TRANSFEERO: Reliable airport transfers worldwide
Book a private transfer at over 1500 airports, stations and ports worldwide

They are one of the most interesting sites of Sicily, though also one of the less promoted! The Salinelle, the mud volcanoes of Paternò, are everywhere on that territory. The larger ones rise close to the city stadium, others are in the areas of river Simeto (Salinelle del Fiume) and San Biagio hamlet. And Mount Etna is visible from every site, such a beautiful and imposing view you cannot doubt the two things are connected. These small geysers, these mud fountains, are they an expression of the big volcano themselves? Are they independent?

Salinelle of Paternò, how do they work

SALINELLE etna (3)
sulphur water eruption

The Salinelle of Paternò have been studied for too short time, yet. Scientists began to examine them better only from the 18th century on. But for 300 years they misunderstood their activity. They were considered a rising volcano, at first. Then, a dying volcano – since age-old finds showed these volcanoes already existed at the Roman times.

Of course the Salinelle look like volcanoes, though very small ones. They rise on flat lands, from holes suddenly starting mud or sulphur waters eruptions and so building small cones. But they are NOT real volcanoes. They are just special phenomena connected to the major volcanoes, like Etna. These Salinelle remind of the similar mud volcanoes in Aragona (Agrigento), the so called Maccalube. There is also a similar site near Caltanissetta.

They are all fractures and fissures in the earth’s crust through which the gases of the deep magma find an outlet towards the outside. But they are not powerful enough to cause the magma itself to rise. So these gases carry with them only the minerals and water they find along the way. This is why they are just erupting mud outside. In Paternò, the Salinelle may also erupt water rich in salt. In fact when the salt crystals solidify they take on incredible colours that make the site beautiful and almost alien!

Salinelle of Paternò, the “thermometer” of Etna

Modern studies by volcanologists confirm, today, that the Salinelle of Paternò are closely connected to Mount Etna . They are a real “thermometer” that indicates – well in advance – whether

SALINELLE etna (2)
a boiling Salinella

the volcano will erupt or not. The Salinelle have always entered into activity (increasing the boiling and the eruption of mud)  just before major eruptions of Etna.

The gases they emit, and the quantities in which they emit them, hint at how quickly the magma is rising to the surface. Based on the eruption of the Salinelle it is possible to predict – not in detail but in general – when and how much Etna will also erupt. If at the end of an eruption the activity of the mud volcanoes does not calm down, scientists know that Etna “has not finished yet”. They know we can expect more.

It is no coincidence that the Salinelle are kept under very strict control, as and perhaps more than Etna itself. Although basically harmless, even fascinating from a tourist point of view, these small volcanoes are actually an important signal. They help to better understand the “mood” of the larger one.

How to get there and how to visit

Unfortunately, the Salinelle of Paternò are little used for tourism. Despite being one of the most interesting sites of Sicilian volcanology, they are often left to abandonment. Until the early 2000s, the Salinelle dello Stadio site was used as a garbage dump! Now, they have been cleaned and protected by Legambiente and other ecologists associations. Still today, though, they lack safety and fencing systems. Anyone can enter and only handwritten signs indicate the safest route and the warnings to be respected.

The Salinelle dello Stadio are located in an easily accessible place, in the town’s centre, with large  parking lots where you can leave your cars. The other sites – San Biagio and Salinelle del Fiume – are located a few kilometers from the town. They are accessible but it would be better to be accompanied by expert guides,  because the volcanoes are hidden in the countryside. You may risk putting your feet in the wrong “pits”.

To get to Paternò, follow the Messina-Catania A18 motorway, then the Catania ring road until the exit sign for Misterbianco-Paternò. This will lead to the state road SS 121. The route goes straight up to the exits for Paternò. In town, then, follow the signs for the Stadium or for the Salinelle dei Cappuccini, the official name of the site. (photos by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

Airport Transfers