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On the second Sunday of May, almost everywhere in the world, Mother’s Day is celebrated. And usually a mother is seen as a loving, sweet, kind, pretty figure. How could all of these tender qualities apply… to an active volcano? Yet it is so. For the people of Catania and its surroundings, the volcano Mount Etna is a female figure, not a male one. Even if the word is declined in the masculine, Etna is a “she”… but a she who is important for everyone’s life: a mother, in fact.

Why is Etna a female?

Mount Etna is a large solitary mountain that rises over 3000 meters in a gigantic space. The plain around did not exist before it, and was formed by it. The closest mountains are the Peloritani range, which together with the Nebrodis and part of the Ereis form a crown behind it.

Being a “mountain”, a feminine word in Italian, Etna is often referred to as “she”. The locals call it just that, the mountain, never “the volcano” or “Etna”. So it is automatic to transform all the words concerning it into feminine ones. Despite the ancient myths and legends that want the volcano to be the seat of a male god and identified with a male power, today Etna is more female than ever. Or, if you want, it’s a sort of transgender: both mountain and volcano, both she and he!

Mama Etna 2
Trofa del Campiere tree

Why is Etna a “mother”?

Such a high volcano has built its tonnage on meters and meters of lava and lapilli. So its very existence is synonymous with natural disasters and destruction. But having reached this height it is also a rich and complete territory.

The soil of Etna, made up of lava and clayey soil, is rich in nutrients for plants and therefore gives spontaneous fruits for agriculture. Its lava tunnels favour the formation of underground aquifers, which feed on the snow on the top. So Etna also supplies water. Its forests are a source of wood and fertilizers. Roads and houses are built with the lava rock. Finally, thanks to its immense body, Etna breaks even the violent winds limiting the damage of storms and cyclones.

The people of Etna know that the volcano can be destructive, but they also know that the mountain is generous and feeds its children. Like a mother. For this reason she is considered and called “Mama Etna”. Mum is always the one who pampers you, but she is also the person who scolds and punishes if necessary. That’s why people here aren’t afraid of Mama Etna, not even when she’s furious.

How to celebrate mums … and Etna

If on the second Sunday of May you want to celebrate your mother, you can do it by visiting some of the most beautiful places of “Mama Etna”. The village of Sant’Alfio, for example, in the days of the feast of its saints, when it is colored with lights and flowers. The panoramic square of Milo could be another nice idea. Or the excellent granitas you can taste at Pedara and Belpasso in a nice café room with a view of the craters.

Have a nice picnic with your mum in the shade of the oaks of Bosco Cerrita (Etna North), or under the welcoming branches of the giant trees Ilice di Carrinu (Etna East) or Trofa del Campiere (Parrini path, Etna North). Alternatively, you can walk with her along the paths of the Ragabo pine forest, still on the north side, or go in search of river Alcantara, near Castiglione, or the Favare di Maletto. Another nice experience could be to take a picnic among the high brooms of Piano dei Grilli (Etna West). Finally, if you are lucky enough to have adventurous mothers, enjoy with them a visit to the summit craters, by cableway or  organized trekking. (photos by G Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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