Mount Etna gets UNESCO World Heritage status

Europe's largest active volcano has longest recorded history

Mount Etna gets UNESCO World Heritage status

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, June 21 - Despite its frequent rumblings and occasional lava spill-overs, Sicily's Mount Etna is hot spot for travellers, wine makers and even skiers who venture up to the snowy peaks take on the slopes. Ancient visitors to Sicily saw the 3,329-metre-high volcano as a phenomenal force of nature, linking it to strength and even fertility for its rich soils and imposing masculine similitude. Both Homer and Virgil wrote about Etna and it is said that when the Arabs occupied the island, they mixed its snow with fruit juices, creating what could be considered the ancestor of our sorbet or "sherbeth". Thanks to its multiple enchantments and long-documented history, Mount Etna was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site on Friday, making it the fourth approved in the country for its natural criteria. At the organization's annual ceremony, held this year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, UNESCO said that the active volcano had "one of the longest documented histories in vulcanology". Mount Etna's first recorded eruption was documented in 1500 BC. One of the mountain's most dramatic eruptions in 1669 lasted four months and caused damage to the nearby city of Catania and town of Nicolosi. And though its explosions today are rarely deadly, a massive eruption in 1865 followed by a devastating earthquake killed more than 70 people near the village of Macchia. "The almost continuous eruptive activity of Mount Etna continues to influence volcanology, geophysics and other Earth science disciplines," UNESCO said. "The diverse and accessible range of volcanic features such as summit craters, cinder cones, lava flows and the Valle de Bove depression have made the site a prime destination for research and education," the organization said. Beyond its scientific appeal, Etna's rich volcanic soil has nurtured agriculture and wine production for centuries. Dramatic landscapes of the volcano's north face attest to the area's ancient vine-growing history with gnarled old vines on dry-stone terraces. Historic and modern wineries have set up shop on Etna producing spectacular results. From 2007 to 2012, the Gambero Rosso Vini d'Italia wine guide awarded 97 of its top Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) awards to Sicily - 30 of these were bestowed upon wines from Etna. "This is a significant milestone for Italy," Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said. "The UNESCO recognition is an opportunity for our country to combine environmental protection with the development of the area, by investing in sustainable development," Orlando said. Currently Italy is the country that has the largest overall number of World Heritage sites, with 47 total included the UNESCO list comprised of cultural and natural attractions. Other natural heritage sites in Italy include the Aeolian Islands, Mount St. George and the Dolomites.

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