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Some piedmont towns (Zafferana Etnea) even dedicated a road to him, today’s researchers are deeply grateful to him. Who is this man? Patrick Brydone, the man who “discovered” Mount Etna. Or rather one of the first to let the world discover this volcano, intended precisely as a source of geological and naturalistic studies. The world already knew that this incredible mountain existed, in the center of the Mediterranean sea. Poets, travellers, writers and even early scientists had described it. What then was Brydone’s great merit?

A traveling Scotsman

brydone 2Patrick Brydone was born in Scotland, in Coldingham, in 1736. The son of a Protestant reverend, he studied until he was 19 and then joined the army. As a soldier he participated in several war actions and several expeditions, which made him very familiar with travel and mapping. Thanks to the experience thus gained, once he left the army he worked as a “tutor traveler” and established his residence in Lausanne, Switzerland.

From there he moved to Spain, France, Ireland, Portugal and Italy. In Italy he explored the Alps and stayed in Naples for a few months, fascinated by the activity of Mount Vesuvius – quite lively at that time. After an expedition to Malta, on his return way, he stopped in Sicily where he was very impressed by Etna and the elegance of the city of Messina.

In 1783 he stopped travelling, married an English woman and returned with her to Britain, where he died in 1818.

Brydone and Etna

Antonio Patanè’s work – The journeys of the snow: collection, trade and consumption of Etna snow in the 17th-20th centuries – carefully describes the relationship between Brydone and Etna. In fact, we read here: “Having arrived in Catania from Messina and decided to visit the incomparable Mount Etna, he stopped in Nicolosi, where he had the opportunity to observe the diligent activity linked to the collection, storage and trade of snow.”

Initially fascinated by this activity and by the delight of the “ice creams” that he had the opportunity to taste in those days, Brydone deepened his study of the volcano’s territory by following the paths that then allowed his exploration. He was the first to create a real map of Etna’s paths, later spreading it throughout Europe. Thanks to his work, in fact, the visitors who arrived in Sicily after him finally managed to visit the great mountain without getting lost in the area. It can truly be said that Brydone was the forerunner of Etna trekking!brydone 3

How the Grand Tour discovered Etna

Thanks to the maps drawn by Patrick Brydone, travelers on the Grand Tour (the traditional educational travel that spread throughout Europe between the 18th and 19th centuries, especially among young people from wealthy families) began to include Sicily in their stops. As a rule, these trips included Italy but only in its major historic cities and then moved directly to Greece. From Brydone onwards, the Sicilian stop became almost a “must”.

Brydone allowed the world to discover Etna and, with it, the cities of Nicolosi, Acireale, Catania, Syracuse. And obviously also the culture, traditions and gastronomic products of the place. It is not surprising that in that same period the “ice cream” trend spread throughout the continent, later being developed in France where it turned into that unique specialty that we all know today.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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