Catania, Looking Toward The Sea.
Between Catania And Etna.
The crags are piled on his breast, The earth is heaped on his head; But the groans of his wild unrest, Though smothered and half suppressed, Are heard, and he is not dead".
Etna has written its own tragic history in gigantic letters, and often holds aloft a torch, that man may the more easily decipher them.
As long ago as the fifth century before Christ, Ęschyius wrote of its "rivers of fire, devouring with their ravenous jaws the fields of fertile Sicily"; and since that time there have been eighty authentic eruptions of the mountain - an average of about three a century. Where a volcano leaves so many records, the trails of many of them must be indistinct. But certainly the coast around Catania is black with relics of its awful power, and even the sea shows traces of invasion by its lava streams. Such are the seven black rocks, which rise out of the water near Catania, and were supposed to be the missiles hurled at Ulysses and his ships by Polyphemus and the Cyclops. Vesuvius is a pygmy in comparison to Etna, and owes its reputation chiefly to the romantic resurrection of its principal victims, Herculaneum and Pompeii. But the Sicilian monster has destroyed unnumbered villages; while in a single earthquake, synchronous with one of its convulsions, no less than fifty towns were laid in ruins, and sixty thousand people killed. Its worst eruption was probably that of 1669, which covered fifty square miles with lava (in places to a depth of one hundred feet), and overwhelmed the homes of twentyseven thousand people. Even two years later, flames issued from this substance, if it were disturbed, and eight years subsequent to its ejection, vapor rose from it after rain. On this occasion, when the torrent reached a rampart of Catania, sixty feet in height, it mounted to the top, and pouring over it in a cataract of fire destroyed a portion of the city. At still another point a mass of seething lava, two miles wide, advanced into the sea, and pushing back the pliant water formed a promontory, half a mile from the original shore! During the progress- of this molten stream, the sight of the terrific struggle between fireand water must have been sublime beyond description. Twenty-five hundred years ago the poet Pindar called Etna a "Pillar of Heaven"; and such it seems to-day, - a vast, symmetrical, and snow-crowned pyramid, whose base has a circumference of one hundred and twenty miles!
The Approach To Etna.
The Lava-Blackened Coast Near Etna.
The Rocks Of The Cyclops.
An Old Lava Current From Etna.
Its noble form is altitudinally divisible into three great zones. The first, in order of ascent, slopes gradually upward from the level of the sea to a height of about two thousand feet. This is the Cultivated Region, and is not only the most productive, but also the most thickly populated, part of Sicily. For, strange to say, the lava, which effects such terrible destruction here, and may remain for two or three centuries obdurate and sterile, becomes, when thoroughly pulverized by time, and filled with wind-blown germs of vegetation, extremely fertile. Accordingly, this lowest section of Mount Etna is covered with extensive vineyards, cornfields, olive groves, and countless orange, fig, and lemon trees, among which live three hundred thousand people in comparative luxury, upon a soil of disintegrated lava. Above this cultivated area comes the Wooded Zone, which girds the mountain with a bright green belt, from six to eight miles wide, cut here and there by sinuous streams of cold, black lava, suggestive of the downward-reaching arms of some enormous octopus. These forests of Mount Etna are at present recklessly despoiled; but once they furnished Syracuse and other cities with material for their famous fleets; and even now among the timber growing there are chestnut-trees of mammoth size, and noble groves of beeches, oaks, and pines. To this broad sylvan belt succeeds the Desert Zone, five thousand feet in height, in all of whose black, desolate expanse is found no trace of animal or vegetable life. It is a dreary, wind-swept waste of ashes, sand, and lava blocks, from which rise several subsidiary cones, - black, horrible excrescences, which once were lateral craters.