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Towns of lava: our suggestions for your self-guided tour

Mount Etna, is not only an aspired destination for trekkingexcursions and nature lovers. 

Our Volcano is in fact the custodian of many archaeological treasures and it has been a constant source of inspiration for European writers and artists during their nineteenth century tours, nevertheless it also conceal a surprising historical, artistic and cultural heritage almost entirely to be discovered.

The Etna region, where our excursions also take place, is an extraordinary mix of natural elements and human creations/works. Etna, the great volcano which transform places and habits, offer its material to men as a decoration element, creating within time an heritage of relevant aesthetic value.

The Etna villages, besides being the point of departure for tours and excursions, preserve a historical and architectural value often relatively unknown, and they are proud of their peculiarity, since streets, walls, millstones but also theatres and portals are actually made of lava.

Climbing up the North-East side of the volcano, following the SS 120 from the A18 exit of Fiumefreddo, you will pass the village of Piedimonte Etneo (known in the past as Belvedere) to reach then Linguaglossa.

The town lays at the foot of Etna, at about 600 meters of altitude, right in the heart of that enological Etna that from Milo to Randazzo produces great wines of very high quality.

Its name literally means “tongue” (“glossa” in Greek) probably referring to tongues of incandescent lava. In fact it is believed that the town has been built after Etna destructive eruption of 1169, to which are also related the deeds of the Patron Sant’Egidio Abate. The legend tells he had stopped the fire intimating the volcano not to pass the town borders.

The visit could start from the Ethnographic Museum (at the Pro Loco in Piazza Annunziata), a collection of objects and work tools, typically used in the past by the Etna folks, to continue with a stroll along the narrow streets of the town center, a short tour of “urban trekking”.

Right in front of the museum there is the Church of SS. Annunziata, dating back to the sixteenth century but transformed the next two centuries. The main portal is certainly the most interesting detail of the church, crowned by an altar accommodating a sculpture of the Annunciation, it was made of lava stone and red marble, materials that confer a particular chromatic elegance.

Continuing along via Roma, the central street, a visit to the Main Church of this Etnean village is definitely worth. It is dedicate to Santa Maria delle Grazie ( built in the XVII century but restored in the XX century after the damages from the 1943 bombings) is made of Etna lava stone and sandstone. The art at the foot of the volcano, and architecture especially, deeply benefits from the volcanic materials and finds in the contrast of lava and limestone one of its finest features. Inside the church there is a precious wooden choir (1728) carved in walnut, portraying scenes from the New Testament.

At the entrance, in the right aisle, there is also a baptismal font with a bronze by the contemporary sculptor Salvatore Embed (also famous for its Christmas cribs

Before continuing your tour, passing the church of S. Egidio on the left and that one of SS. Antonio and Vito on the right, a detour could be granted to a visit, of great ethnic and cultural value, to the old quarry of lava rock. It is still active and it still operates with traditional techniques thanks to the old craft of the stonecutters, near the station of the Circumetnea. With the material obtained over the years most of the streets of the Etnean villages have been cobbled and hundreds of buildings and churches have been adorned.

After leaving the town of Linguaglossa, you pass through the lava flows of 1923 (the fracture from which originated the flow that reached Monte Nero, one of the our excursions itineraries), to proceed towards the west side of the volcano. Therefore crossing Castiglione di Sicilia and Passopisciaro (where a visit to one of the many excellent cellars for some local wine tasting is a must … or you can join us for a Etna & Wine Tour) you will finally reach Randazzo.

The town, with its medieval look and its great historic significance (it was founded by the Byzantines), was almost entirely built in dark stone from Etna and it is rich in churches and mansions.

Randazzo is part of three natural parks (offering many possibilities for excursions of all kinds ), “Parco dell’Etna”, “Parco Fluviale dell’Alcantara” and “Parco dei Nebrodi”; and it was founded on the union of three different population. Each of these populations spoke its own language (greek, Latin and Longobard) and dwelt in its own district, for this reason in the past there where three Main Churches and not only one (that were used to take turns each year in carrying this function): S. Maria, S. Nicolò and S. Martino.

The church of S. Maria (the current Main Church) is situated in Piazza Basilica, mostly built of lavic material in the thirteenth century (but modified in 1500 and 1800) retains the original Norman-Swabian apses in the shape of battlement towers.

The façade in lava stone with white limestone elements frames a beautiful Gothic-Catalan portal, and conceals an interior (featuring original basalt columns) full of with frescoes and paintings.

The construction of St. Nicholas (in Piazza S. Nicolò) also dates back to 1300, and here too the structure of the apse, resembling a fortress, is the original one. The church was rebuilt in 1583 and now the semi-columns in lava stone on a white background stand out on the façade , a chromatic peculiarity of these towns and other locations in the Etna region. Inside the church of S. Nicolò, seriously damaged by the bombing during the Second World War, the general civic assemblies were also used to take place. 

To continue the tour, the church of S. Martino (in Piazza S. Martino), also semi destroyed by bombings, retains the majestic fourteenth century bell tower, decorated in limestone and lava, rich in mullioned windows. In front of the church, what’s left of the Swabian Castle.

Before heading off, a last stop for a visit to the Museo Vagliasindi (one of the major of its kind on the flanks of the volcano) would let you discover the interesting collection of archaeological finds survived to the bombings and a rich collection of ancient coins, from the Greeks to the Medieval age.

Driving west, you will enter the famous Duchy of Nelson… the next destination of our “self-guided” tour…