Vulcano (Sicilian: Vurcanu) or Vulcan is a small volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 25 km (16 mi) north of Sicily and located at the southernmost end of the seven Aeolian Islands.[1] The island is 21 km2 (8 sq mi) in area, rises to 501 m (1,644 ft) above sea level, and it contains several volcanic calderas, including one of the four active volcanoes in Italy that are not submarine.

Highest point
Elevation501 m (1,644 ft)
Prominence501 m (1,644 ft)
Coordinates38°23′58″N 14°57′50″E
Vulcano and the Aeolian Islands
LocationAeolian Islands, Italy
Mountain typeComplex stratovolcanoes
Last eruption1888 to 1890
The Gran Cratere

The word "volcano", and its equivalent in several European languages, derives from the name of this island, which in turn derives from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.


The Romans used the island mainly for raw materials, harvesting timber, and mining alum and sulfur. These were the principal activities on the island until the end of the nineteenth century.

After the Bourbon rule collapsed in 1860, the Scottish industrialist and philanthropist James Stevenson bought the northern part of the island. He then built a villa, reopened the local mines, and planted vineyards for making Malmsey wine. Stevenson lived on Vulcano until the last major eruption on the island happened in 1888. This eruption lasted the better part of two years, by which time Stevenson had sold all of his property to the local populace. He never returned to the island. His villa is still intact.


Alternating views of fumaroles

The volcanic activity in the region is largely the result of the northward-moving African Plate meeting the Eurasian Plate. There are three volcanic centres on the island:

  • At the southern end of the island are old stratovolcano cones, Monte Aria (501 m (1,644 ft)), Monte Saraceno (481 m (1,578 ft)), and Monte Luccia (188 m (617 ft)), which have partially collapsed into the Il Piano Caldera.
  • The most recently active centre is the Gran Cratere at the top of the Fossa cone, the cone having grown in the Lentia Caldera in the middle of the island, and has had at least nine major eruptions in the last 6,000 years.
  • At the north of the island is the islet, Vulcanello (123 m (404 ft)), connected to Vulcano by an isthmus that may be flooded in bad weather. It emerged from the sea during an eruption in 183 BCE, as a separate islet. Occasional eruptions from its three cones with both pyroclastic flow deposits and lavas occurred from then until 1550, with the last eruption creating a narrow isthmus connecting it to Vulcano.

Vulcano has been quiet since the eruption of the Fossa cone on 3 August 1888 to 1890, which deposited about 5 m (16 ft) of pyroclastic material on the summit. The style of eruption seen on the Fossa cone is called a Vulcanian eruption, being the explosive emission of pyroclastic fragments of viscous magmas caused by the high viscosity preventing gases from escaping easily. This eruption of Vulcano was carefully documented at the time by Giuseppe Mercalli. Mercalli described the eruptions as "...explosions sounding like a cannon at irregular intervals..." As a result, vulcanian eruptions are based on his description. A typical vulcanian eruption can hurl blocks of solid material several hundreds of metres from the vent. Mercalli reported that blocks from the 1888–1890 eruption fell into the sea between Vulcano and neighboring Lipari, and several that had fallen on the island of Vulcano were photographed by him or his assistants.

Volcanic gas emissions from this volcano are measured by a multicomponent gas analyzer system, which detects degassing of rising magmas before an eruption, improving prediction of volcanic activity.[2]

A survey on local groundwater occurred during 1995–1997 showed temperatures up to 49–75 °C, sodium sulfate-chloride chemical composition, and near neutral pH in the water wells closest to the slopes of the volcanic cone. This is mainly due to condensation onto the slopes of the volcanic cone and water-rock interaction buffering.[3][4]

View to the north from the crater on Vulcano, showing the isthmus connection to the islet of Vulcanello


At the 2011 Census, Vulcano had a population of 953 residents, living in three localities – Vulcano Porto, Vulcano Piano and Vulcanello.


Since Vulcano island has volcanic activity, it is a place where thermophiles and hyperthermophiles are likely to be found. In fact, the hyperthermophilic archaean Pyrococcus furiosus was described for the first time when it was isolated from sediments of this island by Gerhard Fiala and Karl Stetter.[5]


The Ancient Greeks named this island Therasía (Θηρασία) and Thérmessa (Θέρμεσσα, source of heat). The island appeared in their myths as the private foundry of the Olympian god Hephaestus, the patron of blacksmiths. Their myths noted two more of his foundries, at Etna and Olympus. Strabo also mentions Thermessa as sacred place of Hephaestus (ἱερὰ Ἡφαίστου), but it is not certain whether this was a third name for the island, or merely an adjective.[6]

