repeatedly modified by eruptions throughout time; it currently (1998) stands at 3350 m above sea level.


Etna evolved as a result of submarine eruption during the Quaternary Period (circa 500,000 years ago), at the same time that the plain of Catania was formed, originally as a broad bay. Etna is known to have erupted regularly during Antiquity, as documented at least 135 times. In the Middle Ages, eruptions were recorded in 1329 and 1381 disseminating terror amongst the people of the region. It was in 1669, however, that the most catastrophic quake occurred; a great river of lava flowed down to the sea, devastating part of Catania on the way. In the 20th century, the most violent eruption were recorded in 1910 – leading to 23 additional craters being formed –, in 1917 – when a fountain of lava spurted 800m into the air from its base – and in 1923 – when outpouring of molten lava stayed hot for more than 18 months after the eruption. In 1928, a lava flow destroyed the village of Mascali and other eruptions followed in 1954, 1964, 1971, 1974, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1991 that continued to grumble for a further three years.

A plume of smoke always hangs above Etna and it could burst into activity at any moment. The black lava around the craters dates from recent eruptions as compared with the older grey lava on which lichens are beginning to grow. The presence of both and, sometimes, their distressing effects (blocked roads and ruined buildings) are evidence for the volcano’s constant activity.

On the slopes of the central crater, at about 3000 m height, in the vicinity of the Torre del Filosofo – where a refuge was destroyed by lava in 1971 – are three more craters: the north-eastern crater – that began suppurating in 1978 – the north-eastern crater – at the highest point and dormant since 1971 – and the Bocca Nuova (literally the “New Mouth”) which, in recent times has been the most active.


The protected area designated a National Park in 1987 covers some 59,000 hectares.

The mountain consists of an enourmous black cone, visible from a distance of up to 250km away. The extremely fertile slopes are cultivated with dense groves of oranges, mandarins, lemons, olives, agaves and prickly pears, as well as bananas, eucalyptus, palm trees, maritime pines and vines from which the excellent Etna wine is produced. Probably, the most common of the wild plants is Euphorbia dendroides (tree spurge).

Above 500m, plantations of hazelnuts, almonds, pistachio and chestnuts give way to oaks, beeches, birches, and pines higher up, especially around Linguaglossa (see below). The landscape at this altitude is also characterized by a local variety of broom. At 2100m, the desolate landscape sustains desert-like plants like Astragalus aetnensis (a local variety of milk-vetch), a small prickly bush often found alongside colorful endemic varieties of violet, groundsel and other flowers which populate the slopes of the secondary craters. Higher up, snow and, for a lot time after an eruption, hot lava prevent any type of macroscopic vegetation from growing.

The protected areas of Etna harbour a large variety of small mammals (porcupine, fox, wild cat, weasel, marten and dormouse), birds (kestrel, buzzard, chaffinch, woodpecker and hoopoe), a few reptiles, such as the asp viper, and a large variety of butterflies, including the Eastern orange tip (Anthocharis damone, which is more commonly known in Italy as the Aurora dell’Etna).


Opportunities abound when it comes to walking into the park, with facilities both for short and long excursions (the longest and most complex being the Grande Traversata Etnea involving 5 days of trekking, with daily 12km-15km hikes).

There are also nature trails and, for the less agile, the circumnavigation of Etna by car (see below) or train: the latter option uses the section of railway that leaving from Catania goes around the mountain and stops at Riposto; onward services to Catania are by bus. For more information, contact the Ferrovia Circumetnea (ph. 095/541246)

For detailed information about routes enquire at the following:

Azienda Provinciale di Catania, ph. 095/317722; Azienda di Soggiorno e Turismo di Nicolosi, ph. 095/911505; Pro Loco information centres of Linguaglossa, ph. 095/643094, and Zafferana Etnea, ph. 095/70 82825; the Gruppo Guide Alpine Etna Sud at Nicolosi, ph. 095/7914755.

