The lava of Mount Etna

Guide to diversities

The lava of Mount Etna manifests itself through a surprising variety of forms and characteristics.

Etna is not just a majestic volcano; it is the beating heart of the millennia-old history of this land.

Its imposing eruptions, full of power and mystery, have shaped the landscape and life itself of the surrounding territories for centuries. Every smoking crest tells an ancient and fascinating story.

In this journey through its multiple facets, we will explore the origins of this natural wonder and its practical and touristic implications.

The diversity of Mount Etna’s lava

Since the dawn of time, Mount Etna has constantly reinvented its lava material, creating a wide range of types. There is no single form of Etna lava; rather, it has evolved over millennia in response to the dynamics of the volcano and its deep roots in the Earth’s crust.

Emerging from the waters about half a million years ago, Etna gave birth to basaltic eruptions, characterized by dense and fluid lava. Subsequently, about 100,000 years ago, it began to produce more viscous and granitic lavas. Over the centuries, it has alternated these types with tuffaceous lavas, only to return to its basaltic origins in modern times. However, the future still holds mysteries and unexpected discoveries.

Types of lava and their characteristics

Etna’s lavas can be classified based on their silica content. “Granitic” lavas, with high silica content, tend to be extremely viscous and form structures such as domes and spires. “Andesitic” lavas, intermediate in terms of silica, represent a middle ground between viscous and fluid lavas.

In contrast, “basaltic” lavas, with low silica content, are extremely fluid and manifest in various forms, including ropey lava, rugged blocks, columnar basalts, and pillows. Despite the predominance of basaltic lavas, Etna exhibits a rich diversity of lava forms and structures, making it unique in its kind.

Distinctive characteristics of Mount Etna’s lava

Mount Etna’s lava, although belonging to the basaltic type, exhibits unique characteristics that set it apart from other similar lavas. Despite its fluidity, it is often associated with Strombolian episodes, characterized by violent explosions. Its rapid solidification and slow progression across the terrain can create phenomena such as lava tubes, giving rise to spectacular caves.

Rich in iron, Etna’s lava takes on red and orange hues as it cools, while its surface is sharp and sparkling due to the presence of glassy elements. The presence of microscopic particles of gold adds further allure to this natural wonder, although it may cause interference with magnetic and electronic devices due to the high content of iron powders.

Uses and practical implications 

For centuries, humans have exploited Mount Etna’s lava rock for a wide range of purposes, from building roads and walls to creating artworks and architectural decorations. While it was once possible to manipulate the still-boiling lava for artistic purposes, such practice is now prohibited for safety reasons.

Lava can also be pulverized and used to create extremely durable modeling pastes, employed in the production of items such as vases, bottles, and tiles. This natural resource has become an integral part of local culture and craftsmanship, contributing to the creation of unique and distinctive works.

Unmissable tourist destinations

For visitors interested in exploring the wonders of Mount Etna’s lava, there are numerous unmissable destinations. From caves offering a unique experience of walking inside the lava itself, to the majestic basaltic columns along the Aci Trezza waterfront and the picturesque Alcantara Gorges, there are countless opportunities to admire the beauty and diversity of this natural phenomenon.

Additionally, the “lava waterfalls” in the Ripe della Naca area offer a breathtaking spectacle that is sure to leave a lasting impression.


In conclusion, the lava of Mount Etna represents not only a natural wonder but also a precious resource for the culture and economy of the region. With its diversity and unique beauty, it continues to inspire and fascinate visitors from all over the world, offering an unforgettable experience in the heart of Sicily.