Similarly, the Romans believed that Vulcano was the chimney of their god Vulcan's workshop and, therefore, named the island after him. According to the Roman myths, the island had grown due to his periodic clearing of cinders and ashes from his forge. They also explained earthquakes that either preceded or accompanied the explosions of ash as being due to Vulcan making weapons for their god Mars for his armies to wage war.[7]

View from the island of Lipari of the northern profile of Vulcano on which the low Fossa cone is visible (center), the green islet in the foreground is Vulcanello and the isthmus connecting Vulcanello to Vulcan is barely visible

Historical first ascent and reception in medieval literature

The first ascent of the volcanic cone is documented for the 13th century. The Dominican monk Burchard of Mount Sion, in his pilgrimage report to the Holy Land, tells of his return journey via Sicily, which probably took place in 1284. On Vulcano he had climbed the summit "crawling on his hands and feet".[8] His ascent can be considered authentic, as he reports in detail on his observations of the landscape and nature, for example describing the fumaroles or the diameter of the crater.

The island of Vulcano as well as the Aeolian Islands are already known to Isidor of Seville, the Gallic bishop Arculf, who dictated his journey to the Holy Land to the Irishman Adomnan (before 680), or Bartholomew Anglicus. They are an integral part of medieval knowledge of the geography of the Mediterranean, but none of them wrote about Vulcano on their own initiative.

Vulcano is also mentioned in the pilgrimage report (ca. 1350) by Ludolf von Sudheim, who, however, claims that he did not dare to climb it. Unlike Burchard of Mount Sion, Ludolf expected to find the entrance to hell at the crater. The Provençal knight Antoine de La Sale tells of an excursion to the island in 1406. His text is a didactic textbook for his pupil John of Calabria, the son of Duke Rene I of Anjou.

Appearances in contemporary culture

The film Vulcano (released in the U.S. as, Volcano) was filmed on Vulcano and the nearby island of Salina between 1949 and 1950.

An asteroid is named for this island, 4464 Vulcano.[9]

The island of Vulcano is featured in the Battle Tendency story arc of the manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki, as the scene of the final clash between the protagonist Joseph Joestar and the antagonist Kars, leader of the Pillar Men.

The American attorney and writer, Richard Paul Roe, asserts that the play The Tempest by William Shakespeare is set on the island of Vulcano,[10] rather than the more authoritative interpretation that the setting was based on reports about Bermuda in the Americas and a hurricane encountered there.

The island is referred to by the Da Vinci character in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Concerning Flight" while speaking to Tuvok, an alien from a planet named Vulcan.

See also

  • Fumarole mineral
  • List of volcanoes in Italy
  • List of islands of Italy


  1. Vulcano, Sicily 8 Hidden Italian Islands Where You Can Escape the Crowds. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  2. Aiuppa, A.; Federico, C.; Giudice, G.; Gurrieri, S. (2005). "Chemical mapping of a fumarolic field: La Fossa Crater, Vulcano Island (Aeolian Islands, Italy)". Geophysical Research Letters. 32 (13): L13309. Bibcode:2005GeoRL..3213309A. doi:10.1029/2005GL023207.
  3. Boschetti, Tiziano; Cortecci, Gianni; Bolognesi, Luca (2003). "Chemical and isotopic compositions of the shallow groundwater system of Vulcano Island, Aeolian Archipelago, Italy: an update". GeoActa. 2: 1–34.
  4. Cortecci, Gianni; Dinelli, Enrico; Bolognesi, Luca; Boschetti, Tiziano; Ferrara, Giorgio (2001). "Chemical and isotopic compositions of water and dissolved sulfate from shallow wells on Vulcano Island, Aeolian Archipelago, Italy". Geothermics. 30 (1): 69–91. doi:10.1016/s0375-6505(00)00037-7.
  5. Fiala, G., & Stetter, K. O. (1986). Pyrococcus furiosus sp. nov. represents a novel genus of marine heterotrophic archaebacteria growing optimally at 100 °C (212 °F). Archives of Microbiology, 145, 56–61.
  6. Strabo Geographica 1.2.10
  7. "CVO Menu – Volcanoes in Historical and Popular Culture". Retrieved 2013-08-26.
  8. Mehr, Christian: Vor Petrarca: Die Bergbesteigung eines Mönchs auf Vulcano. Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 101 (2019), pp. 317-346.
  9. M.P.C. 26762 del 5 marzo 1996
  10. Richard Paul Roe (2011). The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard's Unknown Travels. HarperCollins. pp. 265–296. ISBN 978-0-06-207427-0.


  • Ezio Giunta, dir. (2005). "Vulcano". Estateolie 2005 the Essential Guide (English Version of Tourist Guidebook): 80–87.
  • "Vulcano". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
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