All Around Etna, Pillar of Heaven

January 5, 2012

Well, Mount Etna–Pillar of Heaven, as the Greeks called her–is spewing her ash again as I write this. First blast of 2012. Clouds of smoke are visible all the way down here.

We toured around her just last week. Small puffs of smoke, like breaths on a cold day, blew from her crater into the gray-blue sky. She looked breathtakingly serene then, but there’s always more than meets the eye in Sicily.

Vulcan, god of fire, was tink-tinking away in her burning bowels.

Mount Etna in December, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

How odd to live cheek-by-jowl with such a force of nature.

Stone homes–still inhabited–nestle against the black scabs of lava that are etched like witch’s fingers down her green shoulders. Some homes, like the one below, are just a distant memory.

Ruined House in Lava Field on Mount Etna, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Lava fields outside Randazzo

Randazzo, closest to the summit, is a dark town on the north slope built entirely of lava stone.

Church in Randazzo, Sicily, a town near Etna, copyright Jann Huizenga

Church of Santa Maria in Randazzo

Scene in Randazzo, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Center of Randazzo

In spite of the danger, Sicilians feel an intense affection for Etna, identifying deeply with her volatile nature.

The boys in Randazzo deck themselves out in black–to match their surroundings I presume–and behave just like Etna, puffing great rings of smoke into the sky.

Boys in Randazzo, Sicly, copyright Jann Huizenga

Scene in Randazzo

Does your life lack excitement?

Here’s a house for you. It’s just under Etna, and for sale!

House for sale under Etna, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga



Tips for tourists: Wine tours and trekking are favorite past-times around Etna. The north face of Etna is a gorgeous place to drive around–full of vineyards, baronial manors, and mountain panoramas, but when you get to down-at-the-heels Bronte (home of the famous pistachio nut), the roads become trashy–especially shocking to see in the presence of this great natural wonder.

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21 comments to All Around Etna, Pillar of Heaven

  • John Schinina

    Hi Jann, Your Photos are fantastic, it’s inspired me to paint.
    I read some comments on trash in italy which I found disturbing, I must of missed the post with the litter. I was in Italy 4 years ago and I must say I found it very clean with the exception of Naples having a garbage collection strike, I didn’t recall seeing bags full of garbage any where however I was so mesmerized with its architectural beauty, culture and art that the possiblity of me being oblivious to that finding is possible. I look so forward too your post, thanks so much.

    • Jann

      Hey John, Really? I’ve inspired you to paint?? Such a compliment!

      At the bottom of that post there was a little PS for tourists warning of the trash along a certain section of the Etna road. That’s what people were commenting about…Guess you got too caught up in the photos to read the fine print! 🙂

    • John Schinina

      Hi Jann, You are so right, I have a habit of doing exactly what you commented.
      I don’t consider myself as a Renoir, however I always enjoyed in my mind the challenge. Thanks for the reply

  • sandee wheeler

    Could that house that is for sale possibly be your next challenge?? Is smoking that common in Sicily?

    • Jann

      Hi Sandee! 1) Absolutely no more house challenges for me 🙂 and 2) yes, smoking is shockingly common all over Italy, maybe even moreso in Sicily

  • Jann, best photos ever! I love this post with a passion! All the way from Etna’s spewing smoke to the glimpse of the house for sale! With a stunning facade like that, who can say no? And the Italian boys and their smoking ways, how very European, amica! I didn’t want this post to end! Ahh, to be in Sicily at this very moment…Sigh.

    • Jann

      Well, gotta love your passion, Bella! Thanx! I’m not sure you want to be in Sicily “at this very moment.” We are having a chilly snap in the south of the island, and when it’s chilly here, it can be brutal on Etna 🙂

  • Fabulous metaphor, and beautiful fence line drawing our eye to Mt. Etna: …nestle against the black scabs of lava that are etched like witch’s fingers down her green shoulders.

  • Burning bowels? Seems that Signora Etna must have over-indulged in Christmas fare as well. I used to wonder how people would go on living in danger zones, such as in the potential path of flowing lava, but I’ve come to understand that it has to do with a connection to one’s roots and a deep love of place…plus a certain love of risk, perhaps? Your analogy of the boys mimicing Etna with their black-clad puffing ways is great, as is your observation that the Sicilians identify with Etna’s volatile nature. That ruin on the hilltop is such a gorgeous scene!

    • Jann

      Yes, speaking of over-indulgence, the month-long “feste” in Sicily has come to a close today, finally. No more panettone, chocolate cakes, etc etc. I will eat only apples today.

  • —-there’s always more than meets the eye in Sicily.— Yes!

    I Love Love Love reading your posts, Jann.

    I adore how you compared the boys in Randazzo to Etna Puffing their smoke….

    I continually desire to stay in your sweet world of Sicily. :)) XxXx

  • I was so intrigued by Sicily before visiting because my family’s history there and because of your posts. Moreso after visiting. Beautiful place. I have found most places in Italy (with the possible exception of Milan) to be pretty trashy in areas. Not my favorite thing, but it’s all part of its gritty charm for me. The photos are, as always, breathtaking. They really draw me in.

    • Jann

      Yes, Rosann, you’re right. Sicily has, perhaps, more pockets of “grit” than the rest of Italy, but for me it also has more soul, charm, and authenticity. (People who don’t like “grit” will probably prefer Northern Italy or the Umbria & Tuscany areas.) But grit is grit, and bags of roadside trash are something else entirely!

  • Cathy

    What a shame about people leaving their trash! Such a beautiful country, you’d think they’d take more pride in it — as I’m sure most Italians do!

    Stunning views of the countryside Jann! God willing, if/when I make it back to Italy, I hope to spend some time in Sicily. It will be some time before I get there even on my ‘virtual’ tour!

    • Jann

      Most Sicilians have lots of pride in their island, but somehow this doesn’t always translate to “don’t toss litter from your car window.” Americans used to liberally toss litter out their car windows, and when fines were imposed and TV ads appeared, people were “re-educated.” Needs to happen here. Tell me when you reach Sicily on your “virtual tour” Cathy!

  • Therese

    Thats so sad to hear that any place of this beautiful island can be like that. Maybe Vesta thinks the winter needs warming up! hah!

  • lucy

    What do you mean by “trashy”? I love this post. I love seeing what the town folk do. I would love to go there next time I’m in Sicily!

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