Blog by Gillian Hovell, The Muddy Archaeologist www.muddyarchaeologist.co.uk
Mount Etna has been an influence on the people who have lived in Sicily since the first humans arrived. This active volcano almost constantly steams, and pushes out ash dust and occasionally causes tremors and great lava flows. Here, Hephaestus, the Greek smith of the gods, born to Zeus after one of his many affairs, was thrown to earth by jealous Hera. Here, he hammered and worked in his giant furnace to make thunderbolts for his father Zeus, king of the gods. Here, the giant, one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus devoured Odysseus’ companions and tossed great rocks as the heroes’ ship as the survivors fled the island after blinding him.
And the heated lava and tossed rocks are here in abundance. Above the trees lies a moon-like landscape, jagged, sharp lava flows (don’t fall on them!) are strewn around and down from the multiple craters. Nature’s power is literally tangible.
Yet the rocks spewed from within the earth are very colourful. The new black lava, the oxidised red lava and the sulphur-tainted yellow lava are startling contrasts.
Despite the lifeless destruction the eruptions of flowing lava cause, they also bring fertility. Pillows of green are already colonising extinct craters.
Heading back down the mountain, the return to the green woodlands and pines is a visual shock. The laden crops of orange and lemon trees that grow in the shadow of Etna are a testament to the abundance that the volcano fuels.
And it was this fertility that drew the Greeks to the island, settling at Naxos to gather plentiful crops from the fields below the lava fields.