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There are paintings in memory of this event which, due to its violence and spectacularity, at the end of the 18th century, really made one think of the Apocalypse. While in France the new vision of the modern world was forming after the bloody revolution, in Bourbon Sicily there were moments of fear. In 1792, Mount Etna started an eruption that would remain in the minds of the inhabitants of Zafferana for centuries. And the local religious tradition is also linked to this natural history. As it is, of course, the current tourism!

How the 1792 eruption began

After a long seismic crisis and several premonitory signals, the eruption began in March 1792. The top part of Etna collapsed in the area known today as Pian del Lago forming a crater (“la Cisternazza”) and a fault line that stretched from one end of the volcano to the other. In a short time, eruptive vents opened both inside and outside the perimeter of the Valle del Bove. The lava emitted almost completely submerged a hill near Zafferana Etnea, Mount Arcimis.

ERUPTION 1792  TWOEvolution of the 1792 eruption

In June of the same year other vents opened in Serra del Salfizio, above the locality now known as Piano del Vescovo and close to the Acquarocca degli Zappini place. Large rivers of lava flowed towards Zafferana Etnea, first quickly then slowed down by the hills and stream beds.

While these events were taking place on the east side, the central crater of the volcano also erupted. In this case, the lava flowed westwards, threatening to reach Adrano. It luckily stopped several kilometers earlier, though.

The inhabitants of Zafferana prepared to leave their houses and cultivated fields, gathering their belongings and organizing caravans of refugees towards the valley. However, they first carried the statue of Our Lady of Providence up to the lava front which by now had almost reached the first vineyards of the town. It was precisely at that moment, when all seemed lost, that in May 1793 – just over a year after the start of the eruption – the lava suddenly stopped. The town had been spared.

Visit the places of the eruption

To be exact, the places of the 1792 eruption are there for all to see, always. The large lava flows of Serra del Salfizio, in fact, are now crossed by the provincial road SP92 which takes tourists to the Etna cableway. Along the way you can stop at Piano del Vescovo and admire, from below, the peaks from which the rivers of fire started. The summit of Monte Arcimis rises on the left of the road, as you climb towards Rifugio Sapienza. You can visit it on foot, by walking a few hundred meters in the middle of the black rocks.

If, on the other hand, you want to see the Cisternazza collapse you will have to climb to the top, perhaps using the cableway and then continuing with the help of local guides, on foot or by jeep. You will find it in front of the crater called “Laghetto” and a few steps from the edge of the Valle del Bove, along the route that leads to the summit craters.

Several caves and tunnels also open up among the slopes formed by the lava of 1792. The most famous is Grotta Tre Livelli which, as the name suggests (three-level cave), is divided into three overlapping tunnels right next to the provincial road. This means that you can easily reach the grotto by car, then entering on foot via a few rock steps. The excursion in these caves is not difficult, but it is mandatory to always have an expert guide by your side.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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