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World War 2 had just ended when the Voragine crater opened at the top of Mount Etna. It was October 1945 and, suddenly, a portion of the thousand-year-old Central Crater – already flanked by the North East Crater – collapsed, creating a hole (pit crater) which in turn began an intense eruptive activity. This new Voragine (chasm) initially had a diameter of just 10 meters. Today, 80 years later, that small hole has become an abyss with a diameter of about 200 meters and has even managed to incorporate the ancient Centrale, becoming its direct heir. If you think of the central crater of Etna, therefore, you are probably thinking of it: the great Chasm. This crater rarely erupts, but when it does… its “song” can be heard throughout Sicily!

The eruptions from the Voragine

The Voragine therefore “inherited” the central conduits of our volcano and for this reason when the eruptions start from here they can be very powerful, noisy and above all spectacular. They are almost never long lasting eruptions, but short-lived and very full of energy. The large emission of volcanic material this crater unleashes every time tends, in fact, to fall back on the spot creating “plugs (caps)” which then solidify and remain until the next eruption.

The reopening occurs gradually. First small collapses do form, then come real “chimneys” that spit out shreds of lava and jets of gas. Finally, if the power is maximum, the gas makes the cap explode and the actual eruption begins. The last real eruption of the Voragine dates back to 2013, while between 2015 and 2019 there were temporary awakenings.

voragine eruption 2Is the 2024 eruption on the way?

Recently the formation of a new “chimney” inside the Voragine cone has attracted the attention of guides and volcanologists. Powerful jets of gas (VIDEO by Michele Mammino HERE) pierce the walls of the cap and small Strombolian-type explosions throw shreds of incandescent material into the air.

Despite being a very contained and in some ways “hidden” eruptive activity (only late at night or at dawn you may spot a faint red glow), the prospect of a new eruption from the Voragine in 2024 is attracting the curiosity of media. Tourists increasingly ask guides for excursions at an altitude of 3000 m. Everyone is waiting for the show.

Voragine, eruption from afar

But as exciting as it is to climb to the edge of the Voragine, this is a task that is best left to those who are truly experts and know how to skilfully interpret the breath of the volcano: guides and scientists. Bringing tourists right to the edge of a waking crater is always risky.
The advice is to go up with your guides to the safest points from where to admire the explosions or, in case of eruption, the lava fountains. The Voragine is famous for its powerful roars, a “song” that makes houses shake and is fantastic to listen to it more from afar than up close. In any case, the safety distance should never be underestimated.

Said that, all we can do is to wait for Mount Etna’s decision. That is, if in the next few months it wants to amaze us with a breathtaking spectacle -like only the Voragine can create- or if it will change its mind and return to cover all the chimneys, as soon as the gas venting will be over. (photos by G Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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