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Tourists who come to Aci Trezza looking for the romantic stories of 1800s novel I Malavoglia immediately fall in love with it. The Lachea island shows itself there, among the dark stacks, in front of the village’s small port. Lachea looks at Aci Trezza and Aci Trezza looks at it too, and celebrates it. The name “Lachea” is everywhere: shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants … . But this lava-and-clay islet is much more than this. It is a protected natural area, paradise of botanists and marine biologists. And it is the cradle where Mount Etna was born!

History of the Lachea Island

The Lachea island is part of the Cyclopes Archipelago, and the largest one. It is the only one with vegetation on it. Here, also men could build their architecture. Since 1998 you cannot build on the island anymore, since it is a Natural Reserve.

If you look at the island – especially with the direct light of sunrise or sunset – you will spot its three colours: black, white and green. Black is the colour of the lava rocks at its base. The white colour is the clay rock in the middle part. The green vegetation then grows all over it.

This is the proof that the Lachea island was born after a great submarine eruption that pushed it up. It came out of the sea with the seabed’s clay soil which then became its top. The volcano that started that eruption was the “ancestor” of modern Mount Etna.

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a nice view of the island

How Etna was born from Lachea

That said, it’s a little too simple. It is not exactly correct that “Etna was born from the island of Lachea”. But the factors that intersect in this place lead straight to the great volcano. In fact, between 700,000 and 500,000 years ago, in the place of Aci Trezza and its coast, there was an immense gulf. It was certainly much wider than the current gulf of Catania.

The collision between the European and African plates generated cracks in the seabed that caused underwater eruptions around half a million years ago. The lava of those first submarine eruptions surfaced where today the Lachea island and the stacks rise. It literally tore up the clay seabed by projecting it out of the water. And, when the rock solidified, it became one with the clays.

Over time, the magma conduits sought their way out by moving west. And the debris of their eruptions, over the centuries, filled the gulf. Thus a huge basaltic platform was created on which the volcano – as we know it today – did grow. Half of the Catanese area rises on this platform and at the foot of the Etna structure, which has now completely emerged.

What to see on Lachea Island

Two hundred and fifty meters long, 150 meters wide and 35 meters high above sea level, the Lachea island has always been part of the chronicles and culture of this corner of Sicily. The Greek and Roman poets told it in their works as a “rock inhabited by goats”. Men have exploited it for millennia, to the point that prehistoric archaeological finds were also found in the 19th century. Always very ancient, but from more recent times, also cave tombs and the remains of Roman everyday objects were discovered in the early 20th century.

The Catania fishermen and divers have used the island for years, for its seabed rich in fish and algae. But in 1998, with the establishment of the Protected Reserve, Lachea Island is simply a place of study. It is now protected from any human manipulation. Those who go to visit it must first obtain a permit from the University of Catania. The island can only be explored with the guidance of local scholars and experts. You will admire the typical plants of the Mediterranean bush, birds (including cormorants, gulls and hawks) and above all the endemic lizard Urozelotes Mysticus, which lives only here.

On the island you can visit the cave tombs, the grotto of the Monk (apparently inhabited by a hermit before the year 1000), an ancient well and the museum. Today the museum collects specimens and photos of the local flora and fauna but also ancient objects found on the island and in the seabed. It is also possible to admire minerals that tell the geological history of the place.

How to get there

To get to theLachea island you must first arrive in Aci Trezza, a hamlet of the municipality of Aci Castello. From Catania airport you reach it by bus – AST regional lines – or with a rental car.

From Catania, Aci Trezza can be reached via the State Street 114 Orientale Sicula towards Messina. From Messina, you get there via the same SS 114 with about an hour’s journey. Or, in less than an hour, with the A18 Messina-Catania motorway. Exit at Acireale and then take the SS 114, towards Catania and Aci Castello.

Once in Aci Trezza, the island can be reached aboard private boats which, however, must turn their engine off as they approach its banks. (PHOTOS BY GRAZIA MUSUMECI)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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