Don’t Mess With Etna

Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily, Italy
Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily, Italy

On March 8, 1669, Etna began erupting. The citizens of Catania thought they could challenge the volcano. Unfortunately, they were wrong. The population of the city watched from the shores of the Ionian Sea as towns north and west of them were destroyed. Thinking their city walls would be a match Mother Nature’s wrath, they stayed put. Over subsequent weeks however, multiple powerful eruptions and noxious fumes killed thousands of people. Another casualty of Etna’s wrath during that eruption was Castello Ursino, pictured.

Commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1239 and surrounded by a moat, for centuries, the castle (which has 2-meter thick walls) seemed impenetrable, especially because it stood on a coastal promontory, surrounded by the sea. Well, the eruption of 1669 had no fear, and Etna’s lava flow filled the fortress’ moats and continued flowing past it, creating a new coastline. There was so much lava, that today, the castle, which now houses Catania’s civic museum, sits inland, about half a kilometer from the sea wall.

The message, still relevant today: don’t underestimate Etna!

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