Messina, Sicily, Italy

                                                                  Mt. Etna with Lava Flow

April 12, 2012

In the photo above you see one of two icons of Sicily.  The first icon is Mt. Etna during an explosion (what we usually call an eruption); the second is the statue of St. Mary of the Letters, welcoming all ships to the harbor of Messina.  Messina is located on the northeast corner of the island of Sicily, separated from continental Italy by just a few miles.  Villages along the coast of the mainland can easily be seen.  Approaching the city from Greece, we came in through the Straits of Messina that run between the mainland and Sicily.

For our excursion here we decided to try for a little excitement, and therefore chose a tour called ‘Scenic Mt. Etna’.  Mt. Etna is a bus ride of a little less than two hours from Messina (107 km.).  The highway here is quite good, and the back roads are in good condition, so the ride was pleasant.  On the way we passed the historical town of Taormina (see our review of Taormina in our 2009 Mediterranean cruise blog post for Catania).  We had a chance to observe the agriculture along the way and were able to see how the crops changed with the altitude.  At the lower altitudes you see many citrus orchards, while at the higher ones you see vineyards.  We passed through several small towns.

We stopped partway up the mountain for a photo op.  Mt. Etna was putting on a pretty good show.  We could see cinders and ash spewing forth, and on one occasion we could see ‘bombs’ being thrown out.  A bomb, in vulcanology terms, is a rock.  At the point where we stopped the ground was covered with cinders and ash from the volcano.  Fortunately for us, the wind was blowing away from where we were.  Every time the mountain sent up a plume of ash, there was a loud boom to go with it.  The further up the mountain we drove, the more desolate the landscape became, with huge areas covered by old lava flows.  We also began to see snow.

One interesting note on the mountain: in this photo there are patches of tan.  These are not volcanic ash, but Saharan sand, deposited after a wind storm several weeks prior to our visit.

Once we arrived at the highest point where visitors are allowed,  (6,200 feet elevation) we had a rest stop and an opportunity to walk around on Crateri Silvestri, a set of several old craters, with our guide, Sandro, who is a vulcanologist.

In the photos in the album you can see bombs of different forms.  We learned that they are soft when the are expelled from the crater because they are at a temperature of 1,000º Celsius, and in the process of flying around they can become elongated, like this one.

There is some vegetation regrowth over the old lava flows.  The first major shrub to get a foothold in the lava is the Etna broom, which reminds us of the Palo Verde trees at home.  The first tree to get established is the black pine, which is pictured with the Etna broom here.     

We had a couple of very special treats on our way down the mountain.  The first was the red fox by the roadside.  The second was that Mt. Etna decided to put on a real show for us, a full explosion with lava flow.  So Sandro had the bus stop in the same place we’d stopped on the way up, and we all piled out of the bus after him to take photos.  When he saw what was happening he told us that now he was a tourist also.  

The last four photos in the album show the destruction from lava and Etna throwing up ash and cinders along with the lava flow.  The blue smoke indicates where the lava is flowing.

Even though it was quite cold up on the mountain (as in colder than we were prepared for - the suggested light jacket was not enough) this was an absolutely spectacular trip.  We could not have asked for more.  Because our guide is a vulcanologist who is extremely familiar with this mountain, we were able to relax and enjoy the experience completely.  In checking this out on the Internet, we found out that this explosion made the news.  It was the 6th one so far this year.  It’s an adventure to go up on a volcano, anyway, but when it puts on a show like this one, it is the best kind of adventure.

In the evening after we left Messina, we knew we would be passing Stromboli, an island with a very active volcano, and we were looking forward to seeing it at night.  On our 2009 Mediterranean cruise we also went past it at night, but could see nothing because of a big storm.  This time we also were disappointed.  We might have been able to see something had we passed on the west side of the island, because all the activity is on the north and west sides.  It would have been nice to see two erupting volcanoes on the same day, but alas, that was not meant to be for us on this trip.

                                                        Messina viewed from the Harbor

© Susan L. Stone 2015