Mediterranean volcanoes have played major roles in myths and legends throughout the centuries, and it’s easy to see why. These massive geological wonders are both breathtaking and terrifying and never fail to captivate. Many of them are crucial to the livelihoods of those who live in their shadows, from providing fertile volcanic soil to supporting a thriving tourism industry. To experience their majesty to the fullest, you have to travel — photographs don’t do them justice.
If you’re fascinated by volcanoes and the way they affect our world, you’ll want to add a few to your Mediterranean itinerary. You might recognize the names of some of the Mediterranean volcanoes listed below, and others might be new to you. Either way, these eight volcanoes are worth visiting. You have to see them to believe them and, once you do, you’ll likely never forget them.
Volcanoes in the Mediterranean
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there are more than 500 active volcanoes in the world, and many are located in or around the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the great volcanoes of the Mediterranean have summits that reach the sky, while others lurk beneath turquoise waters. Here are eight volcanoes that are well worth a visit.
1. Mount Amiata
Mount Amiata is the largest dome of a lava dome complex in southern Tuscany. Scientists believe an eruption occurred over 300,000 years ago, but there have not been any eruptions since. As an extinct volcano, which means no one expects Amiata ever to erupt again, it’s now a skiing destination and part of the beautiful flora-abundant scenery. With a summit climbing 5,702 feet into the sky, it’s Tuscany’s highest mountain.
Although Amiata is extinct, geothermal activity continues and serves as a reminder of Amiata’s past. Visitors head to nearby thermal spas to take a dip in the resulting sulfur-rich springs. The charming village of Bagno Vignoni, for example, is a popular destination known for its picturesque scenery and healing hot springs. Bagno Vignoni was once a resort town for Roman aristocrats and the place where medieval merchants would stop to rest their tired, aching feet.
If you’re more of an adventurous type, you can find springs that haven’t been changed for thousands of years in the woods or countryside. You might ask a local guide to lead you through the forests of chestnuts and mushrooms to find your own personal spa.
Mount Amiata also has a fascinating past as a mercury mine and was a major source of income for miners from 1899 to 1972. If you visit any of the villages surrounding Mount Amiata, you may run into miners who recall the days and legends of Mount Amiata. Most of those who live near the once-active volcano have some connection to its mining history.
Whether you choose to chat with locals over a plate of homemade pasta or climb to the top of Amiata for astounding views of the Tuscan countryside, this peaceful volcano is worth a visit.
2. The Phlegraean Fields
The Phlegraean Fields, or Campi Flegrei, is a large volcanic area located about 15 miles southwest of Naples. It’s a surreal landscape composed of steaming vents and Roman ruins and is believed to be the home of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.
Known as the burning fields, the Phlegraean Fields was once prized by the ancient Romans and Greeks for its healing hot spring and fertile soil. It formed about 35,000 years ago when an eruption created the caldera, the hollow area where the volcano collapsed after the eruption. Two historic eruptions occurred here — one in 1198 and the other in 1538. The eruption of 1198 was small and did not lead to any fatalities. However, the eruption of 1538 was far more destructive and lasted about a week, creating explosions and deadly pyroclastic flows. The 1538 eruption led to the death of 24 people.
Today, the Phlegraean Fields is a regional park, with 24 craters and edifices. Some of the areas sit at sea level, while other parts are submerged in the Bay of Naples. If you travel to Naples, make sure to visit the Phlegraean Fields for an otherworldly experience. You’ll also want to visit Pozzuoli to explore the third-largest amphitheater in the Roman world and the ruins of an ancient marketplace. Many travelers also head to Baia to take a guided snorkeling tour of a submerged Roman city. No matter what you do in or near the Phlegraean Fields, you may find yourself wondering if you’re dreaming.
3. Campi Flegrei Del Mar Di Sicilia
Campi Flegrei del Mar di Sicilia, or Phlegraean Fields of the Sicily Sea, consists of underwater volcanoes located 26 feet below sea level between the coast of Sicily and the tip of Tunisia. The last known eruption was in 1867, but perhaps the most famous eruption was in 1831 when a volcanic island grew to be over 200 feet high. This island, known as Ferdinandea, appears and disappears below the sea. Eruptions and solidified lava cause the island to peek above the waterline on occasion, and erosion causes it to sink once more.
Though it’s currently still under the sea, geologists believe it’s only a matter of time before Ferdinandea will erupt and make another appearance. In the meantime, divers continue to explore the submerged volcanic islands of Campi Flegrei and the colorful marine life surrounding them.
4. Mount Etna
Mount Etna, which towers over the city of Catania in Sicily, is Europe’s most active volcano and one of the tallest volcanoes in the world. Standing at about 10,991 feet tall and covered in prehistoric lava flows, Mount Etna seems to watch over the entire region, evoking both fear and admiration in onlookers. This frequently erupting volcano draws spectators from around the world to view its magnificent lava fountains spewing into the air.
Mount Etna also has the longest recorded history, with a record of eruptions dating back to 1500 B.C. Mount Etna has erupted about 200 times since then and has been the focal point of many myths throughout history. For example, the ancient Greeks believed Hephaestus, the god of metalworking and fire, had a workshop located beneath Mount Etna. Whenever the mountain rumbled and emitted smoke and lava, they believed Hephaestus was busy building weapons for the gods.
