Visiting Mt. Etna


TOU Meeting in Catania on June 11 2014

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If you plan to spend in Catania one or more days before/after the meeting, here are some info on Mt. Etna, a place you probably want to visit.

Mount Etna

Recently inscribed among the World Heritage Sites, Mount Etna (3323 m a.s.l.) is the highest Mediterranean island mountain and the most active stratovolcano in
the world. The eruptive history of the volcano can be traced back 500,000 years and at least 2,700 years of this activity has been documented. The almost continuous eruptive activity of Mount Etna continues to influence volcanology, geophysics and other Earth science disciplines. The volcano also supports important terrestrial ecosystems including endemic flora and fauna and its activity makes it a natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes. The diverse and accessible range of volcanic features such as summit craters, cinder cones, lava flows and the Valle de Bove depression have made the site a prime destination for research and education.

According to the legend  Etna has been originated from the punishment inflicted by Zeus following the impudence of two Titans, Enceladus and Typhoeus, against whom the king of the gods hurled a heavy boulder, sentencing them to complain of their anger for all eternity.

The bowels of the mountain, according to Homer, housed the crucible of the god Vulcan, where the weapons of Achilles, hero of the Iliad and the destruction of Troy, were forged.

On Mt. Etna lived Polyphemus - one of the cyclops, the giants with a single eye in the middle of the forehead - who, tricked by Odysseus, throws him against the huge boulders that we can visit today in the reserve of the Cyclops.

An essential leg of the Grand Tour destined to the European bourgeoisie, the climb of Etna was immortalized by the works of illustrious intellectuals and artists like Goethe and de Maupassant, contributing to the promotion of the discovery of the territory as a land of burning passions and extraordinary contrasts.

Etna is named by local people “a muntagna” (sicilian dialect) or “la montagna” (italian) that simply means "the mountain" par excellence. Note that “montagna” is a female noun in Italian, and Mt. Etna is felt like a godness: authoritative but good.

Etna is one of Sicily's main tourist attractions, with thousands of visitors every year. The most common route (Option 1) is through the road leading to Rifugio Sapienza. With a large parking area, several bars and shops, Rifugio Sapienza is the starting point for the cable car. This runs uphill to the elevation of 2400 m; from there, visitors can choose to take a drive with special terrain vehicles and Etna guides, or take a long walk to the designated crater area at 2920 m.

Other options are to book excursions starting from your hotel to the top of Mt. Etna (Option 2) or to several characteristic places on Mt. Etna and beyond (Option 3).

Excursion to Etna requires warm clothing and hiking shoes or trainers.

Option 1 (do-it-by-yourself)

  1. Drive to Rifugio Sapienza. Visit Crateri Silvestri, walking around their inactive caldera. Buy a ticket for the cableway, reaching 2400 m.  From there you can walk (difficult and without guides) or continue till about 2900 m with special car and Etna alpine guides.

The cost for the cableway plus the car to 2900 m is about 58 Euro. But it is also possible to buy a cheaper one-way ticket (about 15 Euro) for the cableway and then walk (upward and/or downward).

How to reach Rifugio Sapienza from Catania by car or by bus.

Option 2

  1. THE ETNA VOLCANO'S GRAND TOUR: Summit area and last eruptions

This is one day tour organized by “Volcano Treck”, a team of geologists and specialized guides. Visit their web site for specific information. The tour includes the lunch. The cost depends upon the number of participants. Beware that the cost for the cable way and 4 wheels car up to 2900 m  is apart (as stated in their “Grand Tour” page). Volcano Treck offers other possible tours (e.g., half day tours).

Option 3

  1. ETNA CLASSIC EXPERIENCE: From Mt. Etna to Alcantara

This is one day tour organized by “Etna Experience” that takes you to several interesting places around Mt. Etna and to the Alcantara Gorges.

Visit their web site for specific information. The price for this excursion is 68€ for adults and 58€ for children and students under 24 years old. The tour includes the lunch. Etna Experience offers other possible tours (e.g., half day tours).

Visit the Etna Park web site for more information on Mt. Etna.

"I’d heard tell of the stupendous iridescences of the aurora over the Ionian Sea, viewed from the peak of Etna. I decided to climb that mountain; we passed from the vineyards to the lava region, and then to the snow. The boy with the dancer’s legs ran up those steep slopes; the intellectuals who accompanied me rode on the backs of mules. There was a refuge at the top, where we could await dawn.
The sun finally rose: an excellent cloak of prismatic light stretching from one horizon to the other; strange fiery lights blazed on the ice of the peak; the vastness of the land and sea unfolded before our eyes, as far as Africa, which was visible, and Greece, the position of which we could only guess at.
This was one of the supreme moments of my life.
Nothing was missing, neither the golden fringe of a cloud, nor the eagles, nor the cup of life."

Adapted from "Memories of Hadrian", Marguerite Yourcenar

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