MAP OF THE 1928
LAVA FLOWS (ATTENTION: 200 k jpg)
1928 lava is shown in pink color. Note that the brown-colored patches
in the right part of the map correspond to the sedimentary basement of
most destructive Etnean eruption during the 20th century occurred in November
1928 and led to the destruction of the small town of Mascali (pronounced
Màs-ca-li). This was actually the first time since 1669
that an entire population center was destroyed by an eruption of Etna,
and no similar destruction has been caused by any eruption at this volcano
since then (as of early 2002). While the course of the events was similar
to that of other eruptions during this century (the progressive downslope
propagation of eruptive fissures), the eruption was unusual because the
most productive vents formed at low altitude (down to 1150 m elevation)
in an area of infrequent eruptive activity. A rough timetable of the course
of events is given below (green box). For more information (in Italian
language) and photos go to the web
site of the town of Mascali (unfortunately
as of early 2002 the site is offline). You can see a selection
of newspaper articles, a photo
album with numerous b/w images and video clips(!), and information
on the rebuilt town - and yes, you will also find a link back to this
eruption began on the afternoon of 2 November with strong activity in
the summit area, then a system of eruptive fractures began to propagate
down the ENE flank, leading to the opening of eruptive vents at three
sites. Each time the opening of a new fracture segment was preceded by
the cessation of activity at the one formed previously. On the evening
of 4 November the lowermost fissure opened in a forested area known as
"Ripe della Naca", close to a tectonic fault, and lava began
to issue at a high rate to form spectacular cascades on the fault scarp
before it began to descend along a ravine named Torrente Pietrafucile.
The town of Mascali lay at the downslope end of this ravine, and it took
the lava flow little more than two days to obliterate any trace of it.
photos displayed here (except photo 7) were first published in
the "Zeitschrift für Vulkanologie", vol. 12 (1929).
1. A view of the eruptive fissure in the Ripe della Naca, taken
by C. Haeni on 18 November 1928, one of the last days of the eruption.
The largest hornito to form on the fissure is visible in the background.
2. Spine-shaped hornito at the vent that delivered most of the
lava which destroyed Mascali, photographed by E. Schuler on 18
3. Hornito on the eruptive fissure on the Ripe della Naca, photographed
by E. Schuler on 18 November 1928.
4. Effusive vent on the Ripe della Naca on 18 November 1928. Lava
outflow has slowed considerably by this date. Photograph by F.
5. 7 November 1928, the day Mascali died. The lava flow from the
Ripe della Naca vents slowly eats through the town, leaving not
a single building. In the background 8right above the top of the
lava flow) the still-standing tower of the church is visible;
this was one of the last structures to fall. Photographer unknown.
6. Lava front below Mascali on 10 November 1928, three days after
the destruction of the town. At this stage, the flow is advancing
only very slowly, but it continues to consume buildings and cultivated
7. The day Mascali died: lava is eating through the town on 6
November 1928. The cathedral, still standing in the background,
is the last building to fall.
8. The town of Mascali is slowly consumed by the river of lava
on 6 November 1928.
explosive activity at NE Crater (plumes to 1 km high), then ash
puffs every minute until 1800. No glow visible at dusk, and no activity
at Central Crater
opens in the Valle del Leone with strong explosive activity, and
lava fountains about 200 m high are well visible both from Catania
and Taormina. This activity is accompanied by loud detonations and
strong ash emission.
This fissure is about 150 m long and emits several small lava lobes
(not displayed on the map above) up to 500 m long and about 200
at the Valle del Leone fissure diminishes, and shortly afterwards
the glow visible at this site fades
until early next day
open at Serra delle Concazze (2500-1900 m elevation), and voluminous
lava emission occurs from the lower part of the fissure. The main
lava flow threatens the village of Sant'Alfio
emissions resume at NE Crater, followed by ejections of blocks and
lava flow from the Serra delle Concazze vents continues, but at
and a graben form between 1900 and 1550 m elevation, across the
Piano delle Donne and Ripa di Piscio, but little eruptive activity
activity continues from the Serra delle Concazze vents
eruptive fissure with numerous effusive vents opens at Ripe della
Naca (1200-1150 m elevation), and very fluid lava rapidly cascades
down the fault scarp to advance along the bed of Torrente Pietrafucile.
