Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

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1669 eruption

Spectacular reproduction of a fresco in the Cathedral of Catania, showing the 1669 eruption of Etna whose lava flow caused significant damage in Catania and destroyed numerous villages.
This drawing shows, to the north of the city, the still-barren lava flow erupted a few centuries earlier (possibly in 1381) from a fissure near the village of Mascalucia, which entered the sea at Ognina, now a densely populated part of Catania. Also note the medieval architecture of the cathedral (large tower in the lower center) which was destroyed in the 1693 earthquake, along with large part of the city. The Castello Ursino (seen surrounded by the 1669 lava flow in lower left of the image) survived both the eruption and the earthquake.


Eruptions of Mount Etna
(A) Before Etna erupts: Magma storage and ascent
(B) Types and styles of eruptions at Etna
(C) Historical eruptions: Part 1 (before 1971) - Part 2 (since 1971)

This section consists of three parts. The first provides information about the way magma moves into the volcano and where it comes from, and describes the complex relationship between eruptive activity and flank instability; the second gives a general description of the various styles of activity and eruption types observed at Etna. The third, chronological part leads to a series of pages dealing with some of the more important eruptions during the historical period until early 1971, ending just before the major eruption initiated in early April 1971. Among the events discussed is the 1669 eruption that threatened Catania and destroyed 16 villages, the 1928 eruption that destroyed the village of Mascali, and all eruptions since 1971. These latter are treated in a separate section, since they represent a unique period in the history of Etna, both for the variety and frequency of eruptive activity and for the enormous progress made in the studies of Etna and its dynamics.


"1381" eruption
The coast at Ognina, the easternmost part of the town of Catania, has spectacular outcrops of lava which is of an eruption in the 12th century (often cited as "1381 eruption"). Much of this lava has ropy pahoehoe surfaces. At the time of the eruption,the area was fortunately uninhabited, but a similar eruption, were it to occur today, would have devastating consequences.
1669 eruption
An old sketch showing Etna and Catania during the 1669 eruption. In this bird's eye perspective the view is towards NNW, showing the fuming summit of Etna in the background while an eruption column is rising from a crater on the S flank, now called Monti Rossi, shown in the middle ground. This crater is feeding a large lava flow which has reached, and partly surrounded, the city of Catania, in the foreground.
1819 eruption
Eruption in the Valle del Bove in 1819. This sketch neatly shows an upper explosive vent, at the SE base of the main summit cone, and a lower fissure in the upper Valle del Bove, similar to the vent alignment during the 1991-1993 eruption in the same general area. This sketch was drawn by C. Maravigna, author of a contemporaneous description of the eruption.

1950-1951 eruption
Spectacular photo, taken by photographer Salvatore Tomarchio, showing the initial stage of the eruption that lasted from November 1950 until December 1951, one of the most voluminous eruptions of Etna in the past 300 years. Eruptive fractures opened in the northwestern part of the Valle del Bove, and lava covered more than one-third of the surface of the Valle, at times advancing uncomfortably close to the village of Fornazzo.


Copyright © Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

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