Mount Etna dominates northeastern Sicily by its great bulk, as the highest mountain of southern Italy or of any Mediterranean island and as the most continuously active volcano in Europe and the world, whose constant activity has been documented for over 2,700 years. It is a composite or stratovolcano mantled by frequent basaltic lava flows and pyroclastic ejecta from its craters and the fissures on its flanks. It displays a wide range of flows, cinder cones, lava tubes and caves. Although explosive in the past, it is now as often effusive in character. Its endemic fauna and flora are notable, providing, with its exhaustively studied volcanism, an influential natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes. Fatalities are few as its viscous lavas move slowly enough to allow escape. But its behaviour is changeable and unpredictable.
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
2013: Inscribed on the World Heritage List under natural criterion (viii).
STATEMENT OF OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value at the time of inscription:
Mount Etna World Heritage Site (19,237 ha) comprises the most strictly protected and scientifically important area of Mount Etna, and forms part of the Parco dell’Etna Regional Nature Park. Mount Etna is renowned for its exceptional level of volcanic activity, and the documentation of its activity over at least 2,700 years. Its notoriety, scientific importance, and cultural and educational value are of global significance.
Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active and iconic volcanoes, and an outstanding example of ongoing geological processes and volcanic landforms. The stratovolcano is characterized by almost continuous eruptive activity from its summit craters and fairly frequent lava flow eruptions from craters and fissures on its flanks. This exceptional volcanic activity has been documented by humans for at least 2,700 years – making it one of the world's longest documented records of historical volcanism. The diverse and accessible assemblage of volcanic features such as summit craters, cinder cones, lava flows, lava caves and the Valle de Bove depression have made Mount Etna a prime destination for research and education. Today Mount Etna is one of the best-studied and monitored volcanoes in the world, and continues to influence volcanology, geophysics and other earth science disciplines. Mount Etna’s notoriety, scientific importance, and cultural and educational value are of global significance.
The boundaries of the property are clearly defined and encompass the most outstanding geological features of Mount Etna. The property includes very little infrastructure: a few forest and mountain tracks, a number of basic mountain shelters along the main forest tracks, and over 50 small seismic monitoring stations and a scientific observatory. A buffer zone of 26,220 ha surrounds the property, including parts of Mount Etna Regional Nature Park, and two tourism zones. These tourism zones include accommodation (hotels, huts), car parks, restaurants, cafes, a cableway, chair and drag lifts for ski tourism, information points, and ticket kiosks for guided drives, hikes and horse or donkey safaris.
Protection and Management Requirements
The Parco dell’Etna (Etna Park) was established as a Regional Nature Park by Decree of the President of the Sicilian Regional Authority in March 1987. The property includes part of this Park, comprising the zone defined as an integral reserve. In addition, nine Natura 2000 sites overlap the property to various degrees, providing additional protection for 77% of the area under European legislation.
The regulations provided within the Decree provide for adequate protection of the key values of the property. Since the completion of a land acquisition process in 2010, 97.4% of the property’s area is in public ownership (regional or community). In contrast, 56.6% of the buffer zone is privately owned.
The management of the property is coordinated by Ente Parco dell’ Etna, established as the managing authority of Etna Park by Decree of the President of the Sicilian Regional Authority in May 1987, working in close cooperation with the Regional Authority of State Forests and the Regional Corps of Forest Rangers (Corpo Forestale). Management is guided by a long term management plan and Triennial Intervention Programmes.
The property has no permanent population, is free of roads, and its use restricted to research and recreation. Vehicle access to the limited network of forest and mountain tracks appears to be strictly controlled (e.g. through gates and fences) and is only permitted for park management purposes and authorised activities such as research and organized 4x4 drives on the main track from the tourism facilities in the buffer zone to the INGV observatory. Except for possible maintenance of the observatory, no construction projects are permitted or planned within the property. Public access to the top of Mount Etna may be officially prohibited for safety reasons, although this regulation has been difficult to enforce. Organized recreational activities such as mountain biking and horse and donkey riding require advance authorization. Although they appear to be limited at present, they need to be well monitored and managed to avoid negative impacts such as erosion and disturbance of wildlife. No dogs are allowed in the property and illegal hunting appears to be under control. Low-intensity grazing is permitted and occurs in parts of the property in the summer season. Limited silvicultural interventions are implemented in the property to reduce the risk from forest fires and maintain access routes. Climate change has the potential to increase the risk of forest fires in the region and impact the species and communities on Mount Etna. Natural hazards resulting from the volcanic activity of the property will always pose a risk to certain features and facilities of the park and beyond. Strengthened park visitor facilities are needed, taking into account best practice and lessons learned at other comparable World Heritage properties.
