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By James Iozia
When you hear of active volcanoes, one cannot help but think of Mount Etna, one of the world's most famous volcanoes. Located on the east coast of the island of Sicily, Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in the world. It is known as a stratovolcano, which means that it is conical and was built by the eruption of lava, ashes and pyroclastic flows. Currently it stands about 3,329 meters (10,922 ft.) high, but this is constantly changing due to summit eruptions.
In ancient times, the Greeks believed it to be the home of the god of fire, Vulcan. They also thought that when the mountain was erupting it meant that Vulcan was forging weapons for Mars, the god of war. Mount Etna is reported to have had erupted approximately 200 times since 1500 BC, with the most recent major eruption occurring in 2001.
Mount Etna creates a majestic dominant feature against the Sicilian skyline. It is Sicily's greatest natural attraction and much of the tourism of Sicily is due to this awe-inspiring volcano. In fact, the volcano forms part one of Italy's greatest and most beautiful national parks, Parco Regionale dell' Etna.
The mountain's surface is covered with solidified lava but much of its slope is also covered in forests where various species of oak, stone pine, birch and beech grow over its sloped surface. The changing tree colors in autumn make it a truly spectacular sight.
Mount Etna's forests are home to an abundance of wildlife. Fox, squirrels, weasels, hedgehogs, porcupine and possible a few wild cats live in the forests, and owls, falcons, partridges and even golden eagles can be viewed circulating above. There are also herons, ducks and other migratory birds in the nearby Gurrida Lake area. Apart from the awesome hikes in the woods and up the mountain in the summer, Mount Etna also offers skiing in the winter months. All of this adds to the tourist's pleasure of enjoying this natural wildlife area even more.
Of course, the major attraction for most tourists would be the thrilling hike up the mountain. The majority of tourists visit the south side of the mountain and hike only a short distance up the mountain. This trail is free for all to use.
There is, however, another hike which adventurous visitors may take where they can traverse to the summit for a breathtaking view into the eye of the volcano. For this a guide is needed, but the hike is well worth the effort because it allows the tourist to experience the full impact of the smells and views and even feel like they are a part of the volcano's turbulent history. The hike to the top is not an easy one because it becomes quite steep when the summit is approached and the cinders and ash make it rough going. It is a dark, inhospitable landscape and because of this it is often used by scientists to test robots before sending them to Mars. The atmospheric and geological conditions are deemed to be much the same.
A visit to Mount Etna would make an exciting and thrilling destination for any tourist. The thrill of climbing an active volcano, the wonder of hiking through various nature trails along the way, and experiencing the fantastic Sicilian culture all make Mount Etna worth adding to any tourist's next travel itinerary.
I have loved Sicily for as far back as I can remember and I return to this island paradise every chance I get. My grandparents came to America from this beautiful land in the early 1900's, bringing with them all the tradition and passion that is Sicily. From the beautiful beaches and Roman architecture, to the heavenly food and romantic charm, I hope you will come to love Sicily as much as I do! Stop by for a visit at http://www.beauty-and-romance-of-sicily.com
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