Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology


Etna erupts, August 1997The volcanoes of southern Italy have always exerted an intense fascination and attraction to the western civilization, and they continue to do so, as manifested in the vivid international mass media interest and millions of foreign visitors each year. In spite of their fame, the Italian volcanoes are fairly little known, even by many non-Italian geologists - a result of many errors and misconceptions dispersed in the secondary, scientific and non-scientific literature, or simply lack of precise information.

It is known that Italy's volcanoes are particular in many respects. Maybe the most notable is the long historical record of their activity, and the resulting influence on the cultural and social evolution of the populations living around them. More precisely, Italy has the (somewhat questionable) privilege to have the volcano with the highest number of historically documented eruptions of the world (Etna - which is also one of the most active volcanoes of the world), one of the few volcanoes worldwide that erupt many times a day (Stromboli), and what is probably the most dangerous volcano on Earth (Vesuvio). It has been here that the term "volcano" was introduced, derived from the Ancient Roman god of fire Vulcanus. It was at Vesuvio, in A.D. 79, when a young man observed a devastating eruption, which he was to describe later in dramatic detail, thus furnishing the oldest (surviving) eyewitness account of a volcanic eruption. During the 18th and 19th centuries, education of young members of the European high society included a visit to the Italian volcanoes and to the traces of their destruction.

Modern volcanology has most of its origins in Italy, and it continues to grow with the ongoing study of the Italian volcanoes. This is why Italy's volcanoes have often been called "the cradle of volcanology", which seems an appropriate title for a web site dealing with them.

"Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology" exists for those people who wish to obtain a general idea about the Italian volcanoes, and for those who wish to learn more about certain aspects of Italian volcanism. It presents basic information about (almost) all areas of Holocene volcanism (that is, areas of eruptions during the past 10,000 years), and most areas of Pleistocene (younger than about 1.5 million years) volcanism in this country. Some volcanoes, like Etna, Vesuvio, Stromboli and Vulcano, which have erupted in the past few centuries, are presented in much more detail than others, because of their notable hazard potential and eruption frequency.

Yet this site cannot tell you everything about these volcanoes - simply because there is too much information, and much of this is very specialized. For those of you who would like to learn about highly specific aspects of Italian volcanism, the individual volcano pages offer links to other web sites and comprehensive bibliographies.

One more thing should be said here. "Italy's Volcanoes" is not a volcano monitoring site. It is not related to any structure charged with the surveillance of Italian volcanoes, and this is not the site which has the famous Etna live-cams. It does not provide seismic, deformation or other monitoring data assembled by the responsible structures, such as the the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV). In the case of significant eruptive activity at one of Italy's volcanoes, sources of information are indicated. It is not intended to interfere with the "official" volcano monitoring, but rather to render an idea of what these volcanoes are like, and how it is to live near an active volcano, as in the specific case of Etna.


In early May 1995, I sent a brief message to the Volcano Listserver (note that the link indicated in that message is no longer active since several years!), announcing the appearance on the WWW of a site dedicated to Stromboli, one of Earth's most persistently active volcanoes. It was intended as a source of accurate information about that volcano which had shortly before been the subject of debate and contradictory or false information in the mass media. It was furthermore created with the spirit of lending a symbolic support to the seismic station maintained by the University of Udine near the summit of Stromboli (quite some time before Stromboli became On-line...). The site consisted of a few black-and-white image files with captions and was accessible via a tremendously slow ftp connection on the server at the Geomar Research Center (Kiel, Germany). In spite of these restrictions, this was the first volcanologically oriented web site in Germany and one of the first in Europe (the only older one being that of the Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia of the Italian Research Council in Catania, which has now been replaced by the web site of the Osservatorio Etneo of the INGV).

Six months later, the site became accessible via a normal http connection, I got access to a color scanner, and soon after, a mirror of the site became active at MTU, allowing American visitors to get a much swifter access to "Italy's Volcanoes". While the site is no longer hosted by its original server, at Geomar, it remained vigorously alive at MTU for five years, thanks to the faithful, and always very effective, help of Mike Dolan. However, a change in web hosting policy at MTU in mid-2002 forced me to find a new server for the site, and for several months "Italy's Volcanoes" remained inactive, because I could no longer remote-log-in to the MTU server. For many years "Italy's Volcanoes" was hosted on the server of, at the time run by Andrea Fiore, although I stopped posting updates on volcanic activity in Italy in 2004 and did not update the site after early 2005. The domain changed its owner in the late-2000s but my site was not kicked from it until 2010. Finally, I received the kind offer to host it from my old friend Tom Pfeiffer of, but it took me about one year to find all the old files scattered over a dozen CDs and transfer them to the server.

During the first ten years of its life, this site developed into a prime resource of information about Italy's volcanoes on the internet, and it was cited by numerous internet reference resources, including Yahoo, CNN, the BBC and most geologically oriented web sites. Although all the technical work - scanning of images, bibliographic research, writing HTML and transferring the files to the server - was a one-man effort, the site is the result of countless contributions. First of all, most of the background information on the volcanoes is derived from publications based on the work of numerous individuals and working groups which are acknowledged by being cited as references like in a scientific paper. On the other hand many people shared their photographic material with me and submitted descriptions or events they witnessed or places they visited. Among these people there is a group of persons who contributed to this site in a particular manner, these persons are acknowledged on a "Thank You's" page.

While there is now a number of other high-quality sites specially dealing with selected volcanic areas in Italy - such as Stromboli On-line, Roberto Scandone's "Exploring Italian Volcanoes", Marino Grimaldi's Vesuvio homepage, the sites of the INGV in Catania, Palermo, Roma, Napoli and Milano, and Charles Rivière's Etna Volcan Sicilien - "Italy's Volcanoes" will continue to serve as a starting point to getting acquainted with volcanism in this country. Differently from before, this will not be a news site, but rather serve to give background information on these volcanoes, with their eruptions being described in a long-term perspective. This change in policy is due to several reasons, the most important being time constraints - work on this site is possible only in my spare time, which is becoming less and less.

And now take a brief look at the
or proceed directly to


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

Page set up in 1995, last modified on 3 February 2004
Hosted by VolcanoDiscovery