Mount Etna lights up Italy’s skies


Senior Marisa Hardenbergh poses with members of Mercy’s Latin program along Mount Etna in July 2015, before any sign of the volcano’s latest explosion. (Photo courtesy of Marisa Hardenbergh)

Lightning, fire, and hot ash filled the sky as Europe’s tallest volcano, Mount Etna, erupted Dec. 3. This was the first time in two years that the volcano erupted and many are calling last week’s volcanic activity the most dramatic explosion in the volcano’s history.

Just around five months ago, several members of the Mercy community were visiting this exact sight through the school’s Latin program. Junior Marisa Hardenbergh recalls seeing the volcano and being surprised by its enormity and the threat it posed.

“I had never before seen a real life volcano,” Hardenbergh said. “I could not believe it’s size. I kept thinking to myself, ‘This could literally explode any minute.’”

Hardenbergh was right – Mount Etna could literally explode at any point. According to, Mount Etna is currently in the middle of a series of explosions that began in 2001. These eruptions can involve anything from violent explosions to extreme lava flow.

According to, the first documented eruption of Mount Etna was in 475 BC. This goes to show that the volcano has been active for thousands of years. One of the most deadly eruptions in the volcano’s history was on March 8, 1669. Ash, molten lava, and deadly fumes filled the air on that day, immediately causing 3,000 people, who were living on the slopes of the volcano itself, to perish. The volcano erupted for weeks, leaving about 20,000 dead and 27,000 homeless.

There have been plenty of eruptions since then, but none of that magnitude.

Today, the sides of Mount Etna are home to around 25 percent of the population of Sicily and are the main source of income for the region, due to tourism and agriculture. Other than airport closings, the Dec. 3 eruption has yet to cause any significant damage to Mount Etna’s surroundings.

“I am really glad I saw Mount Etna when I did,” Hardenbergh said. “I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to be there when it exploded!”