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The torchlight processions in the mountains are now a common sight. It is easier to see them in winter, when the snow contrasts with the glow of the fire. It was the Alpine people who taught the world this tradition, filling certain cold nights on the highest peaks in Europe with lights. And the tradition has been taken up by skiers, climbers, mountain guides. Even on Mount Etna, which is in fact a mountain of considerable size, the tradition of torchlight processions has become a suggestive unmissable event. Here it is celebrated in the summer, in the week of August 10th.

Shooting stars become torches

The religious legend that in Italy has also become a secular cult has it that the meteors that you see falling – particularly in the week between 10 and 18 August – are actually the “tears of St Lawrence”. For this reason, the appointment of many is precisely for the night of St Lawrence, between 10th and 11th August. Then you find yourself admiring the shooting stars from every corner of the country.

Mount Etna guides have chosen this date, or at least the days close to it, for their torchlight procession. And this is because the torches become a tribute to comrades who have fallen into service, or who have died due to seniority. Masters who have illuminated the way to other guides for years, and are no longer there today. The torches shine in their honour, so to take them once again on those paths they have loved so much … while the stars fall down over the scenery.

torchlight etna2
photo from ilgiornaledellaprotezionecivile it

The path of the torchlight procession

The torchlight procession of Etna guides usually starts from the upper base of the cableway, then from the Montagnola site. They go down on foot along gullies and paths to finally reach the square of the Sapienza Refuge, on the southern flank of the volcano. On other occasions the torchlight procession starts from Sapienza itself and returns there a few hours later. Or it is organized along different paths but always on this – very touristic – side of the mountain.

The torchlight processions of Etna guides are organized either at sunset or immediately after it. In some cases, the wait lasts until late (10pm or 10.30pm) to allow spectators to better admire the descending lights in the dark.

The torchlight procession and the lava

The difference between an alpine torchlight procession and a torchlight procession on Etna lies in the double suggestion of the latter. If you organize a descent with torches on the side of an active volcano, the set of lights will look exactly like a lava flow that descends at high speed.

It is not uncommon, in fact, that the surprise and curiosity of less informed tourists becomes fear. And that they start calling to find out if an eruption is in progress or not. Or if there is any danger. On some occasions it has happened that Etna itself has “competed” with the torchlight processions of the guides, performing in marvelous fire fountains behind them.

Once you understand what it is, however, only the spectacle, the beauty and the suggestion of an event remains . It reminds everyone of the importance of the work of these men and women. Which, especially on an active volcano, are often the hope of all those who want to admire a unique mountain in complete safety! (the photo above the title is by ALESSANDRO SAFFO copyright-2013)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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