Located on the Italian island of Sicily, Mount Etna is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world due to the fact that it frequently erupts and has a large number of eruption styles. Mount Etna is the subject of study by geologists who seek to understand more about how volcanoes work and is one of the prime tourist attractions to the island. Visitors to Sicily cannot fail to miss the volcano as it towers over Catania, the island’s second-largest city, and many are treated to a live show as it erupts.
Mount Etna has the longest documented eruption history of any volcano in the world. Lava flows at the base of the volcano have been dated back to 1500 B.C., and ancient Greeks had a variety of myths surrounding it. The most violent eruption in history occurred in 1669, when the lava destroyed a dozen villages and covered part of the city of Catania.
At 10,900 feet above sea level, Mount Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe. Because it is erupting almost continuously, the height changes frequently when it blows its top off.
Mount Etna and its surrounding lava flows cover an area of 600 square miles. The base of the the volcano has a circumference of 93 miles.
Mount Etna has two types of eruptions. Explosive eruptions take place frequently from its three summit craters: the central crater, the northeast crater and the southeast crater. Flank vents located lower down the mountain erupt less frequently and explosively but have higher overall effusion rates. Sometimes, both types of eruptions happen simultaneously, producing a spectacular show.
Before 2001, Mount Etna erupted at an average of once every 1.7 years. Since 2001, a period of higher activity has kept the volcano more active; there have been eruptions every year since except in 2007.
Mount Etna is a stratovolcano, which means that it is a composite cone that rises dramatically to a relatively small summit center. Stratovolcanoes are the picture-postcard volcanoes that look like pyramids on the horizon, but they are considered the most dangerous due to their highly explosive eruptions.
In more than a thousand years of recorded history, 77 deaths have been attributed to Mount Etna. Many local inhabitants view the volcano as a blessing rather than a threat, however, as the mineral-rich lava flows keep the soil around its base full of vital nutrients and allow prolific farming.