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
Mediterranean Sclerophyll (2.17.7)
Located on the eastern coast of Sicily north of Catania, centred on 2°517.600 E by 4°179.925 N. The property extends irregularly over the top third of the mountain.
DATES AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
1987: The Parco dell'Etna established as a Regional Nature Park by Decree of the President of the Sicilian Regional Authority;
2002: 9 Natura 2000 sites, most at the highest levels, but including the Valle del Bove and L.Gurrida;
2013: Inscribed on the World Heritage List.
97.4% of the property is in public ownership, regional or community since 2010. The remaining 2.6% (500 ha) is private. 56.6% of the buffer zone is privately owned. Its management is by the Ente Parco dell'Etna in cooperation with the Regional Authority for State Forests and the Regional Corps of Forest Rangers.
Core: 19,237 ha; Buffer zone: 26,220 ha.
900m to 3,335m (varies with summit eruptions: it has grown 70m in the last 80 years).
Mount Etna, a flattened cone of 3,335m dominates northeastern Sicily by its great bulk, as the highest mountain of southern Italy, or of any Mediterranean island, and as the most continuously active volcano in Europe. Its constant activity has been known for 3,000 years and 193 eruptions have been recorded over that period. It is a multiple stratovolcano, accumulated over thousands of years of many overlapping eruptions that have been explosive in the past, but are now as often effusive as explosive, creating a mantle of varied volcanic substrates. It rises over the subduction zone of the African tectonic plate under the Eurasian one. However, the small volcanoes of the nearby Lipari Islands have no direct connection with it. There are continuous eruptions from the summit and frequent flows of viscous basaltic aa lava intermixed with mudflows from the craters, fissures and hundreds of vents on its flanks. Its lavas are of several types and have formed lava tubes and over twenty caves, many containing speleothems. Vesuvius has a similar character and origin, but is 2,000m lower.
The massif which rises from the sea is some 140 km around the base and covers an area of 1,250 sq. km. Its eruptive history goes back as a shield volcano over 500,000 years. About 35,000 years ago, the 3,600m-high Ellittico (elliptical crater) volcano exploded. 15,000 years ago, it collapsed leaving the present mainly effusive Mongibello volcanic craters, from which 357 lava flows have covered over 88% of the mountain. The largest known explosive eruption occurred in 122 BC, greatly damaging the town of Catania on the coast below; the town was also damaged by a large, low-altitude flank eruption in 1669. In 1929, a village was obliterated, and in 2002-2003, tourist stations were destroyed and an ash plume reached as far as Libya. The latest geological map of Mount Etna shows there have been well over a hundred major lava flows since 122 BC and 70 major eruptions in the last 350 years. Today, Mount Etna has four summit craters, dozens of cinder and lava cones on its flanks and the debris of frequent pyroclastic flows of gas, ash and lapilli. Its most prominent secondary feature is the Valle del Bove, a large depression on its eastern side created by the collapse of a flank 8,000 years ago, the cliffs of which expose historic strata. Despite its continuous activity, relatively few people have been killed by the eruptions because they are rarely violent and its lava flows tend to move slowly: only 77 deaths are recorded in historic times. However, its activity is also unpredictable and changeable. The nomination lists 17 historic eruptions during the past 100 years; 41 eruptive events for the period 1977-1987; and during the first half of 2013 alone, thirteen were recorded.
On the mountain, the soils are sandy and very permeable and therefore dry on the surface, but yielding much underground water. There is one wetland, Lake Gurrida in the northwest, which is sometimes marshy or dry. On the lower slopes the lava has produced a fertile mineral-rich soil, which has always attracted farmers despite the danger of annihilation. Visually, the mountain lacks the perfect symmetry of Mounts Klyuchevsky or Sangay, but the rugged cone, rising straight from the sea or above the cornfields of the interior, dominates them with bulky majesty.