See the photos 1-5 at left
of 4-5 November
|| The lava
flow advances rapidly, burying the small villages of Pietrafucile
and Costa Sovara.
front is near the Circumetnea railway and moves at a speed of 200-300
m per hour. The evacuation of Mascali (about 2000 inhabitants) is
ordered. The lava now threatens the Circumetnea and the State railway
lines, power lines and telecommunication lines. At the Ripe della
Naca vents, several spatter cones and hornitos grow thanks to mild
lava flow now is heading for Mascali. At 0700 it reaches and cuts
the Circumetnea railway, a few hours later it interrupts the road
reaches the first house of Mascali and then proceeds on its relentless
path all the way across the town. The water supply to Riposto is
Mascali, the lava also consumes several houses of the nearby village
of Nunziata. Near 2230, the lava reaches the church
of Mascali whose tower, however, remains standing until the
next morning (photos 5 and 7 at left)
destruction of Mascali is close to complete. The flow front, 300-400
m wide, continues to advance, though at decreasing speed. Its distance
from the source vents is now more than 7 km. A branch of lava menaces
the village of Carabba, southeast of Mascali
front advances very slowly but broadens, thus consuming precious
fruit gardens, vineyards and other cultivated land (photo 6 at left).
It slowly advances toward the State Railway line, the most important
communication line in eastern Sicily
flow front continues to advance slowly, and by 1600 it is only 75
m from the State railroad
front arrives at the State Railway line and overwhelms it, interrupting
it over a length of 500 m and consuming also the station of Mascali
advancing only a few meters per hour, the lava consumes a few houses
to flow from the Ripe della Naca vents, but the flow front has practically
ceased moving. On 16 November the flow front stops at 25-30 m elevation
from Central Crater and NE Crater up to 1.5 km high. Lava emission
from the Ripe della Naca vents ends on 20 November
The 1928 eruption produced
about 40 million cubic meters of lava, much less than is written in many
sources, and thus was not a particularly large eruption for Etna standards.
The destructive potential came from two other important factors: the low
elevation of the main eruptive vents (1150 m) and the high effusion rates
during the first days of the activity, which may have exceeded 100 cubic
meters per second. In comparison, the peak effusion rates during the July-August
2001 eruption were less than 20 cubic meters per second. For these reasons
the lava flow that brought the destruction of Mascali advanced very fast
along a narrow valley. The unfortunate town was located at the valley
floor, which is probably the worst place for a town to lie near an active
Many sources attribute
the death of up to 5 people to the 1928 eruption, including "an elderly
couple" that was overwhelmed by the lava while sleeping. Recent research
by Duncan et al. (1996) and Chester et al. (1999) shows that instead,
the eruption did not cause any fatalities, because Mascali was completely
and orderly evacuated in time and residents not only had the time to save
their lives and their households, but movies filmed during the eruption
show people removing the rooftiles from their homes before these were
engulfed by the lava.
The 1928 eruption
occurred at the height of the fascism era, under the totalitarian leadership
of Mussolini. Mussolini's government saw in the destruction of a small
town a good opportunity to demonstrate its efficiency in providing aid
and rapid rebuilding of the town in a new site. As a matter of fact the
"new" Mascali offered a completely different standard of life
to the displaced inhabitants of the destroyed town. Compared to most other
towns and villages around Etna, the rebuilt Mascali appears much more
modern, and it contains a number of public buildings of a peculiar architectural
style that is characteristic of the Mussolini era. Most impressive is
the main church ("chiesa madre"), which is ornamented with a
large torch, symbol of the Italian fascism, standing above the
statue of Christ. The publications by Duncan et al. (1996) and Chester
et al. (1999) on this subject are an entertaining read.
Chester DK, Duncan
AM, Dibben C, Guest JE and Liste PH (1999) Mascali, Mount Etna region,
Sicily: An example of Fascist planning during the 1928 eruption and its
continuing legacy. Natural Hazards 19: 29-46.
AM, Dibben C, Chester DK and Guest JE (1996) The 1928 eruption of Mount
Etna volcano, Sicily, and the destruction of the town of Mascali. Disasters
I (1929) Der Ätna-Ausbruch 1928. Zeitschrift für Vulkanologie
G (1933) Osservazioni e ricerche in relazione all'eruzione etnea 2-20
novembre 1928. Bulletin Volcanologique ser I, 5 (1928): 120-176.