The “Mountain of Fire”: Mount Etna

Mount Vesuvius may be Italy's most famous volcano, its place in the annals of history guaranteed with the destruction—and, more importantly, preservation—of the Roman town of Pompeii in 79 A.D. Vesuvius looms over one of the most densely populated stretches of coastline near Naples, and is generally viewed as a benign giant, quietly venting steam and smoke and ultimately fated to erupt again. The King of the Bay of Naples is your neighbor who keeps a friendly but unpredictable watch dog chained in his yard.

mt-etna-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Mount Etna, on the other hand, is your neighbor who has a pack of snarling, howling beasts roaming the streets, terrorizing the neighborhood and posing a constant threat of death and destruction. This lively volcano on the east coast of Sicily between the cities of Catania and Messina is the largest in Europe, and one of the most active in the world, a hulking yet dramatically beautiful mountain in a constant state of eruption. From belches of gas, bursts of steam, to full-on lava flows, Etna makes no bones about its danger to the millions of residents who live at its foot and the thousands of tourists who visit the hissing craters at its summit each year.

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Ragusa: Baroque from the Top Down

Ragusa has been one of the most important cities in Sicily since the native Sicels first defended their hilltop town of Hybla Heraia from the invading Greeks four millenia ago. Though successive waves of invaders and conquerors from the Arabs to the Normans left their mark on city's cuisine and culture, it was Mother Nature who changed Ragusa's history most dramatically.

scale-ragusa-ibla-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

A devastating earthquake razed most of the city center in 1693, killing thousands and destroying almost all of the historic buildings and monuments. Reconstruction began in the 1700s, and divided the city into two main sections: Ragusa Superiore, located on the higher point of the hilltop and laid out in a modern grid pattern, and Ragusa Ibla, rebuilt on top of the destroyed historic center and laid out to match the historic Medieval city plan, with its labyrinth of winding lanes and small squares. It was during this rebuilding that many of the city's most famous and breathtaking Baroque churches and palazzi were built, and what has made Ragusa Ibla one of the most charming historic centers in Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with other Baroque masterpieces in the surrounding Val di Noto valley) since 2002.

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