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

In 1879 Mount Etna “split” on two different sides and a sudden double eruption took the countryside and the cities by surprise. It was not an extraordinary event, but surely it had been centuries since such an important one had occurred. The populations of the time found themselves fighting the volcano on two fronts and “suffering” it heavily in some districts. Initially it seemed “the perfect eruption”, even though more than a century later it would be supplanted by a more spectacular event, the double eruption of 2002. The eruption of 1879 therefore remains the “almost perfect” one.

How did the eruption start?

The eruption started on May 26th, 1879, with a fracture that opened on the southwest slope, above the town of Biancavilla. The activity had been preceded by earthquakes and by a notable recovery of the boiling of the Salinelle di Paternò, the small mud volcanoes located south of Etna. The city of Catania and its hinterland barely had time to get busy to secure the populations when an earthquake swarm announced movements also on the opposite side, to the north. Three days later, as the writer Federico De Roberto – then just arrived in Sicily – commented (see blog IL VULCANICO), fractures opened above Passopisciaro, between Randazzo and Castiglione.

eruption 1879 2Evolution of the eruption

While the eruption on the south side stopped after a few days, the fractures opened to the north emitted a river of lava which flowed downstream threatening Randazzo from nearby and destroying some hamlets of Castiglione. They feared for a moment that the lava would intercept the course of the Alcantara river causing explosions inside the narrow rocky gorges, but fortunately this did not happen.

However, the fiery river entered the bed of the Pisciaro creek and reached the houses of the village of Passopisciaro, devastating above all the precious vineyards. The phenomenon ended in the month of June, not without having shaken the earth again, with a big earthquake that struck the eastern flank on the 16th of that month.

With this eruption, volcanology in Catania began

This important eruption was witnessed by Professor Silvestri, a Tuscan volcanologist who rushed to Sicily to witness the event. His reports and his drawings are a first important technical record of an eruption performed on Etna. Following this eruption, two historical facts gave rise to equally important practices: financial subsidies for reconstruction, used here for the first time to recover the many vineyards destroyed; the study of volcanology on Etna.

Professor Silvestri and his collaborators in fact created, for the first time in Sicily, the “seismic stations”. That is, bases were organized on the four sides of the volcano that could collect data on earthquakes and eruptions in real time. The work of reorganizing this precious network lasted for a few years but in 1883 Etna was already “under human control”. From that first team of foreign volcanologists, the institute of geophysics and volcanology was born in Catania. Today it is one of the best in the world.


Visit the places of the eruption

To visit the places of the 1879 eruption, just take the road that from Giardini Naxos (exit of the A18 motorway) climbs towards the Alcantara canyon and Castiglione di Sicilia. Proceeding into the valley today, you shall see expanses of splendid vineyards reborn above those tongues of lava. Passopisciaro and Solicchiata today are lively hamlets, which produce excellent wines, and still live in the shadow of that volcano that had destroyed them.

The places of this eruption can also be reached from the road that from Zafferana Etnea (A18 motorway exits at Acireale or Giarre) leads to Milo and from there towards Linguaglossa. The route from here is longer but also more scenic. From the highway you can also exit directly at Fiumefreddo and find yourself a few kilometers from the scenario of the eruption by following the signs for Piedimonte and Linguaglossa. (photos by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

Airport Transfers