The climate of the mountain varies considerably with altitude and aspect. Temperatures decrease with height so that the upper slopes are usually snow covered from October to March. Summers are hot and dry, winters warm and rainy. At a point where the average annual temperature recorded is 20.9°C, the minimum is -4.7°C and the maximum 30°C. The average precipitation is 1,000mm, but unevenly distributed: the sea-facing eastern slopes being wetter, the western being more arid. December is the wettest month, July the driest. Winds in the summit area can be strong, prevailing from the east.
As with the climate, the vegetation of the mountain varies considerably with altitude and aspect, as well as soil type, starting with fertile farmland and forest at the base, up to the sparse xeric flora of the World Heritage site. The flora is relatively poor, with only 1,450 species, though it includes some 23 regionally and ten locally endemic species. The exceptional flora often found on island volcanoes is limited here because the property covers only the mountain's top third, the bottom two thirds having long been influenced by man. Nevertheless, the extreme conditions created by the varied lava flows have created a mosaic of habitats and biotic communities, often in island sites bypassed by lava, characterized by constant recolonization by pioneer species in response to ash falls, lava flows and weathering. This has created a natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes: adaptation, colonization, competition, distribution, speciation and succession.
The mountain has four main zones of Mediterranean vegetation: Basal to 1,400-1,450m (woody communities), Mountain to 1,800-2,100m (shrub communities), High to 3,000m (herbaceous communities) and Volcanic Desert above that (lichens and mosses), though these altitudes vary with aspect, the east being more humid, the west and northwest dryer. Characteristic species are associated with each zone. At the low end of the buffer zone farms extend to 1,000m, higher in some places. The base of the mountain up to about 1,400m is mainly forested with holm oak Quercus ilex, downy oak Q. pubescens, Turkey oak Q. cerris, mastic Pistacia lentiscus, terebinth tree P. terebinthos, and introduced sweet chestnut Castanea sativa, Mediterranean spurge Euphorbia characias, and other warm temperate species. In the middle zone above about 1,450m, along with aspen Populus tremula, grow relict beech, Fagus sylvatica in the north and northwest, and Etna birch Betula pendulla aetnensis in the east, in both cases at the southernmost point of their distribution, and decreasing in size with altitude. Widespread up to 1,750m, especially in the west and northeast, and often planted is the very hardy Corsican pine Pinus nigra laricio. Also widespread here is the bright yellow Etna broom Genista aetnensis. Above about 1,800-2,100m, both beech and birch persist in shrubby form to 2,250m and 2,100m respectively, amongst other shrubs dominated by Etna broom, Spanish broom Spartium junceum, fennel Ferrula communis and the endemic magenta Sicilian milkvetch Astragalus siculus; on northern slopes, this zone may reach to 2,450m.
Above c. 2,100m, 160 species are recorded, mainly herbaceous communities dominated by cushion mounds of Astragalus. This is the most singular of the mountain's landscapes, where the ten local endemics are found and with the summits forming the main landscape of the property. Many of the plants of the mountain are pioneer species constantly recolonizing relatively recent lava flows and armed with adaptations to the harsh conditions. As far as c. 2,450m, along with Etna broom, Etna barberry Berberis aetnensis, southern juniper Juniperus hemosphaerica, Sicilian soapwort Saponaria sicula, Etna violet Viola aetnensis and Adenocarpus bivonii are common. Above it, the sparse cover is of Alpine dock Rumex aetnensis, Etna camomile Anthemus aetnensis, Etna ragwort Senecio aetnensis and Hypochoeris robertia.
The mountain is a mosaic of habitats: rock, scrub, meadow and forest; there is even one wetland. Owing to human pressures, there are very few large wild mammals left but only mustelids, insectivores and rodents. 44 mammals and over 200 bird species are recorded, with 16 reptiles, 6 amphibians and 1,765 invertebrates, 800 being endemic, 31 in the core zone, with 35 cave-dwelling species. The mountain is rich in species adapted to the extreme conditions. The mammals include European red fox Vulpes vulpes crucigera, European wildcat Felix silvestris, crested porcupine Hystrix cristata, pine marten Martes martes, polecat Mustela putorius, weasel M. nivalis, Italian hare Lepus corsicana, rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, Sicilian shrew Crocidura sicula, dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius, edible dormouse Glis glis, and 7 species of bat.
