Between 1786 and 1788 German philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe travelled throughout Italy. He then wrote his book titled, in Italian, Viaggio in Italia—or, Italian Journey. After passing through Verona, Venice, Rome and Naples he explored the island of Sicily, and wrote that in order to understand the entire country of Italy, ‘Sicily is the clue to everything.’
Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions—the southernmost being the island of Sicily. The region contains both eight percent of Italy’s land area as well as eight percent of the nation’s total population. The east of the island is distinguished by the largest active volcano in Italy—Mount Etna.
When he viewed Mount Etna in early May, Goethe remarked how ‘snow extends widely around the mountain and presents insurmountable obstacles,’ and noted how locals recommended that he ride by horseback to see remnants of the famed volcanic eruption of 1669, when magma flowed all the way to the city of Catania—10 miles (16 kilometers) away. Since that time when Goethe witnessed those gnarled volcanic slopes and published his book, the topography of Etna has continued to change. Another eruption in 1852 produced more than 2 billion cubic feet (56 million cubic meters) or debris that covered three square miles (7.7 square kilometers) of land, while in 1979 an eruption began that lasted 13 years.
(Publication of Goethe’s book—incidentally—apparently influenced a number of German winemakers to move to the eastern part of Sicily, where they practiced viticulture on the slopes of Etna.)