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Once upon a time there was Gino Menza Refuge … a small alpine hut in the “belly” of an active volcano. A fairy tale that ended under meters and meters of lava, which brought with it memories of a whole  era. Because once Etna was not as we know it today. It was always active, always alive, but in different ways. The eruptions occurred once every “nth” years and lasted a long time, even months at times. Then it all turned off and was again in an apparent stillness. Today the volcano is a fury! It erupts constantly, with fountains of lava, roars, ash and lapilli. Little lava but a lot of show. In fact, it is always a risk to go hiking in the Valle del Bove. But this is now… then it was different.

At the time of Gino Menza

The excursions on the volcano began with the establishment of the Italian Alpine Club of Etna, in 1875. As soon as it was established, the Club faced two eruptions in a few years, providing help in case of need and experience in the context of various emergencies. Many approached the world of hiking and became fond of exploring Mount Etna. In the early 20th century there were dozens of young people, including university and high school students, who followed the guides to discover the volcano.

From the 19th century onwards, very few eruptions had affected the Valle del Bove and in any case the lava that poured into it had never gone too far. So the great depression was filled with dense vegetation and paths. It had become a place for recreation in the shadow of the only two summit craters at the time (the Central Crater and the North East Crater, the latter formed in 1911). Young people used those places to enjoy a healthy and sporty life, too.

Among these Gino Menza who was fond of climbing. While tackling the ascent of the frozen gully of Serra del Salfizio, at the foot of Monte Pomiciaro, on 18 January 1925 Gino Menza slipped and fell to the ground, among the very hard lava boulders that left him no hope of survive. Immediately a cross was dedicated to him and a few years later an entire refuge built in less than six months!

See you at the Menza Refuge

The Menza Refuge was built on the land of the Archbishop of Catania who, in 1933, donated a part of it to the Alpine Club as long as they also built a chapel there. In five months, not far from where Gino Menza had fallen, the refuge that would bear his name was raised. They first opened it in December in the presence of many friends of the unfortunate young hiker. It has since become, for years, a reference point for camping and hiking.

rifugio menza 2
photo by G Musumeci

Located near the fresh water springs of Serra del Salfizio, the Menza Refuge consisted of two floors, with two bedrooms with 4 beds each and two dormitories with different rows of beds. It could host a total of 52 people. Always stocked with food and tools to feed the fire or for first aid, it was a safe haven for those who faced the kilometers of walking in Valle del Bove. “See you at the Menza Refuge” was a ritual phrase and around the fire, among those beds, many stories of friendship and adventure have been intertwined for decades.

The eruption that destroyed the refuge

Between December 1991 and March 1993 Mount Etna produced one of the longest and most complex eruptions in modern history. The fractures opened at the base of the South East Crater, in Valle del Bove, erupted lava for almost two years. The fire invaded a large part of the desert valley and burned kilometers of vegetation. Channeled into the nearby Val Calanna, the unstoppable river of fire headed straight towards the town of Zafferana Etnea. It was therefore decided to intervene by favoring a deviation by human means.

Between May and June 1992, military operations aimed at diverting the lava – also with the construction of dams and with explosives – directed the fire towards the Menza refuge. The small hut was swallowed in a short time by more than 30 meters of lava. It slowly shattered under the eyes of dozens of onlookers (in the photo above the title, taken from the blog

Although today the refuge is submerged forever, hikers still go on a “pilgrimage” to that point. To tell the story to friends and strangers. Or just to pay homage to a place that has made the history of tourism on Etna for a long time.

The refuge today

The refuge of course no longer exists, but you can still walk on the spot where it once stood. You will know that you have it tens of meters under your feet, but you can still follow the paths that even Gino Menza followed at the time. Always rely on Etna guides, who know which paths to take into Valle del Bove to walk safely.

Today it is not always recommended to go to Valle del Bove because the sudden eruptions of Etna leave little time to escape an ash cloud, or worse a pyroclastic flow! So follow the advice of those who know the volcano better than you … . And if for once the excursion is canceled, you will still know that it could not be done otherwise.  No complain !

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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