Mount Etna is an active volcano, which locates on the east coast of Sicily, Italy. It occupies an area of 459 sq. miles (1,190 sq. km), which makes it the largest volcanic mountain in Europe. Apart from its mighty and breathtaking look, Mount Etna is mostly recognized with its continuous eruptions.
Even back in history, people knew that the mountain spews up a great fire now and then. Therefore, early inhabitants called it Etna. The word Etna came from the Greek word “aitho”, which means “I burn”. Early Arabs were also familiar with this mountain. For example, they called it Jabal al-Nar, which translates as “Mountain of Fire”.
To give out more valuable information on Mount Etna, I decided to list the most important facts about it. I derived each fact from a reliable source to make the facts more suitable for students and educators. I am hoping that all these Mount Etna facts will settle into your mind much better than wordy texts.
1. The first volcanic activity on Mount Etna took place in 1,500 B.C.
Since then Mount Etna erupted hundreds of times. The most recent Mount Etna eruption took place on December 24, 2018. It spewed volcanic ashes, forcing the air-space around Mount Etna being closed for days.
Two days after the 2018 eruption, seismic activities of the mountain produced a 4.9 magnitude earthquake in the city of Catania. As a result of the earthquake, several buildings got damaged and a few people got injured.
2. The largest Mount Etna eruption ever recorded happened during 1669.
The 1669 eruption lasted between March 11 and July 15 and it is considered the deadliest Mount Etna eruption ever recorded. The eruption claimed 20,000 lives and left close 27,000 people homeless. The city of Catania suffered the most. The fierce lava flowed towards the city, swallowing up most of its parts ruthlessly.
3. Most Mount Etna casualties are caused by human mistakes.
Believing they could divert the flow direction of the lava, people tried to block the lava flow wearing cow-hides wetted in the water. They hoped that their efforts will help them to save their city. However, their expectations and efforts were in vain. They knew it too late and suffered from the consequences of their misjudgment.
4. Mount Etna erupted in 1843, killing 36 people.
It is hard to estimate how many lives did Mount Etna claimed since its earliest eruptions are not documented properly. However, experts believe Mount Etna does not cause many fatalities as some other large volcanoes do.
5. Mount Etna dominates the most parts of the Island of Sicily.
The Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 20 regions of Italy. Nature-lovers around the world visit the island with the hopes of observing the magnificent volcanic mountain with their bare eyes. In recent years, Mount Etna turned into one of the notable tourist sites in Italy, attracting tourists from all over the world.
6. The height of Mount Etna is 11,000 feet (3,350 m) and it is the highest mountain on the island of Sicily.
The height of Mount Etna makes it visible in every part of the Sicily. The size of the island is 460 square miles (1191 sq. km) and it is dominated by several mountains such as Pizzo Carbonaro, Mount Commarato, Mount Pellegrino, Rocca Busambra, etc… However, none of these comes close in height in comparison with Mount Etna.
7. Mount Etna is the most active volcano in Europe.
Like any other volcanic mountains, Mount Etna came to an existence thanks to the magma (molten rock) coming to the surface from deep within the earth.
If you have some type of geological knowledge, you should know that lava comes out of the volcano’s mouth and once it gets to the surface, it cools down and turns into a cone of rock. That is how Mount Etna developed its full-scale mountain shape for thousands of years.
8. Although it is dangerous to live around Mount Etna, locals prefer to stick to that area because of its fertile soil.
A volcano can be a curse and a blessing for some. In the case of Mount Etna, ashes from previous eruptions serve as fertilizer to enrich the soil around the Etna. Farmers in Sicily grow wheat, olives, oranges, lemons, and grapes in nearby areas of Mount Etna. Due to the rich soil, people established several villages on the slopes of Mount Etna.
However, some specialists believe that a soluble fluoride present in the volcanic ash can cover the vegetation and skins of fruits, making it toxic for consumption.
9. Although numerous tour operators that offer travel packages to Mount Etna, some people prefer to explore it independently.
Travel companies recommend hiring an experienced tour guide to get the most out of a visit. However, independent visit to the mountain is also possible, if you have a good hiking experience.
Some people prefer to see Mount Etna and its magnificent volcanic craters from up top. For those people who prefer to explore the site quickly and comfortably, the helicopter flyover is the best option. There are established helicopter operators in Sicily that will fly you over Mount Etna.
10. People can visit and explore Mount Etna year around, however, the best time for hikers is between March and September.
During this period, the weather is pleasant which makes the whole hiking experience enjoyable. One source suggests that it is even better to come in May or late September and October to avoid tourist crowds. Usually, July and August are the busiest time in the site and produce large tourist crowdings.
11. If you want to visit Mount Etna during the winter months, you need to wear warm clothing.
The temperature drops below zero during the winter in Mount Etna. Therefore, it is recommended to bring, warm jackets, scarves, gloves, and, hats. Also, make sure to wear thicker shoes to keep your feet warm.
During the spring, tourists can visit the place in sportswear, but bringing jackets and sneakers is still recommended since the weather can fluctuate in the area unexpectedly.
12. Although eruptions are happening frequently, Mount Etna has a variety of animal life.
Mount Etna is home to species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and arthropods. For example, one can find mammals such as foxes, hedgehogs, squirrels, mice, and porcupines. In general, there are an estimated 40 mammals in the Mount Etna region. Unfortunately, hunting activities almost wiped out wild boar, deer, and wolf populations in the area.
