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Nicolosi is a city of nearly 5,000 located 700m a.s.l. on the slopes of the volcano, hence regarded as the Gateway to Etna. On several occasions eruptions have highly damaged the city, 1669’s notably devastating. Both on this occasion and on following earthquake in 1693, the people proudly strove to restore the town back to its ancient splendor, rejecting the possibility to move elsewhere.
A Volcano Museum, particularly focused on Etna (Museo Vulcanologico), bears witness to the close link between Nicolosi and its volcano.
Nicolosi’s history begins in the 12th century, when a Benedictine Monastery dedicated to San Nicolò l’Arena was erected on a former Chapel. This was to be moved to Catania some century later. Around the monastery soon grew a village that took the name of the religious building, long ruled by the Moncadas from Paternò.
Nicolosi has numerous buildings of architectural and historical interest. The Mother Church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit was largely restructured after the 1669 eruption; it contains several interesting works of art such as a wooden Crucifix and an organ.
The benedictine monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena, at a short distance from town, was built at Frederick II of Aragon’s behest. It is now seat of the Etna Park.
Among the minor churches a mention must go to San Giuseppe’s and the small Anime del Purgatorio’s.
In Nicolosi, where the official guides are centred (095/7914755), begins a nice road that stretches up to the Rifugio Sapienza, from where excursions to the crater start.
Up to the summit of Etna – The route lies through a strangely unnerving landscape with black lava below and blue sky above, relieved occasionally by a white patch of snow or lonely cloud as if for dramatic effect. Before getting to the refuge, a sign points to the Crateri Silvestri, moonlike craters a short walk away, at a height of 1886 m.
Ascent from the south side – The section up to 1923m can be made by cable-car (from the Rifugio Sapienza), to 2608m by four-wheel drive vehicle, leaving a short distance to cover on foot. For safety reasons, it is not possible to get close to the central vent. An excursion by vehicle includes a stop near the Valle del Bove, a vast sunken area (hence the description as a valley) enclosed by 1000m high walls of lava, split with great crevasses and chasms. This zone has been the scene of violent eruptions, with flows of lava that succeeded in reaching the towns below (1852, 1950, 1979 and 1991).