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The mountains called “Centenary” have for a long time witnessed a terrible and spectacular eruption of Mt. Etna.  It took place on August 20th, 1852, and lasted almost one year (ended in May 1853). To call them “mountains” may seem exaggerated, in fact now they are little more than hills – small craters that emerge from the western base of the large valley Del Bove. Once, they were high and terrible. Soon they will be completely erased, because they are located in a point where all the lavas of the summit eruptions do gather. And therefore, as in a fairy tale, we will say “once upon a time there were the Centenary Hills”. But as long as they are there, even if only for a little more, go and visit them with organized excursions.

How the Centenary Hills were born

photo by Pianeta Rosso Flickr

On August 20th, 1852, the pressure of the magma accumulated in the belly of the volcano split the surface along the west wall of the Valle del Bove. It thus formed two eruptive vents that emitted a total of 120 million cubic meters of lava. The rivers of fire overcame obstacles and valleys, getting to threaten the towns of Milo, Zafferana and above all the hamlet of Caselle very close. Some land properties were overwhelmed by the eruption but in general the foothills towns were saved from the fury of the volcano.

The eruption, which lasted almost a year, will also see significant fallout of ash, acid rain and the opening of minor vents following the Centenary Hills. The name to these two craters was given in the course of the following 20th century. It wanted to underline their being the only reminders of one of the most important eruptions of the previous century. Since the 1950s, the Centenary Mountains have become a destination for interesting tourist routes. Due to the many following summit eruptions that have poured rivers of lava on the site, the two extinct craters have been buried. Only the top of the highest one remains visible, reduced to a small hill.

How the craters created … a painter!

A beautiful painting by Giuseppe Sciuti is dedicated to the eruption of the Centenary Hills. And it was to these craters that the artist owed his personal luck. The son of a landowner from Zafferana Etnea, he had been sent to study outside Sicily, so to learn how to economically manage the family wealth. The eruption overwhelmed his father’s vineyards, reducing the family to bankruptcy. The young man then had to return to Sicily and find a job. He became an apprentice to a well-known decorator, who actually taught him the art of painting – which he loved more than economics. In a few years he had become one of the most famous artists of the time, in southern Italy.

To get to the Centenary Hills

The excursions to reach the Centenary Hills – or rather the only surviving peak of the Centenary Hills – can follow different itineraries. However, these are hard routes, suitable for trained and prepared people. Do it with the help of local guides. One of the most popular routes starts from Pietracannone, on the north-east flank of the volcano, and descends into the Valle del Bove through steep lava gullies and rocky deserts. Once you reach the craters, go back to the base. In total it takes 8 hours and 30 minutes.

Another route is the one that descends into Valle del Bove from Schiena dell’Asino. You must first reach the Schiena dell’Asino viewpoint, starting from Etna south flank and following a route that is partly steep and partly flat. Then you go down to Valle del Bove along some historical craters including the Centenary Hills. This route also takes 8 hours, to go and return. This is also recommended for people well trained in the mountains and in good health.

The craziest and more daring people love to descend into Valle del Bove by sliding down from the top, along the gullies full of volcanic sand. They “land” at the bottom of the valley – thus admiring the Centenary Mountains – and then continue the (very hard!) path up to Zafferana Etnea.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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