There are many raptors, golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus, among them; also endemic rock partridge Alectoris graeca whitakeri, red-necked nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis and many passerines including the endemic northern long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus siculus. Reptiles include 6 snakes, one being poisonous, the southern Italian asp Vipera aspis hugyi, 5 lizards with one endemic, the Italian wall lizard Podarcis siculua, Hermann's tortoise Testudo hermanni and the endemic Sicilian pond turtle Emys trinacris, five frog species including the endemic Mediterranean painted frog Discoglossus pictus, and the fire salamander Salamandra salamandra. Among the butterflies are the Adonis blue Lysandra icarius, and eastern orangetip, Anthocaris damonae.
Historically and scientifically, this mountain is notorious for being the most continuously active volcano not only in Europe but in the world, with eruptions which have been documented for over 2,700 years and are still constantly under observation. Its high level flora has over 30 endemic species and its insect species number 1,765, 800 being endemic. There are nine Natura 2000 sites and one Ramsar wetland on the mountain.
The area is known to have been settled 8,000 years ago and for more than 2,000 years, Mount Etna, in the centre of the Mediterranean world, has been celebrated in folklore, legends, literature and art, referred to by Aeschylus, Pindar, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Strabo, Virgil and Ovid. An unknown Roman poet of c.70 AD even composed a poem describing its volcanic activity. Its caves have been used as homes, hermitages, burial sites and for storing ice for export.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATIONS
This is a landscape of ceaseless but habitable disturbance. A few people live in buffer zone holiday homes, but none in the core area. The fertile outer slopes support a population of some 213,000 in twenty surrounding towns and have always been profitably farmed, grazed and planted with useful forests despite the occasional danger of annihilation. Catania, a city of almost 300,000, 30 km from the crater, has been within range of lava flows in the past.
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
In 2010, there were 1,368,000 visitors to the crater area and c. 3,000,000 to the buffer area. Of the 255,470 overnight visitors, 29% were foreigners. In the core reserve zone, there are a few forest and mountain tracks, seven basic mountain shelters along the main forest tracks, and an observatory. The boundaries of this zone are clearly marked on maps of the park and along the field trails. Three visitors' centers exist, in Fornazzo (east), Randazzo (northwest) and Linguaglossa (northeast). 4WD tours are made from the Refugio Sapienza and a 42km high mountain trail, the Altomontana in the northeast, starts there. In the buffer zone, there are two tourism areas that predate the establishment of Etna Park. These include hotels, huts, car parks, restaurants, cafes, a cableway, chair and drag lifts for ski tourism, information points with picnic and playgrounds, and ticket kiosks for guided drives, hikes and horse and donkey tours. Educational and school tours are routinely made. Each of the 21 surrounding towns hosts a museum. The Circumetnea train runs clockwise from Catania to Riposto on the eastern coast. The nearest airport is at Catania, which is sometimes closed because of the threat of volcanic ash.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES
Mount Etna's volcanic activity has been recorded for at least 2,700 years. An eruption was described by Diodorus Siculus in 425 BC. Scientific documentation of its volcanism dates back to the 17th century. It was systematically studied in the 19th century by the eminent scientists Charles Lyell and Sartorius von Waltershausen, whose map became the world's first geological map of a major active volcano. Since then, Mount Etna as an accessible natural laboratory for volcanologists, geophysicists and other scientific disciplines has been one of the most exhaustively studied and monitored volcanoes in the world. These are regulated by a Regional Council for the Protection of the Natural Patrimony and advised by the International Institute of Vulcanology in Catania. There is a network of over 10 seismic monitoring stations in the core and 8 further down. The long established observatory is being renovated. Recent subjects of study are the beech woods, the pine bug population, and more fugitive species like wildcat.
The Ente Parco dell'Etna is responsible for the management of the park in cooperation with the Regional Authority for State Forests and the Regional Corps of Forest Rangers (Corpo Forestale). The park President and legal representative is appointed by the President of the Sicilian Regional Authority to chair the Park Council. The decree creating the Regional Nature Park defined its regulations and boundaries, subdividing the area into four zones, and the activities permitted or prohibited within each. These zones are: Integral Reserve, General Reserve, Protection and Controlled Area. The World Heritage property includes only the most strictly protected zone, the Integral Reserve. However, nine Natura 2000 sites overlap the property to various degrees, providing additional protection for 77% of the nominated area under European legislation. The Park Council is a political body which includes the President of the Catania Provincial Authority and the mayors of the 20 towns that share the park’s territory. The park’s seven-member Executive Committee led by the park director is the technical group in charge of the park’s budget, day-to-day administration and management. The park's staff receive technical and scientific advice from the Regional Advisory Body on Natural Heritage Protection. The management is guided by a long term management plan and Triennial Intervention Programs.
