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Mount Etna, ItalyReturn
Mount Etna sends lava shooting into the air during a June 2001 eruption.
Launch Image Gallery

Type: Composite volcano with cinder cones, caldera

The highest active volcano in Europe—at nearly 11,000 feet (3350 meters)—is also one of the world's best known.

Writers have documented the explosions of Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily, since 1500 B.C. More than 200 eruptions have been recorded since then.

The philosopher Plato sailed from Greece in 387 B.C. just to see the mountain. Ancient Romans thought it was the forge of their metalworking god, Vulcan.

The oldest lavas exposed on the lower flanks of the volcano issued from the depths of the Earth some 300,000 years ago.

Since then Etna has erupted frequently, though the explosions are usually not large.

The most dramatic explosion happened in 1669, when 20,000 people were killed by an unstoppable wave of lava. Fissures opened on the volcano's sides, sending the lava flowing to the city walls of Catania. The lava rose to the top of the wall and swept over, destroying much of the town as well as a dozen other villages.

Villagers tried to divert the fiery flow by digging a trench above Catania, but they were unsuccessful. A more recent attempt in 1983, in which scientists exploded dynamite to redirect the lava, was more successful.

Mount Etna continues to belch debris and spew lava and has been increasingly active in the last 50 years. Fatalities have been fairly rare in recent times, because the volcano's outbursts occur at upper elevations and its lava moves slowly, giving people time to escape.

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