“Smoky Etna, column of the sky, perennial nurse of shining snow, among whose secrets grow the purest sources of horrid fire” – With these verses Pindar, in the fifth century BC, expressed his admiration and his profound respect for that unfathomable phenomenon of nature that is Mount Etna..
Pindar’s words tell Etna as the site of mysterious telluric phenomena but also as a grandiose and dominant mountain. “A muntagna” par excellence in the imagination of the Sicilians who live on its slopes, often unaware users of a beauty that has few equals. Spectators of the volcanic whims of this extravagant lady of the past, always inclined to show us the phantasmagorical flashes of her vital spirit. A female volcano, a tangible and changeable metaphor of the feminine nature of our planet. For centuries, the Etna mountain has generously provided its countrymen with great opportunities for development and work, its gardens, vineyards, woods and neviere have constituted a multifaceted wealth and an incomparable contribution to the original culture of the area which is manifested in every corner of the Etna landscape.
As the poetic words of Pindar remind us, Etna is also the mysterious place in whose shadows the purest sources of horrid fire roar menacingly. The fire for which Pindar has so much venerated respect comes out of the dark ravines to become, at times, a concrete threat.
The destruction of fields, villages or entire cities by lava flows in eruptions that last months or years are a reiterated feature of our “Muntagna”. Among the most significant recent episodes is the 1669 eruption of the Rossi mountains which destroyed over two thirds of the city of Catania, the 1928 eruption which completely swallowed up the village of Mascali, or the eruptive activities of the last thirty years which, on several occasions, they have buried vineyards and woods and have threatened several small urban centres.
The charm of the Etna giant struck not only Pindar. Many from the classical era onwards have wondered about the nature of this exceptional geological object, and have sought an explanation for volcanic phenomena. Of all significance was the contribution of an enlightened and versatile Sicilian scientist, Carlo Gemmellaro. With his systematic observations on the products and morphological aspects of Etna, Gemmellaro divided the Etna products into two large units corresponding to two eruptive axes: “pyroxen axis” and “feldspathic axis”, thus laying the foundations on which they were built the modern hypotheses on the genesis and evolution of magmas. Furthermore, with his daily observations, he established a first systematic “monitoring” of volcanic activity with the first distinctions of eruptive characters.
In more recent times, Etna has attracted scholars from all over the world, attracted by the grandeur of the volcanic phenomena but also by the ease with which the eruptive mouths of the lateral eruptions and the summit craters in a permanent state of activity can be reached. From the 1960s and 1970s, the presence of researchers from various European universities and research centers became massive. The researchers who now come from all over the world detect, sample, analyze the rocks and gases continuously produced by the Etna volcano which has become a natural laboratory and for many authors a precious training ground in which to develop and experiment with new ideas. Along with the increased number of researchers, the models attempting to explain the petrological, geological and morphological evolution of the Etna volcano have multiplied; these views do not always converge and there are often considerable discrepancies or divergences between researchers of various schools of thought, however some firm points have been reached in understanding the meaning and development of the volcano over time. These verses Pindar, in the fifth century BC, he expressed his admiration and deep respect for that unfathomable phenomenon of nature which is Mount Etna.