Sicily is a land of volcanoes: active, sleeping, extinct … there are so many! Of course we do know the most famous ones: Mount Etna, Mount Stromboli and the island of Vulcano. We usually do not think of the “others”, especially underwater ones: they are six, at least, and very close to the Sicilian coasts. The hazard ranking concerning volcanoes, in Italy, names Etna and Stromboli right after Campi Flegrei (in Naples). Though we do not often think of these volcanoes as “dangerous”. So, does a real dangerous volcano exist, in Sicily?
“Good” volcanoes and “bad” volcanoes
They often say Mount Etna is a “good volcano”. But scientists laugh at this. They keep on reminding us that there are no “good or bad volcanoes”, just … volcanoes! These mountains are special, they connect our world to the boiling core of planet Earth. They rise along the fractures of the planet’s surface. They are just natural phenomena. So they can be violent or less violent, dangerous or less dangerous, all the time. Even a “good” volcano could turn into a “bad” one.
The goodness and danger of volcanoes is also based on how man exploits them. Building without criteria, a few kilometers from a crater, challenging dangerous situations … all this leads to catastrophes that are certainly not the fault of the volcano! On the contrary, if you know how to stay on the territory with respect and attention towards nature, gives you the possibility of an advantageous coexistence.
The danger of Sicilian volcanoes
Etna seems to be one of the less dangerous volcanoes simply because it is so high that the effusive craters are very far from the towns. Therefore eruptions rarely destroy houses and fields, except in those particular cases in which the lava comes out of a lateral fracture at low altitude. The lava of Etna is sticky and slow. So even when it threatens a town it always gives the people time to leave.
Stromboli is a younger and more restless volcano. Its explosions are world famous. In the past they have also been deadly to the inhabitants. Quite unpredictable (the warning for a major explosion is only 20 minutes), it can cause damage. Living in Stromboli is always a gamble, but in 90% of cases lava and explosions are vented on the deserted Sciara del Fuoco, so they do not harm.
Vulcano is as dangerous as all “poorly active” volcanoes are. Its activity is limited to sulfur fumaroles, which makes it a relatively calm volcano. Every so often, over the centuries, it erupts. And it does it suddenly. So it could be a problem, even if before each eruption the sulfur emissions increase strongly, giving the inhabitants a considerable alarm signal.
Among the submerged volcanoes, the most dangerous is the gigantic Marsili. It is located in the heart of the Tyrrhenian Sea. This is not really a “Sicilian volcano” but its future activity could cause damage on the island (for example, a tsunami), so it is included in the local lists. Sicily also experiences minor volcanic phenomena (Salinelle of Paternò, Maccalube hot muds of Aragona, fumaroles of Mount Kronio in Sciacca) which however can be dangerous only rarely, and only very locally.
The most dangerous volcano in Sicily is …
Surprisingly, the most dangerous volcano in Sicily could be … Mount Pilato, in Lipari! That’s right, the apparently quieter and more anonymous island of the Aeolian Archipelago is made up of a series of craters. These craters have not erupted for centuries but are not either really extinct. Mount Pilato erupted in a notable way in the years 780 and 1230. With a sort of eruptive phenomenon recorded – but with less certainty – it also erupted in the 16th century (year 1594)!
The very long periods of quiet between one eruption and the next mean that the inhabitants completely lose their memory of it. So they go back to building and living even inside the craters themselves! With all the risks you can imagine. On the other hand, if the island remains quiet for hundreds of years, why shouldn’t man exploit its rich territory? Humans and the volcano are fully linked, by common fate and a common desire to challenge.
The important role of INGV
Today, however, we can say that thanks to advanced studies and modern technology every volcano is always under control. Even those who “seem to sleep” for centuries. The Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) in Italy is among the best in the world for the control of volcanoes. In particular, the INGV of Catania is a team that teaches scientists from all over the world.
Every Sicilian volcano is always under control. Every change, every suspicion, triggers operations to make things and people safe. So perhaps we can say without fear that … no, there is not a “more dangerous volcano in Sicily”. There are just volcanoes and men who study them. That is all. (PHOTOS BY GRAZIA MUSUMECI)