Ascent to the top – Unpredictable ad ongoing eruptions of the volcano undermine any permanent tourist amenity infrastructure (roads, ski-runs, ropeways, refuges); favorite haunts and recommended itineraries, therefore, should be considered as temporary and subject to being closed at short notice following any recent eruption.

Excursions across the higher slopes of the volcano, in particular, may be cancelled due to forecas ts of bad weather (rain or mist). It is as well to bear in mind that, especially on the northeast side of the mountain, the period during which it is possible to go hiking varies each year according to the snowfall. At the start of the season (normally in May), shorter walks that stop well below the top are organized. When there is no snow – or if there is, only after the snowcat has cleared the roads through the highest section – is it possible to reach 3,000m. The best time for hiking on Etna is normally high summer, especially in the early morning.

Equipment – Whether aiming for high (see below) or low altitudes, it is important to remember that termperatures can plummet even here in Sicily. It is therefore advisable to carry a thick sweater, a wind-cheater and appropriate footwear (preferably hiking boots suitable for walking through snow higher up). Those arriving without suitable attire can, however, hire jackets and boots locally. It is also advisable to have sun glasses and sun screen to hand for the sunlight can be dazzling when reflected off the snow and the ultra-violet can be deceptively powerful in the clear mountain air.


A climb up the volcano can be approached from the south or the north, both routes offering different views and contrasting qualities.

The route from Nicolosi to Rifugio Sapienza is through a barren, black and desert-like environment when compared to the lushly green section up via Piano Provenzana.

From the coast to the southern slopes – 45km drive from Acireale; allow half a day.

There are various ways of approaching the southern slopes of the volcano, which is the bleaker side, where concentrations of black lava form a lunar-like landscape. All along the edge runs a ring of little towns, where dark lava stone has been largely used to pave streets, to ornament the doorways and windows of the houses, to fashion awesome black masks with exaggerated menace and to articulate the lines of the churches.


Aci Sant’Antonio – Several of the town’s major monuments are collected around the Piazza Maggiore, most notably the Duomo with its imposing façade, rebuilt after the terrible earthquake of 1693. Opposite stands the 1500’s church of St. Michael the Archangel. From the piazza, begins the via Vittorio Emanuele that terminates at the ruined Palazzo Riggio.

Viagrande – The centre of the village is paved with huge slabs of lava. The front elevation of the 18th century Mother Church is of the same dark stone, used here to emphasize the strong verticals of the doorways and windows above.

Trecastagni – Literally, the name of this town translates as Threechestnuts. However, contrary to what it might sound, its name actually derives from tre casti agni (short for “agnelli”, lambs) which refers to the three chaste lambs that are worshipped here, Alfio, Filadelfio and Cirino. A festival in their honour is annually celefrated on 9 and 10 May, the highlight coming with the procession of the wax effigies, some immensely heavy, borne by bare-chested ignudi through the city streets to the Santuario di Sant’Alfio on the outskirts of town. Via Vittorio Emanuele, lined with fine buildings, leads to the foot of the Chiesa madre di San Nicola with its great central campanile. The front towers above a steep flight of steps that is flanked on the right by a projecting recess which rises to become a series of asymmetrical ramps above. The terrace at the top provides marvellous views over the plain below.

Gook cooking and folklore – The Villa Taverna restaurant at 42 Corso Colombo is cluttered with an unusual assemblage of artefacts in an attempt to recreate something of the historic centre of Catania. The menu offers a range of typical Sicilian dishes at fixed prices.

Pedara – Piazza Don Diego is graced with the Duomo, which has an unusual spire covered in brightly-coored maiolica tiles.

Nicolosi – It is often regarded as the gateway to Etna. It is here that the official guides (Alpine Etna Sud ph. 095/7914755) are centred and it is from here that the road winds its way up to Rifugio Sapienza, the starting point for all expeditions to the crater.

