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During this Holiday Season, you have most likely gone shopping to dozens of shops, in order to find the best Christmas present. And maybe you also took a look at the artisans’ windows, admiring those beautiful ashtrays, those souvenirs, those jewels made with lava stone. And then you turned your gaze to Mount Etna, magnificent as always, and you wondered: how do you get these works of art? How are the volcanic materials used?

Lava is the basis of construction

The lava of Mt Etna is the base for building construction in eastern Sicily and beyond. Urban lava stone floors, in fact, are in every corner of the island. In the Catanese area, however, volcanic stone is also used for the foundations of houses, for some decorations (such as jambs or cornices) and for making garden walls.

Usually, the stones that serve these purposes are extracted in the quarries. They work and forge them on the spot, before selling them to the building industry. Other times, however, they also use the black sand – or ash – of Mt Etna. By compacting and smoothing it you can make tiles, slabs, tables and so on. Volcanic ash processing is highly appreciated especially in Northern Europe!

The famous ashtrays

Today it is more difficult to make these little masterpieces, because dozens of authorizations are needed to approach a lava flow. But until the 1990s, expert craftsmen managed to create works of art by beating the still hot lava, fished with a long special stick. They stood a few meters from the hot fire stream and immersed the stick in the molten rock. So they extracted lumps of raw lava, still pasty, which they hammered and forged on the spot.

Once cooled, these ashtrays could be completed with other elements: for example, colours, handles, decorations of different types. The beauty of seeing these objects born from hot lava was a unique event, which unfortunately today the safety rules – fair, but excessive – are likely to cancel forever.

Artistic works

etna lava and ashSome artists willingly use volcanic ash to create paintings, to give a touch of originality to the sculptures, to complete an object, a souvenir, with an unusual material. Once worked, this black sand can also be painted in different colours. Even the small pieces of lava rock, if properly treated and worked, can have an interesting second life.

You can make jewelry – bracelets, necklaces, but also earrings – with pieces of lava stone. But beware of the imitations (plastic covered with black grain)! They can be easily found around, especially in the most famous tourist resorts of Sicily. Lava jewels have a specific weight because they are made with real rock.

The glazed lava tables

A very profitable industry of lava rock processing, at the foot of Mt Etna, is that of glazed tables. Large slabs of lava stone are worked and smoothed to be then mounted on iron supports. So they turn into garden tables. Then they are also glazed, often with floral motifs or with references to the Sicilian tradition, obtaining precious and very expensive works of art.  They can really give a touch of unique elegance to your house’s courtyard. (photos by G. Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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