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 metalworking) 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).