Mount Etna is an iconic site encompassing 19,237 uninhabited hectares on the highest part of Mount Etna, on the eastern coast of Sicily. Mount Etna 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.
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Ce site emblématique recouvre une zone inhabitée de 19 237 ha, il s’agit des parties les plus hautes du Mont Etna, sur le littoral oriental de la Sicile. L’Etna est la plus haute montagne se trouvant sur une île méditerranéenne mais aussi le stratovolcan le plus actif du monde. Cette activité volcanique remonte à plus de 500 000 ans et elle est décrite depuis au moins 2 700 ans. L’activité éruptive quasi continue de l’Etna continue d’influencer la vulcanologie, la géophysique et d’autres disciplines des sciences de la terre. Le volcan abrite d’importants écosystèmes, y compris une flore et une faune endémiques uniques. Compte tenu de son activité, l’Etna représente un laboratoire naturel pour l’étude des processus écologiques et biologiques. L’assemblage accessible et varié de caractéristiques volcaniques telles que les cratères de sommet, les cônes de cendre, les coulées de lave, les grottes de lave et la dépression du Valle de Bove fait de l’Etna une destination privilégiée pour la recherche et l’éducation.
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Deze onbewoonde iconische locatie omvat 19.237 hectare op het hoogste deel van de Etna, aan de oostkust van Sicilië. Het is de hoogste Mediterrane eilandberg en de meest actieve stratovulkaan ter wereld. De eruptieve geschiedenis van de vulkaan kan tot 500.000 jaar worden teruggevoerd en ten minste 2.700 jaar van deze activiteit is gedocumenteerd. De vulkaan ondersteunt ook belangrijke terrestrische ecosystemen, waaronder inheemse flora en fauna en zijn activiteit maakt het gebied een natuurlijk laboratorium voor de studie naar ecologische en biologische processen. De diverse en toegankelijke kraters, sintelkegels, lavastromen en de Valle de Bove kloof maken de berg Etna een goede plek voor onderzoek en onderwijs.
Outstanding Universal Value
Mount Etna World Heritage Site (19,237 ha) comprises the most strictly protected and scientifically important area of Mount Etna, and forms part of the Parco dell’Etna Regional Nature Park. Mount Etna is renowned for its exceptional level of volcanic activity, and the documentation of its activity over at least 2,700 years. Its notoriety, scientific importance, and cultural and educational value are of global significance.
Criterion (viii): Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active and iconic volcanoes, and an outstanding example of ongoing geological processes and volcanic landforms. The stratovolcano is characterized by almost continuous eruptive activity from its summit craters and fairly frequent lava flow eruptions from craters and fissures on its flanks. This exceptional volcanic activity has been documented by humans for at least 2,700 years – making it one of the world's longest documented records of historical volcanism. The diverse and accessible assemblage of volcanic features such as summit craters, cinder cones, lava flows, lava caves and the Valle de Bove depression have made Mount Etna a prime destination for research and education. Today Mount Etna is one of the best-studied and monitored volcanoes in the world, and continues to influence volcanology, geophysics and other earth science disciplines. Mount Etna’s notoriety, scientific importance, and cultural and educational value are of global significance.
The boundaries of the property are clearly defined and encompass the most outstanding geological features of Mount Etna. The property includes very little infrastructure: a few forest / mountain tracks, a number of basic mountain shelters along the main forest tracks, and over 50 small seismic monitoring stations and a scientific observatory.
A buffer zone of 26,220 ha surrounds the property, including parts of Mount Etna Regional Nature Park, and two tourism zones. These tourism zones include accommodation (hotels, huts), car parks, restaurants, cafes, a cableway, chair and drag lifts for ski tourism, information points, and ticket kiosks for guided drives, hikes and horse/donkey safaris.
Protection and management requirements
The Parco dell’Etna (Etna Park) was established as a Regional Nature Park by Decree of the President of the Sicilian Regional Authority in May 1987. The property includes part of this Park, comprising the zone defined as an integral reserve. In addition, nine Natura 2000 sites overlap the property to various degrees, providing additional protection for 77% of the area under European legislation.