Up to the summit of Etna – The route lies through a strangely unnerving landscape with black lava below and blue sky above, relieved occasionally by a white patch of snow or lonely cloud as if for dramatic effect. Before getting to the refuge, a sign points to the Crateri Silvestri, moonlike craters a short walk away, at a height of 1886 m.

Ascent from the south side – The section up to 1923m can be made by cable-car (from Rifugio Sapienza); to 2608m by four-wheel drive vehicle, leaving a short distance to cover on foot.

For safety reasons, it is not possible to get close to the central vent.

An excursion by vehicle includes a stop near the Valle del Bove, a vast sunken area (hence the description as a valley) enclosed by 1000m high walls of lava, split with great crevasses and chasms. This zone has been the scene of violent eruptions, with flows of lava that succeeded in reaching the towns below (1852, 1950, 1979 and 1991).

The northeast flank – 62km drive from Linguaglossa: allow a full day

Linguaglossa, nearly 6,000 inhabitants and lying at 550m a.s.l., is especially renowned as a ski resort. Its name, literally translating as “tongue” both in Italian (lingua) and in Greek (glossa), refers, according to an intriguing hypothesis, to its hot position on the slopes of the volcano, many times invaded by its lava. It was supposedly founded by survivors of Naxos as apparently attest some Greek relics unearthed by the Ficheri creek. In the central piazza is the Mother Church dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie. Its façade combines lava and sand stone. Inside it has three naves adorned with two beautiful paintings attributed to Olivo Sozzi and a 1700’s carved wooden choir where are illustrated scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.

The Pro Loco’s office, in the town’s main street, serves as the main reference point for planning excursions up Etna. Information and explanatory boards provide details about the park and the volcano that can be useful when organising walks in the area.

Driving the road to Mareneve, which is bordered by a nice pine-wood, you reach Piano Provenzana, where you can park your car and undertake the climb up to the craters. Following a highly scenic route, a 4x4 mini-bus can take you up to 3000m altitude, where a new observatory has been built, replacing the one destroyed by lava during the 1971’s eruption (lasting 69 days). This affected both the southern (wiping out both the observatory and the ropeway) and the eastern slopes, where the lava flow threatened some of the towns below (Fornazzo and Milo), before stopping about 7km short of the sea. From the observatory, at 2,750m, there is a magnificent vista. At 3,000m, the more intrepid can undertake a walk to the awesome vents. The route may vary according to the latest outward signs given by the volcano. On the downward return journey, you can stop at 2,440m and examine the craters that were the cause of the 1809 eruption.

Eastern Route – From Piano Provenzana, follow the scenic Mareneve road skirting the eastern side of the mountain. Many farming villages has grown on the lower slopes exploiting the fertile volcanic soil by cultivating vines and citrus fruits.

Near Randazzo, just before taking the road connecting Linguaglossa and Zafferana Etnea, it passes the lava flow which incredibly spared the little Cappella del Sacro Cuore (on the left), only sligthly penetrating it. Regarded as having been preserved by a miracle, the chapel is a favorite goal of believers, who come here to give thanks, bearing ex-voto offerings.

From Fornazzo a road down to the left leads to Sant’Alfio.

Sant’Alfio – Its Mother Church is of 1600’s origin, although it was refurbished in the 19th century and graced with a fine lava-stone façade and campanile. Across the square is a terrace with a splendid view over the Ionian coast. The Castagno dei 100 Cavalli (literally 100 horses’ chestnut), on the provincial road to Linguaglossa, is a major attraction for tourists. It is a fabulous specimen of over two-thousand years, comprising three distinct trunks with a combined circumference of 60m. According to a legend, during a storm, many centuries ago, a queen and her one-hundred knights, took refuge under the branches of this majestic tree, hence its name.

Go back in the direction of Fornazzo and continue towards Milo.

Milo – This small farming community tenuously survives, as it has over the years, against all odds given the unpredictable, blind advances of lava which have so far spared it. Indeed, on many occasions, the lava has come to within a few metres before, at the last minute, changing direction.

