« السابقةمتابعة »
a large cave, formed by one of the most ancient and venerable lavaš. Here we were delighted with the contemplation of many beautiful objects; the prospect on all sides being immense; and we already seemed to have been lifted from the earth, and to have gotten into a new world. After a comfortable sleep, and other refreshments, at eleven o'clock at night we recommenced our expedition.
Our guide now began to display his great knowledge of the mountain, and we followed him with implicit confidence, where, perhaps, human foot had never trod before. Sometimes through gloomy forests, which by day light were delightful, but now, from the universal darkness, the rustling of the trees, the heavy dull bellowing of the mountain, the vast expanse of ocean stretched at an immense distance below us, inspired a kind of awful horror. Sometimes we found ourselves ascending great rocks of lava, where, if our mules should make but a false step, we might be thrown headlong over the precipice. However, by the assistance of our guide, we overcame all these difficulties, and in two hours we had gotten above the region of vegetation, and had left the forests of Ætna far below, which now appeared like a dark and gloomy gulf surrounding the mountain. The prospect before us was of a very different nature; we beheld an expanse of snow and ice which alarmed us exceedingly, and almost staggered our resolution. In the centre of this we descried the high summit of the mountain, rearing its tremendous head, and vomiting out torrents of smoke. It, indeed, appeared altogether inaccessible, from the vast extent of the fields of snow and ice which surrounded it.
The ascent for some time was not steep, and as the surface of the snow sunk a little, we had tolerably good footing; but as it soon began to grow
steeper, we found our labour greatly increased; however, we determined to persevere, calling to mind that the emperor Adrian, and the philosopher Plato, had undergone the same; and from a like motive, too, to see the rising sun from the top of Etna.
From this spot it was only about three hundred yards to the summit, where we arrived in full time to see the most wonderful and sublime sight in
But here description must ever fall short; for no imagination has dared to form an idea of so glorious and so magnificent a scene.-Neither is there on the surface of this globe, any one point that unites so many awful and sublime objects.-The immense elevation from the surface of the earth, drawn as it were to a single point, without any neighbouring mountain for the senses and imagination to rest upon, and recover from their astonishment in their way down to the world. This point or pinnacle, raised on the brink of a bottomless gulf, as old as the world, often discharging rivers of fire, and throwing out burning rocks, with a noise that shakes the whole island. Add to this, the unbounded extent of the prospect, comprehending the greatest diversity and the most beautiful scenery in nature ; with the rising sun, advancing in the east, to illuminate the wondrous scene.
The whole atmosphere by degrees kindled up, and showed dimly and faintly the boundless prospect around. Both sea and land looked dark and confused, as if only emerging from their original chaos, and light and darkness seemed still undivided; till the morning, by degrees advancing, completed the separation. The stars are extinguished, and the shades disappear. The forests, which but now seemed black and bottomless gulfs, from which no
ray was reflected to show their form or colours, appear a new creation rising to the sight; catching life and beauty from every increasing beam. The scene still enlarges, and the horizon seems to widen and expand itself on all sides, till the sun, like the great Creator, appears in the east, and with his plastic ray completes the mighty scene. All appears enchantment; and it is with difficulty we can believe we are still on earth.-The senses, unaccustomed to the sublimity of such a scene, are bewildered and confounded; and it is not till after some time, that they are capable of separating and judging of the objects that compose it.-The body of the sun is seen rising from the ocean, immense tracts both of sea and land intervening; the islands of Lipari, Panari, Alicudi, Strombolo, and Volcano, with their smoking summits, appear under your feet; and you look down on the whole of Sicily as on a map; and can trace every river through all its windings, from its source to its mouth. The view is absolutely boundless on every side; nor is there any one object, within the circle of vision, to interrupt it; so that the sight is every where lost in the immensity; and I am persuaded it is only from the imperfection of our organs that the coasts of Africa, and even of Greece, are not discovered, as they are certainly above the horizon. The circumference of the visible horizon on the top of Etna cannot be less than two thousand miles.
* * *
But the most beautiful part of the scene is certainly the mountain itself; the island of Sicily, and the numerous islands lying round it. All these, by a kind of magic in vision, that I am at a loss to account for, seem as if they were brought close round the skirts of Etna; the distances appearing reduced to nothing.
The Regione Deserta, or the frigid zone of Etna, is the first object that calls your attention. It is marked out by a circle of snow and ice, which extends on all sides to the distance of about eight miles. In the centre of this circle, the great crater of the mountain rears its burning head; and the regions of intense cold and of intense heat seem for ever to be united in the same point.
The Regione Deserta is immediately succeeded by the Sylvosa, or the woody region, which forms a circle or girdle of the most beautiful green, which surrounds the mountain on all sides, and is certainly one of the most delightful spots on earth. This presents a remarkable contrast with the desert region. It is not smooth and even, like the greatest part of the latter; but is finely variegated by an infinite number of those beautiful little mountains that have been formed by the different eruptions of Etna. All these have now acquired a wonderful degree of fertility, except a very few that are but newly formed; that is, within these five or six hundred years; for it certainly requires some thousands to bring them to their greatest degree of perfection. We looked down into the craters of these, and attempted, but in vain, to number them.
The circumference of this zone or great circle on Ætna is not less than seventy or eighty miles. It is every where succeeded by the vineyards, orchards, and corn fields that compose the Regione Culta, or the fertile region. This last zone is much broader than the others, and extends on all sides to the foot of the mountain. Its whole circumference, according to Recupero, is 183 miles. It is likewise covered with a number of little conical and spherical mountains, and exhibits a wonderful variety of forms and colours, and makes a delightful contrast, with the other two regions. It is bounded by the sea to the
south and south-east, and on all its other sides by the rivers Semetus and Alcantara, which run almost round it. The whole course of these rivers is seen at once, and all their beautiful windings through these fertile valleys, looked upon as the favourite possession of Ceres herself.
Cast your eyes a little farther, and you embrace the whole island, and see all its cities, rivers, and mountains, delineated in the great chart of Nature: all the adjacent islands, the whole coast of Italy, as far as your eye can reach; for it is no where bounded, but every where lost in space. On the sun's first rising, the shadow of the mountain extends across the whole island, and makes a large track visible even in the sea and in the air. By degrees this is shortened, and, in a little time, is confined only to the neighbourhood of Ætna.
We had now time to examine a fourth region of that wonderful mountain, very different, indeed, from the others, and productive of very different sensations: but which has, undoubtedly, given being to all the rest; I mean the region of fire.
The present crater of this immense volcano is a circle of about three miles and a half in circumference. It goes shelving down on each side, and forms a regular hollow like a vast amphitheatre. From many places of this space, issue volumes of sulphureous smoke, which, being much heavier than the circumambient air, instead of rising in it, as smoke generally does, immediately on its getting out of the crater, rolls down the side of the mountain like a torrent, till coming to that part of the atmosphere of the same specific gravity with itself, it shoots off horizontally, and forms a large track in the air, according to the direction of the wind, which, happily for us, carried it exactly to the side opposite to that where we were placed.-The crater is so hot, that it is very dangerous, if not impossible, to go down into it; besides, the smoke is very