The regulations provided within the Decree provide for adequate protection of the key values of the property. Since the completion of a land acquisition process in 2010, 97.4% of the property’s area is in public ownership (region or communities). In contrast, 56.6% of the buffer zone is privately owned.
The management of the property is coordinated by Ente Parco dell’ Etna, established as the managing authority of Etna Park by Decree of the President of the Sicilian Regional Authority in May 1987, working in close cooperation with the Regional Authority of State Forests and the Regional Corps of Forest Rangers (Corpo Forestale). Management is guided by a long-term management plan and Triennial Intervention Programmes.
The property has no permanent population, is free of roads, and its use restricted to research and recreation. Vehicle access to the limited network of forest and mountain tracks appears to be strictly controlled (e.g. through gates and fences) and is only permitted for park management purposes and authorized activities such as research and organized 4x4 drives on the main track from the tourism facilities in the buffer zone to the INGV observatory. Except for possible maintenance of the observatory, no construction projects are permitted or planned within the property. Public access to the top of Mount Etna may be officially prohibited for safety reasons, although this regulation has been difficult to enforce. Organized recreational activities such as mountain biking and horse / donkey riding require advance authorisation. Although they appear to be limited at present, they need to be well monitored and managed to avoid negative impacts such as erosion and disturbance of wildlife. No dogs are allowed in the property and illegal hunting appears to be under control. Low-intensity grazing is permitted and occurs in parts of the property in the summer season. Limited silvicultural interventions are implemented in the property to reduce the risk from forest fires and maintain access routes. Climate change has the potential to increase the risk of forest fires in the region and impact the species and communities on Mount Etna. Natural hazards resulting from the volcanic activity of the property will always pose a risk to certain features and facilities of the park and beyond. Strengthened park visitor facilities are needed, taking into account best practice and lessons learned at other comparable World Heritage properties.
The best view of Mount Etna is from the gods of the ancient Greek amphitheatre in Taormina. From here it looms over this coastal town, famous for its pistachios and hosting the G7 summit, swallowing up the landscape. The snow stripes the sides, even in early summer. Smoke plumes rise up. It looks almost fake. At nearby Fanaberia Gelateria, though, they say that to them the volcano is always alive.
During the last few eruptions, families would barbecue meat and fish over slow-moving lava
No kidding. Etna, the largest volcano in Europe, is also its most lively. Sitting on the eastern coast of Sicily, covering 459 square miles and comprising rocks, woodland and farmland, it erupts all the time, letting off steam with gay abandon, or “burping”, laughs Giuseppe, our tour guide, attempting to make the noise.
Since destroying part of the port of Catania in 1669, Etna’s had a good run of low-key eruptions, although it returned to the press in March following an eruption which left 10 people, including a BBC crew, injured when lava mixed with snow, spewing out boiling rocks from a crater on the south-eastern side.
It erupts several times a year. The last one, three days before we arrive, means we cannot travel above 2,500m. The drive up from Zafferana (historic, functioning) or Nicolosi (smaller, quainter) is looping, but an excellent way to view the changing land: it starts with woodland and small shepherd refuges. Then come the broom trees with their yellow, jasmine-scented flowers and butterflies. Vineyards follow, then everything goes black, save the lichen. Lava craters dot the landscape.
The Sapienza refuge acts as a base camp, and looks like a small ski resort. A wooden café serving panini also sells postcards of the lava flow that flattened the previous café which stood on the very same spot. “The volcano erupts, the lava comes, and it just destroys everything very, very slowly and they have to start again,” explains Giuseppe, who takes tourists up most days. Why do they keep opening shops? He shrugs. “There is a lot of money to be made.”
