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Etna: Europe's highest active volcano

Patricia Szilagyi
June 16, 2021

Around Mount Etna in Sicily, you can really get a sense of the power of nature especially as the majestic volcano could erupt at any time. A risk we took into account for part 15 of our series "Extreme Places".

Italy | Mount Etna at night with lava and molten rock emerging from the volcano under a starry sky
Etna remains active so seeing lava emerge from the volcano on Sicily is not a rare sightImage: Getty Images/F. Villa

Etna is constantly grumbling within its rocky depths – and sometimes this ancient volcano in north-east Sicily releases a roar, and with it glowing lava and masses of hot rock erupt from the earth in a spectacle of immense natural power – as was the case several times this spring. The fountains of lava can shoot up several meters into the air, before falling to the ground in the surrounding landscape on the Italian island.

A world of fire and ashes

Italy Eruption Volcano Etna
Dangerous beauty: Etna has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013Image: Giovanni Isolino/AFP/Getty Images

There's a fine line between fascination and danger with Etna. That has always been the case. The first eruptions occurred more than half a million years ago, since when the volcano has demonstrated its power on countless occasions, sometimes destroying whole villages and cities with its liquid rock in the process. The area surrounding Etna seems like the surface of the moon, strewn with huge craters and black boulders. Yet this is not a static environment, as the picture changes significantly with every eruption. The mountain grows or shrinks as rocks shift on the edge of the crater. The summit towers more than 3,300 meters (10912 ft) above sea level, making Etna the tallest currently active volcano in Europe.

When DW reporter Hendrik Welling visited Mount Etna, the mighty volcano was slumbering. Nevertheless, the power of the fire-breathing giant could clearly be felt. For the series "Europe to the Maxx" on the lifestyle and culture magazine "Euromaxx", he explored the national park in which Etna is located – together with expert mountain guides, of course. Find out what he experienced on his hike between lava fields in our video.

Life in the shadow of Etna

Italy | Etna Volcano with smoke rising up into the sky
Clouds of smoke regularly rise from Etna's summit cratersImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Allegra

Sicilians have become accustomed to life under constant threat of volcanic eruption. After all, the volcano is also a blessing for the Mediterranean island and its residents. The volcanic rock stores water like a sponge, and the soils are mineralized and fertile. As a result, this part of Sicily transforms into a green oasis, especially in spring. Pistachio and almond trees alternate with lemon groves and blossoming meadows of flowers, and many vineyards are also located around Etna, as the soil gives the grapes an intense, mineral taste. Without the volcano, those aromatic Sicilian wines that provide many people with both pleasure and an income would not exist. So while those who live in the shadow of Etna respect its irrepressible power, they also appreciate its gifts.

Service tips:

Address: Parco dell'Etna, Sicily, Italy

Getting there: Fly to Catania, then take a rental car or coach to one of the two mountain stations which are the starting points for tours. Depending on the volcano's activity, parts may be closed off.

Admission: free, but you are only allowed to walk restricted areas of the park without a guide or as part of a guided tour

Special tip: Experience the volcano from a different perspective with the historic narrow gauge railway Ferrovia Circumetnea. The route leads from Catania to Riposto in almost a full circumnavigation of Etna.

The accompanying book

Book cover | Extreme Places

Europe at its most extreme: The series "Europe to the Maxx" on DW's lifestyle and culture magazine Euromaxx makes Europe's superlatives experienceable — from extraordinary architecture to spectacular landscapes to unique cultural phenomena. Accompanying the series, the book 111 Extreme Places in Europe That You Shouldn't Miss was published in cooperation with Emons Verlag. It is an alternative travel guide, both informative and entertaining, for avid travelers, fans of Europe and anyone who likes to show off with unusual pub quiz trivia. Full of guaranteed record breakers!