Continue in the direction of Zafferana Etnea as far as Trecastagni and Nicolosi, then continue along the southern slope or towards Catania.


154km round trip: allow a full day

The road running around the circumference of Mount Etna provide a kaleidoscope of different views of the volcano, while passing through various picturesque little villages.

Misterbianco – The imposing 1700’s church dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie rises tall above the town roof tops, its elegant façade visible from miles away. In the south apse, nestles a Madonna and Child attributed to Antonello Gagini.

Paternò – In 1072, Roger II built a castle here on top of a crag. Its square form is

relieved on one side by a series of two-light windows. The black lava stone provides a strong contrast for highlighting the white stone ornamental features. Clustered around the castle are the main religious buildings: the Chiesa Madre, founded in Norman times and rebuilt in the 14th century, and the Chiesa di San Francesco. Below these, developed the town’s other buildings, predominantly in the 17th century.

Santa Maria di Licodia – At the heart of this little town is Piazza Umberto; this slightly raised square stretches before a former Benedictine monastery (now Town Hall) and the Chiesa del Crocifisso. Down the left side of the church stands its attractive bell-tower (1100’s-1300’s) built in stone of two colors.

Adrano – This is one of the oldest settlements on the slopes of Mount Etna (the earliest traces found date from Neolithic times), founded, it is alleged, by the tyrant Dionysius in the 5th century BC under the name of Adranon. Evidence of the massive walls built of square blocks of lava are still clearly visible (follow Via Catania and turn right at the yellow sign).

Its castle was built during the Norman occupation and still overlooks the main Piazza Umberto. This unmistakable square edifice of dark lava stone owes its form to the Swabian era. Inside, it houses three museums.

The Museo Etnoantropologico collects objects made by local craftsmen.

On three floors, the Museo Archeologico Regionale, displays artefacts relating to the history of the area – and from other parts of the Eastern sicily – from the Neolithic age until the Byzantine period. Of particular note (on the second floor), are a banchettante, (which translates as the banqueting guest), an early bronze figurine, of Samina workmanship (second half of the 6th century BC), which probably adorned a bronze bowl of chest, the terracotta bust of a female Siculian deity found in the Primosole district (5th century BC), a clay Locrian female bust (5th century BC), a clay figurative froup of Eros and Psyche, and a splendid Attic vase with small columns (5th century BC).

The top floor is devoted to the picture gallery, showing paintings on canvas (by the so-called Zoppo di Gangi, Filippo Paladino and Vito D’Anna), glass and metal; sculptures in wood, alabaster and bronze dating from the early 17th to the early 20th century, and a series of contemporary works by artists from Adrano and beyond.

The piazza stretches eastwards into the delightful garden of the Villa Comunale, onto which face the church and monastery of Santa Lucia. The 18th century church’s façade, in two colors, is by Stefano Ittar.

Centrale Solare Eurelios – This experimental power plant lies few kilometres from Adrano and was built within the framework of a European Community research project on solar energy sponsered by Italy, France and Germany. Following a brief period of trial and experimentation from 1981 to 1987, tests were halted (it had succeeded in generating 1MW). Currently, attempts are being made to generate electric power with solar energy using photovoltaic panels (composed of silivon cells).

Ponte Saraceno – The Saracen bridge is located off town, beside the Simeto River.

It was first erected by the Romans, rebuilt under Roger II and altered through the successive centuries. The pointed arches spanning the water are articulated with contrasting colored stone. A short walk north along the river bank leads to the amazing Simeto Gorge, formed, like Alcantara’s (see Gole dell’Alcantara) by a lava flow and then polished clean by water bearing away great blocks of basalt.

Bronte – Pride of place in the centre of town, stands the Collegio Capizzi, a prestigious 18th century boarding-school housed in a fine palazzo. A few kilometres away, near Maniace, although still falling within the Bronte district, is the lovely Benedictine Abbey of Maniace, later converted into “Nelson’s Castle”.

