Etna – the Mother Volcano

Origin and Evolution of this majestic UNESCO treasure.

Mount Etna is a very complex composite volcano, originated following the overlapping and juxtaposition of eruptive products emitted out at different times and through different systems of lava ascent.

Etna developed, shaped, destroyed and rebuilt itself through a variety of geological events that took place over many hundreds of thousands of years as a response to the complex process of lithospheric convergence between the African plate from the South and the Euro-Asian one up in the North.

- Mt. Etna's evolution timeline -

The beginning of the fascinating history of this polygenic volcano is in the middle of the Lower Pleistocene, about 570,000 years ago. An inconceivably remote period from now, that’s when the first submarine eruptions began! And that’s why if we see the villages of Acicastello, Acitrezza, and Capo Mulini we would be looking at an immense sea gulf instead.


Later this eruptions partially helped filling the gulf while creating unique geographic scenarios like the basaltic prisms of this beautiful island:


  • Lachea and the mythical stacks in Acitrezza.
  • The lava pillows on which stands the Castel of Aci.
  • The imposing mass of the volcanic vitreous breccias (jaloclastiti).
  • The pentagonal heads of the villages’ harbors.
  • The beautiful marine terraces that you can experience scuba diving here.

(NB. – lava Pillows (or pillows of lava) are formed when the lava hardens with other lava surges within, so it burns one another into a balloon, and so on).


These are only some of the geological records that reached the present day as witness of those distant events.


It may sound unbelievable, but all of the area that surrounds the volcano was formed step by step, day by day after a long sequence of eruptions as well as geological events that took place over many hundreds of thousands of years. The oldest eruptions began about 500.000 years ago while the younger ones started forming about 35.000 years ago. And this area keeps on changing continuously up to this day.

The Ursino Castle before the 1669 eruption.
The Ursino Castle today
Just think that in Catania city center by the fish market area you can find the Ursino Castle that once stood fiercely in the sea until 1669, when a huge eruption kept flowing down by the Red Mountains in Nicolosi for three months, destroying the Western side of Catania, and completely covering the seabed forming two kilometers of shoreline, fresh, new land, The castle was spared by the flows while the coast of Catania grew up basically overnight, and that’s why today you can see it located in the hinterland of Catania and not by the sea anymore.
Thanks to the work of geological scientists and surveys we know today that Etna is not made of a single volcanic edifice, but rather consists of two or more edifices that succeeded and overlapped each other in time (the “Trifoglietto and the “Mongibello).

The volcano’s slopes currently host several large “Calderas” formed when the roofs of the magma chambers collapsed inward, including the “Cow’s Valley” (Valle del Bove) a very wide caldera, a huge basin located in the Eastern side of Etna that arose out of the collapsing of the original crater’s apparatus, approximately 7 km deep and 5 km wide in size with walls that reach up to about 1000 mt height to the North and South of the volcano.

The valley serves as a containment tank, delaying the advancing of lava flows toward the villages below.


- subtitled in English, click the CC button if don't show up automatically. -
– August 2018 Eruption. –


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