There are over 200 species of birds which include falcons, owls, eagles, and buzzards. And, more than 40 types of reptiles such as lizards, turtles, geckos, and snakes are also present in the area. Although most of those creatures are harmless to humans, local guides usually recommend watching out for vipers.
13. Back in history, locals mistakenly directed the flows of lava towards their city during the 1669 Mount Etna eruption. Since then, diverting the natural flow of lava is illegal in Italy.
Trying to protect their city from flowing lava, a team of 50 men under the leadership of Diego de Pappalardo headed towards the scorching hot lava equipped with pokes, shovels, and iron rods. However, all that effort was in vain when the lava approached and destroyed the large parts of the city of Catania. Concisely, men mistakenly rerouted the flow towards their city.
14. According to Greek legends, Cyclopes has a workshop deep within Mount Etna.
In Greek mythology, Cyclopes are described as giant creatures with multiple eyes. Early Greeks believed that volcanic eruptions are their handiwork. But, that is just a mythology. Thanks to modern science, most of us know that volcanoes are caused by seismic activities, not by mythical creatures.
15. Mount Etna encompasses 19,237 hectares of uninhabited land on its highest part.
UNESCO labeled that portion of land as the Mount Etna World Heritage Site. The area is strictly protected by local authorities. Access to the area is only allowed for recreational and scientific purposes. In general, the site is scientifically important ground since the scientists can access the volcanic craters, lava caves, cinder cones, and lava flows to conduct scientific studies.
16. Mount Etna is of the well-studied and best-monitored volcanoes in the world.
It is because the Mount Etna volcano is easily accessible compared to other volcanoes. That makes it possible for scientists to come to the area and closely monitor and study the volcanic activities by hiking to the top of the mountain.
17. Mount Etna Season has four seasons.
Winter season around Mount Etna includes November, December, January, February, and March. You can visit the site during the winter but it is highly recommended to bring warm closing and thicker shoes to protect yourself from cold winds and snow.
Locals also recommend hiring tour operators during the winter because tour guides can supply tourists with special gear such as sticks and snowshoes. They can even take you to the destination utilizing snow-cats. The primary downsides of visiting Mount Etna during winter are that weather is cold and if it snows a lot, the site will be closed for several days, impacting your travel schedule.
Spring season in Mount Etna is during April and May. However, there is still a chance of rain in April. But, the temperatures steadily raise in May, making the weather more pleasant for hikers.
Summer season includes June, July, and August. It is a pleasant time for tourists. Especially, during July and August, Mount Etna is snow-free. However, the place is too crowded during this time of a year. A high number of tourists creates delays and leads to the accommodation price to hike.
The autumn season in Mount Etna is in September and October, during which weather fluctuates a lot. The month of October can be windy and snowy. Therefore, people should bring appropriate clothing.
18. Mount Etna volcano used as moving backgrounds in the Star Wars movie.
When George Lucas and his team were shooting the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Mount Etna erupted. The eruption was the chance for Lucas and his team to create a natural background for a scene of the movie. So, Lucas sent some of his team to Mount Etna to film the natural lava flows.
19. Mount Etna has a beautiful plant life and it defies the myths that active volcanic areas are dry and lifeless.
Mount Etna has a lively landscape with a rich variety of plants that bloom creating breathtaking scenery on the mountain. Thanks to the fertilizing effect of volcanic ashes, the bottom zone of the mountain ground have rich soil.
Mount Etna has three ecological zones. Those zones are characterized by their vegetation. For example, the lowest zone of the mountain reaches the height of 3000 feet (915 m) and it is dominated with vineyards, orchards, citrus plantations, olive groves.
The highest altitudes of the mountain are covered with sands, ashes, and lava fragments. The plant life is limited in the highest altitudes. One can only find scattered Astragalus aetnensis plants, which is called spino santo in the local language. Surprisingly, scientists also found algae near the volcanic steam outlets.
20. There are 4 large craters on the summit of Mount Etna.
Those craters are the Bocca Nuova, the Northeastern Crater, the Southeastern Crater, and the Voragine. There also over 300 vents that range in size from small holes to large craters.
Did you know? Craters are the mouth or the vent for the volcanic activity. In other words, lava flows out of craters. Caldera is another volcanic formation. When a large volcanic eruption occurs, hot lava comes out from the underground leaving vacuum of space beneath the ground. Over time, the mouth or volcano or the empty underground space sinks creating a caldera.
21. Unfortunately, Mount Etna is one of the primary polluters on earth.
Annually, Mount Etna releases 5.8 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That accounts for 16,000 tons of CO2 each day. Some environmentalists think that such a large amount of pollutants can cause health consequences and leads to global warming. However, human activities emit 29 billion tons of CO2 each year. This means humans cause much environmental pollution compared to Mount Etna.
22. About 25% of the Sicily’s population lives on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Those people’s main income sources are agriculture (thanks to the rich soil) and tourism. However, people are always wary of the situation of the area. They know that their livelihood can be impacted by explosive eruptions.
23. Mount Etna is stratovolcano.
You may wonder what that means. A stratovolcano is a type of volcano that is tall and conical in shape. These types of volcanoes are known for their periodic and explosive eruptions.
Among all other volcano types, stratovolcanoes are most dangerous because they erupt suddenly without a warning, and they explode, releasing an enormous amount of hardened materials.