Mt Etna is an active volcano on the Italian island of Sicily and is the highest
volcano in Europe (3350 m above sea level). The base of Mt Etna is approximately 60 x 40km and much of the
surface of the volcano is covered by historic lava flows. Mt Etna is a composite cone volcano (stratovolcano)
built up from alternate layers of lava & ash. It is also a caldera volcano, where the crater is larger
than 1km in diameter. Below the elevation of 2,900m Mt Etna is a shield volcano.
When Mt Etna Erupts
Eruptions occur quite frequently from the four live craters at the summit, with
the most recent eruption being in 2002. The most destructive eruption occurred in 1669 when a lava flow
engulfed a large part of the port town of Catania, lying at the foot of Mt Etna. In 1169 many people died in
the Catania Cathedral where they fled to seek shelter and many more died after a tidal wave (caused by the
eruption) hit the port city of Messina. Mt Etna is considered a friendly volcano even though it erupts
frequently. This is because the lava flow moves quite slowly down the mountain, giving the residents of nearby
towns enough time to evacuate. Diversion structures can be found on the mountainside to control and/or delay
the direction of the lava flows.
Italy can boast being one of the most volcanically active countries in Europe and possessing the largest volcanoes
on the continent. All three of Italy's volcanoes, Mt Vesuvius , Mt Etna and Stromboli have all erupted in the past
century. Mt Etna and Stromboli are both continuously active.
In Mythology it was believed that Mt Etna was where Vulcan (Roman god of fire and
metal working) kept his forge and where Enceladus (a giant defeated by Jupiter) was buried. Enceladus was said
to have been placed under the entire mountain to keep him down, but the volcano's eruptions were believed to
be his breath and the earthquakes his motion. It was also believed that Mt Etna was the home of the cyclopes,
the three one eyed giants who made thunderbolts for Zeus (ruler of the heavens).