Isole Eolie – Aeolian Islands: Vulcano

This is an excerpt from the book “Sicily”.

Vulcano - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Vulcano – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

Vulcano is one of the Aeolian Islands. Famous for its mud bath, the island literally smells like rotten eggs (sulphur).

Vulcano is a small volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 25 km north of Sicily and the southernmost of the Aeolian Islands.

It is 21 square kilometers in area, rises to 499 meters, and contains several volcanic centers, including one of four active non-submarine volcanoes in Italy and the formerly separate islet of Vulcanello.


The Greek wind god Aeolus was said to have lived on this island, then called Hiera’. The name for the entire Aeolian Island chain descended from the mythical residence of Aeolus.

The Roman name for the island Vulcano has contributed the word for volcano in most modern European languages. The Romans used the island mainly for raw materials, harvesting wood and mining alum and sulfur. This was the principal activity on the island until the end of the 19th Century.

When the Bourbon rule collapsed in 1860 (see Francis II of the Two Sicilies) a British man named James Stevenson bought the northern part of the island, built a villa, reopened the local mines and planted vineyards for grapes that would later be used to make Malvasia wine. Stevenson lived on Vulcano until the last major eruption on the island, in 1888. The eruption lasted the better part of two years, by which time Stevenson had sold all of his property to the local populace, and never returned to the island. The villa is still intact.

foil ride from Lipari and has several hotels and cafes, the important attractions being the beaches, hot springs and sulfur mud baths.

Vulcano - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Vulcano – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*


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

  • At the southern end of the island are old stratovolcano cones, Monte Aria (500 m), Monte Saraceno (481 m) and Monte Luccia (188 m), which have partially collapsed into the Il Piano Caldera.
  • The most recently active center 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 7 major eruptions in the last 6000 years.
  • At the north of the island is Vulcanello, 123 meters high, and is connected to the rest of it by an isthmus which is flooded in bad weather. It emerged from the sea during an eruption in 183 BC as a separate islet. Occasional eruptions from its three cones with both pyroclastic flow deposits and lavas occurred from then until 1550, the last eruption creating a narrow isthmus connecting it to Vulcano. Vulcano has been quiet since the eruption of the Fossa cone on August 3, 1888 to 1890, which deposited about 5 meters 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.
Vulcano - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Vulcano – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*


The Romans believed that Vulcano was the chimney to the god Vulcanus’s workshop. The island had grown due to his periodic clearing of cinders and ashes from his forge. The earthquakes that either preceded or accompanied the explosions of ash etc., were considered to be due to Vulcanus making weapons for Mars and his armies to wage war.

Expulsion of lava is a rare feature of vulcanian eruptions and always occur at the end of the eruption.

Since Roman times similar features on Earth have been known as volcans – volcanes and volcanoes. It is also used in connection with similar features on the Moon, Mars, Venus and Mercury and other stellar bodies. Some purists argue that the name should be vulcans, vulcanes and vulcanoes.

The Romans gave the word to the world and with it came ashes, cinders, lava – “flows.”  

Boat round-trip

The tour of the island starts from Porto di Levante, very well known for its fumaroles and its thermal springs. Following the tour towards north-west, you arrive in the small peninsula of Vulcanello. After the channel that devides Vulcano from Lipari direction south, you will see the amazing Grotto of the Horse, with its spectacular light effects. Then you arrive back to Porto di Levante.

Grotto of the Horse

Vulcano - Grotta del Cavallo

The Grotto of the Horse is well known also as “Grotto of the Hermit”; it has three entrances. Inside the grotto, you can find galleries, small lakes, stalactites, stalagmites: thanks to effects of sulfuric water, they created very particular dome vaults.

Guided tours in the Aeolian Islands >>>

Where to stay in Vulcano

There are hotels, condo hotels, villas and apartments available, check them out and make a reservation here.