The imposing volcano also served as a guardian of Sicily, when in 396 B.C., Mount Etna erupted and caused an invading army to flee. Although Etna once stood guard, the volcano also has a history of destruction. A series of eruptions in 1669 led to the death of over 20,000 people. Though the volcano gave warning, people did not want to surrender their city and rich soil, so they stayed behind and successfully built trenches to direct the lava away. Sadly, the neighboring villages became the new target for the lava flow, a battle ensued, and destruction resulted.
Today, Mount Etna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a major attraction for scientists, hikers and curious tourists. Travelers head to Mount Etna to tour lava flow caves or go on guided excursions to view its dramatic steaming craters. Some prefer to gaze at Mount Etna from below as they sip wine produced from the volcanic soil. Mount Etna is an icon, famous for its high level of volcanic activity. If you’re heading to Catania, you won’t have to search for Mount Etna — she’ll be waiting there to greet you.
Ischia is an island and volcanic complex located in the Bay of Naples. Past eruptions formed a caldera and Mount Epomeo — the highest point on the island. Although the last eruption was in 1302, scientists say it could erupt again, and they continue to monitor the area.
For now, the island of Ischia is a popular resort destination. Travelers sail to Ischia from Naples for its secluded beaches, thermal spas and green mountainous trails overlooking the glittering Tyrrhenian Sea. On the island, you’ll find everything from elegant hotels to tiny fishing villages. There’s even a 15th-century castle that connects to the island by a bridge. If you prefer sleepy fishing towns, make sure to visit the southernmost tip of the island where you’ll find a quaint car-free village and colorfully painted houses. According to local tradition, sailors and fishermen wanted to be able to see their homes from the sea, so they painted their houses vibrant hues.
6. Alban Hills
Alban Hills, or Colli Albani, is a volcanic complex located southeast of Rome. The area contains a large stratovolcano, which is believed to have erupted thousands of years ago, and Lake Albano, the largest of the craters there.
With its lush green landscape, Alban Hills has a past as a weekend getaway. Wealthy Romans turned to Alban Hills to escape the bustle of Rome and relax in the countryside with wine, food and music. Up until about the mid 20th century, travelers referred to Sunday trips to Alban Hills as “ottobrata romana,” which was the name they gave to gorgeous October days in the country.
Today, Alban hills remains a destination for autumnal escapes and the location for many food festivals. Tourists and locals venture to the towns and villages of the Alban Hills region to soak in the idyllic views and enjoy famous wine. The town of Frascati is especially popular with travelers who go there to sample local wine, observe magnificent architecture and enjoy a slower pace of life. If you ever get to explore this piece of paradise, make sure to try regional specialties, like the uniquely shaped pupazza cookie made of honey and flour, and local strawberries and chestnuts.
Pantelleria is a volcanic island situated between Sicily and Tunisia. Referred to as the “black pearl of the Mediterranean,” you’ll find two large calderas and numerous domes and cones on this island gem. The last eruption occurred in 1891, and currently, there are no activity reports. Many tourists visit the island to climb to the peak of Montagna Grande — the island’s largest volcano. From the top of Montagne Grande, you can see the coast of North Africa if the weather is clear.
Pantelleria offers a remote, wild feeling, where travelers can view Arabic-influenced homes built with thick volcanic rock, sip sweet Passito di Pantelleria wine and indulge in fresh seafood. You might also take a boat out to explore hidden coves or pause at the island’s largest lake where it’s believed Venus stopped to admire her reflection. There are plenty of reasons to visit Pantelleria and imagine a time when volcanic activity helped shape the Mediterranean utopia it is today.
8. Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is perhaps the world’s most infamous volcano. Looming over the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius most famously erupted in the year 79 when it buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum under ash. Although Mount Vesuvius is best known for the Pompeii eruption, there have been eight major eruptions over the past 17,000 years, often including large surges and pyroclastic flows. The year 1631 was the largest eruption since Pompeii, causing devastation in the town below, and the last known eruption occurred in 1944. Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano in Europe’s mainland, and scientists closely monitor the area for signs of an impending eruption.
Currently, more than 2 million people head to the region to visit Pompeii every year. Many of these visitors hike to the lunar summit of Mount Vesuvius, which offers sweeping views of the bay and a look down into the crater below. While the crater is presently still and quiet, it serves as a reminder of the past. If you choose to witness the majesty of Mount Vesuvius up close, take a few moments to envision what it must have been like for those below when ash rocketed into the air. Walk the cobblestone streets of Pompeii and imagine how people once worked, lived, dined and enjoyed entertainment there before Mount Vesuvius unleashed its power.
Plan a Trip to Mediterranean Volcanoes
Volcanoes are a vital part of the life, culture and legends of the Mediterranean. They remind locals and visitors to slow down and savor each moment like wine and enjoy the serenity of volcanic countrysides as the fire-breathing dragons continue to sleep.
If you’re fascinated by the beauty and immensity of volcanoes, you won’t want to skip traveling to the Mediterranean. At Windstar Cruises, we’ll help you reach the most spectacular volcanoes in Europe when you board one of our Mediterranean cruises. From excursions to Pompeii at the base of Mount Vesuvius to touring ancient streets in the shadow of Mount Etna, we take you to locations that ignite your spirit and awaken your senses. To plan your Mediterranean cruise, contact a Windstar vacation planner today!
If you’re ready to experience the beauty of Mediterranean in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!