Use of the property is restricted to research and recreation. Vehicle access to the limited network of forest and mountain tracks is strictly controlled by gates and fences and is only permitted for park management purposes, research, and organized 4WDs on the main track from the tourism facilities in the buffer zone to the observatory. No dogs are allowed in the property and hunting, which is illegal, seems under control. Low intensity summer grazing is permitted. Limited forestry is used to reduce the risk from forest fires and to maintain access routes. Organized recreational activities, such as mountain biking and horse or donkey riding, require advance authorization; they need to be well managed and monitored to avoid erosion and disturbance of wildlife. Monitoring of the volcano is permanent, of underground water 6-monthly, and regularly of the major habitats, rare and endemic species, land uses, forests and pests, annual visitation, camps and paths.
The property has no permanent population, no roads, and its use is restricted. No construction is permitted within the property apart from the Observatory. During 2012 and 2013, public access to the top of Mount Etna has been officially prohibited for safety reasons, but the regulation has been difficult to enforce. As late as 1992, lava diversion barriers were needed to save a small town and Catania airport has been closed several times in the last decade. Many of the basic mountain shelters do not have toilets, creating a waste disposal problem. As well as the constant risk from volcanic activity, climate change may increase the number of forest fires and impact the more marginal plant communities such as beech and birch. Overall, however, the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is not at present threatened. The buffer zones are less strictly protected and include a public road network and large areas used for traditional agriculture and grazing. Illegal hunting occurs more frequently in these zones than in the property and they are liable to the tourist pressures of littering and overcrowding.
Some facilities, especially the park’s visitor facilities require improvement; and the environmental impacts of future developments need careful monitoring and control. The property and buffer zone are free from any industrial activity, but due to its location in a densely populated region, parts of the wider park area are threatened by pollution from urban development including illegal garbage dumping and illegal quarrying for construction materials. There is a lack of a coordinated management presence on site. Upgrading is needed to improve the presentation of natural heritage values to the visiting public, to provide easier access and to ensure visitor safety. Present programming and interpretation is done through private operators. Their coordination by the managing organization is necessary.
COMPARISON WITH SIMILAR SITES
Of the world's many great active stratovolcanic peaks, those comparable with Mount Etna should be massive, isolated, actively eruptive, with a large range of recorded volcanic activity and features, beautiful and dangerous to a populous countryside. Several are World Heritage sites already: Teide in the Canary Islands (3,718m), Sangay-Tungurahua in Ecuador (5,029m), Mauna Loa-Mauna Kea in Hawaii (4,170m), the volcanoes of Kamchatka, e.g. Klyuchevskiy (4,088m); and several are not: Fujiyama (3,776m), Nyragongo in the D.R.C. (3,470m), Merapi in Java (2,390m) and the rather similar Vesuvius which is 2,000m lower at 1,281m. In 1992, the UN sponsored a list of 16 'Decade Volcanoes', which includes all the above except Fujiyama, which is presently dormant, but includes Etna. All possess the above characteristics, though the more remote threaten only small or distant populations, and Teide has not erupted since 1705, nor Vesuvius since 1944. Of the designated sites, all are similar except that Mauna Loa is a shield-type dome, not a cone or pyramid. What recommends Etna above the group is its conspicuous position, long recorded history and record of detailed research of its continuous activity at the centre of a vibrant civilization.
The Ente Parco dell'Etna staff of 48 is adequate for current operations, but lacks vulcanological and ecological expertise.
In 2013, annual funding of €3,592,500 was received from the Sicilian Regional Authority for personnel and core management augmented by €2,385,000 from other sources: the Italian state, the E.U. and the Corpo Forestale, the regional foresters' corps who also contribute towards management and maintenance projects. Financial and technical support is still needed to improve educational and tourism facilities in the property.
The Commissioner, Ente Parco dell'Etna, Via del Convento 45, 1-95030, Nicolosi (CT), Italy.
The principal sources for the above information were the original World Heritage nomination, the IUCN site evaluation report and Decision 37 COM 8B of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
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