Castello di Nelson – Follow the signs from Bronte. The castle is situated by the entrance to the village of Maniace. The Benedictine Abbey, founded in the 12th century at the behest of Queen Margareth wife of William the Bad, was situated on an important route of communication into the Sicilian hinterland. The adjacent chapel is graced with an elegant doorway with figurative capitals. Inside, it houses a 13th century Byzantine icon, which is more popularly believed to be the original one carried by the Byzantine condottiere George Maniakes who inflicted a crushing defeat on the Saracens. The prosperous monastery was subjected to various modifications before, finally, being given by Ferdinand III to the British naval hero Admiral Nelson in 1799.

Randazzo – see RANDAZZO

Head for the coast, taking the turning to Marina di Cottone.

Riserva Naturale del fiume Fiumefreddo – The Fiumefreddo river rushes down from the north-eastern slopes of Etna mount, flowing underground and emerging on the plain where there is an impermeable layer of gray.

The river rises from two springs, both 10-12 metres deep, known as Testa dell’Acqua e le Quadare (“paioli” in Sicilian dialect). It is well worth arranging a visit to the springs when the sun is at its height; this allows the depth and clarity of the water to be appreciated in full. The Ph of the water in the river, never exceeding 10-15° C, even in summer, and flowing remarkably slowly, provides the right conditions for an unusual range of water-loving plants more often associated with Central Europe (certain members of the Ranunculus family) or Africa (as are papyrus). Other species include the white willow, aquatic iris, European aspen and horsetail. The springs also attract a veriety of birds on migration such as herons, oystercatchers, golden orioles and many species of duck.

Beside the nature reserve, stands the 1700’s Castello degli Schiavi, a private building, hence not open to the public, designed by architects Vaccarini and Ittar.

Giarre – This little town was once part of the feudal estate belonging to the Mascalis, having been bestowed upon the Bishop of Catania by Roger II in 1124. Its name is taken from the jars in which the tithes on the harvest due to the bishop were collected. The Duomo is an imposing neo-Classical building with twin square-set towers. The town’s main street is Via Callipoli, lined with elegant shops and noble houses including the Liberty-style, as is Palazzo Bonaventura at no. 170. At no. 154 is palazzo Quattrocchi, ornamented with Moorish designs.

From Giarre, head for the coast in the direction of Riposto.

Riposto – It was to Riposto that the tithes from the Mascali estates were brought before being shipped by sea. The village itself developed around a colony founded by people from Messina (hence the popularity of the cult of the Madonna della Lettera) who established their warehouses here before it became an important depot for wine destined for the export market in the 19th century. Indeed, the vestiges of a number of commercial buildings survive from the 1800’s.

The charming Santuario della Madonna della Lettera, with its face turned towards the sea, was built in 1710, although a church probably existed on the site in Norman times. Four excavations undertaken beneath the shrine have revealed the existence of cryptis containing funerary chambers dating from the Paleo-Christian period, coins dating from the Arab-Norman era and architectural remains from Aragonese times. The painting of the Virgin and Child on the 18th century altar is of uncertain date. The choir has an interesting set of recently carved-wooden stalls and an unusual Baroque lamp set with mother-of-pearl, probably made locally.


Aci Bonaccorsi
Aci Castello
Aci Catena
Aci Sant'antonio
Aci Trezza
Camporotondo Etneo
Castel Di Judica
Castiglione Di Sicilia
Fiumefreddo Di Sicilia
Gravina Di Catania
Licodia Eubea
Militello Val Di Catania
Mirabella Imbaccari
Motta Santa Anastasia
Piedimonte Etneo
San Cono
San Giovanni La Punta
San Gregorio
San Michele Di Ganzaria
San Pietro Clarenza
Sant'agata Li Battiati
Santa Maria Di Licodia
Santa Venerina
Tremestieri Etneo
Zafferana Etnea


Il Vulcano Etna
Aci San Filippo
Aci Platani
Santa Maria La Scala
Santa Tecla

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