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Our volcano, Mount Etna, is part of the UNESCO world heritage list, that is, it is one of the natural treasures to be protected forever. It has been delivered to humanity as an absolute marvel to respect. The strange thing is not that it has been one for ten years now, but that they waited until 2013 before inserting it. One may wonder: why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Witnesses of that event tell us that at the announcement “Etna is UNESCO World Heritage” the hall of international experts stood up and applauded for minutes. As if to say: at last! A great goal, achieved by a few brave lovers of this volcano.

The UNESCO World Heritage

UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization) was officially born in the immediate post-war period, amidst the rubble and fumes of bombs. It felt the need to rebuild a wounded world, not only in physical terms but also in ethical and cultural terms. The main purpose, in fact, is that of the United Nations to preserve human rights. But this body pursues its goal through the promotion of places of art and nature.

The selection criteria of the places foresee, for an Artistic Heritage:
• represent a masterpiece of human creative genius,
• witness a considerable cultural change,
• bring a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization,
• offer an outstanding example of a type of architectural or landscape or technological construction illustrating one of the periods of human history,
• be an outstanding example of human interaction with the environment,
• be directly associated with events related to ideas, beliefs or artistic and literary works having an exceptional universal significance.
For the naturalistic part:
• represent natural phenomena or atmospheres of natural beauty and exceptional aesthetic importance,
• be one of the representative examples of great historical epochs testifying to geological life or processes,
• be one of the outstanding examples of the ecological and biological processes taking place in the evolution of the ecosystem,
• contain the most representative and most important natural habitats for the conservation of biodiversity, including threatened spaces having particular outstanding universal value from the point of view of science and conservation.

Italy, together with China and Germany, is the nation with the largest number of “world heritage” places ever. The historical-artistic wonders of our country, together with the naturalistic peculiarities, make it the UNESCO map with most “flags” on. There are entire cities “UNESCO heritage” in Italy, as well as rivers and mountains. However, Etna was missing … until 2013.

etna unesco 10 years

How Etna entered the UNESCO

The UNESCO adventure was strongly wanted by the employees – geologists, journalists, administrators, botanists, historians, but also simple secretaries and technicians – of the Mount Etna Park, an institution established in the 1980s with the aim of protecting the unique environment of this volcano. Due to the scarce means and few personnel available, only twenty people could physically work on this project. And twenty actually carried out research, reports, translations, transcripts, elaborating a high-level thesis which they then submitted to the attention of the UNESCO commission.

The commission came several times to Etna to verify the validity of the elements and was able to ascertain the excellent work done by the employees. In 2013, UNESCO unanimously included our volcano in its lists of world treasures, excluding names of other even more famous and spectacular places. Because UNESCO had been waiting for Etna for years!

The volcano deserved this privilege above all for its “geological uniqueness”, for enclosing in one place all the types of volcanic activity in the world and for the particularity of its physical territory.

Ten years as UNESCO

In June 2023 the celebrations of this event took place right at the headquarters of the Mount Etna Park, among the pine forests of Nicolosi. Quite a “small” celebration because they riserve it only for employees and enthusiasts. There are many reasons for this choice, above all dictated by the bitterness of not having been helped, in that important journey, by political institutions and authorities.

And there is also the sad awareness of seeing the personnel reduced even more today and not always integrated. As if the Park, in the general indifference, is slowly losing those enthusiastic forces that govern it and that have led it towards UNESCO. However, those who remain are truly in love with the volcano and continue to donate their work with commitment and great willpower.

And the advantages, in these ten years UNESCO, have been so many! Etna is not just a tourist place but an area of study, research and new exploration. A real open encyclopedia on the history of our planet, with all the attention it deserves from the world.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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