Etna was born from underwater eruptions that formed the Plain of Catania about 500.000 years ago. Since there have been countless eruptions in Etna’s history, they are classified into two categories: “ancient eruptions” and “modern eruptions”. There were 135 ancient eruptions, and this number is quite small considering the wide span of time which includes “ancient eruptions”. The reason this number is low because at the time people only took note of the largest and most impressive eruptions. The most impressive eruption was that of 396 BC, which managed to reach the sea. Also spreading terror among the people who lived in the area, Etna offered notable eruptions in the years 1329 and 1381. But it was in 1669 when the most terrible cataclysm occurred: a stream of lava descended to the sea, and devastated a major part of Catania.
Some other significant eruptions include: the eruption of 1811 which gave birth to Monte Simone, in the Bove Valley; that of 1852 which nearly threatened Zafferana Etnea with its impressiveness; one in 1865 that expanded at Monte Frumento; those of 1883 and that of 1886 that raised Nicolosi, and finally the eruption of 1892 which created Monti Silvestri, located 1,900 m above sea level, near the Sapienza Refuge on the south side of the volcano. Noteworthy eruptions are also that of 1908, which lasted 8 hours, that of 1910 which threatened Belpasso, and that of 1911 when the lava threatened the river Alcantara.
However, a 6-day eruption which began on November 7, 1928 is the one that brought the most grief and despair.
A few days into eruption, lava gushed out from a fissure positioned 1000 m high. The lava quickly reached Mascali, and the village was destroyed.
Other eruptions occurred between 1947 and 1966.
In 1971 an eruption flooded an old astronomical observatory, destroying the cable-car station located by the southern area of the volcano.
During this eruption many effusive mouths were opened at lower altitudes, threatening the towns of Fornazzo as well as Sant’Alfio.
In the same year, the fourth summit crater, the crater of the South-East, was formed. This crater is considered to be the protagonist of the year! In fact, in the summer of 2001 this crater was affected by effusive and explosive activity. The strength of the eruption offered intense, violent, and repetitive explosions. Having short durations, these explosions occurred every 1 or 2 days followed by lava fountains, and a relative lava flow, directed towards the Bove Valley.
In this manner, the height of the South-East crater quickly increased.
These phenomena are so spectacular because there are the beautiful fountains of lava and also violent roar audible even for many kilometres away.
Often, because of wind, sand and volcanic ash expelled from Etna, went to settle in villages on the slopes of the volcano, creating problems for road traffic and causing even the closure of the airport of Catania.
Towns and villages damaged
Catania (693 BC and 252 AD, 1381, 1669);
Randazzo (1614, 1981);
Nicolosi (1634, 1669);
San Giovanni Galermo (1669);
San Pietro Clarenza (1669);
Zafferana Etnea (1792);
Fornazzo (1950, 1972, 1979);