Why do they keep opening shops on a volcano? There's a lot of money to be made
It’s the start of summer and soon Etna’s cable cars will rival Venetian vaporetti. Today it’s Americans, Canadians and a group of German cyclists up here with us. We queue for half an hour and can’t help noticing that the 20-minute cable car to the upper crater zones rises at quite an angle. Below, huge black rocks and small green bushes, known as mother-in-law’s cushion because of the spikes, line the incline. The clouds are low and the air feels thin.
At the summit we are bused to a crater and allowed to wander freely, within reason. There are guards barking in orange padded jackets as we march along trails of hard, still-warm lava which we chip off and steal.
Volcano tourism, says renowned vulcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, is “a natural consequence of an active volcano”, and a type of geotourism – new grammar for holidays with a focus on conserving and promoting a sense of “place”. Another example is Cornwall’s tin mines, which are also filling up, he says, but volcanoes have the monopoly – an estimated 100 million people visit volcanic sites worldwide each year.
You can see the appeal. At 3,350m high, Etna looks like a burnt moonscape. The skiing is excellent too. But there are drawbacks. Globally, injuries and deaths at volcanoes are on the increase, driven by the rise in popularity of these holidays. Granted, Etna isn’t too dangerous but it’s not without risk.
Sicilians respond to Etna in different ways. Religious locals used to fear it, rushing at the lava with crucifixes. There was a time when they thought Etna was home to a cyclops blindly throwing lava bombs. During the last few eruptions, families would barbecue meat and fish over the slow-moving lava. They also know that without Etna, Sicilian tourism might struggle, and thanks to the microclimate Etna is the third most important wine-producing area in Italy. The nerello grape, which produces wine like a sort of lighter Burgundy, is pretty great.
To Guido Alessandro Coffa, who runs Monaci delle Terre Nere hotel just south of Zafferana, Etna is a backdrop. His hotel is one of the closest to the volcano, sitting quietly in its foothills. Coffa, a former engineer, turned this 19th-century millennial-pink monastery into a hotel with a pool: it was once home to priests who used it to store wine. Over the past decade he has bought up various outhouses and turned them into rooms. Floors are made from cocciopesto – brick and lime mortar – and various motifs have been retained.
Room seven, a former wine press, has a bed built over the press itself. On top of terraced farmland it is right in Etna’s shadow. Other rooms have walls built from its volcanic rock. The food served is grown in nutrient-rich soil with a focus on nuts, oranges, Ragusano cheese and honey. Organic is a key theme at the hotel, where they grow peaches, vines and figs in terraces around the 16-hectare farm. The grounds are discreetly mapped out so that you barely see a soul, and the pool is a geometric dream; all is silent, bar the steady hum of bees. Coffa has plans for the valley, with a keen eye on the need (and trend) for sustainability. In the next few years he will restore an amphitheatre and build a spa.
But always there is the uncertainty of the next eruption, when the landscape will be shuffled and reshaped. Lava moves at a glacial pace, like squeezed toothpaste down hillsides, swallowing trees, houses, entire villages.
Eventually, when the pressure stops, the lava cools into a black crust; the inside stays hot, like a tandoor, and eventually turns grey. This is clearest above Zafferana, where you’ll find an empty summer home, a van selling pistachio cream and Indian fig honey, and a blanket of black lava that coats the woodland like paint. It was here in 1991, during a large eruption, that the Madonna statue is said to have stopped the lava flow.
Neapolitans forget that Vesuvius is there, and treat it as an abstract threat, “something from the past”. In truth, it’s likely to erupt again, with “all that pressure, all those years”. In Lanzarote, where seven volcanoes erupted over a small period of time covering the northern part of the island, they have played a huge part in sculptural design, landscaping and architecture. Etna, on the other hand, is more prosaic. It is gradually letting off steam. And everyone knows it will erupt again. It’s belching as we speak. Still, better out than in.
Flights from London to Catania cost from £200 in September with easyJet. A double room at Monaci delle Terre Nere hotel costs from £166 B&B, booked through Mr & Mrs Smith. For more details about Europcar in Catania Airport, visit europcar.co.uk