South-eastward of Ischia, between Calabria and Sicily, the Lipari Islands arrest attention for the volcanic phenomena they present. On one of these is Mount Vulcano, or Volcano, from which all this class of mountains is named. At present the best known of the Lipari volcanoes is Stromboli, which consists of a single mountain, having a very obtuse conical form. It has on one side of it several small craters, of which only one is at present in a state of activity.
The total height of the mountain is about 2000 feet, and the principal crater is situated at about two-thirds of the height. Stromboli is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It is mentioned as being in a state of activity by several writers before the Christian era, and the commencement of its operations extends into the past beyond the limits of tradition. Since history began its action has never wholly ceased, although it may have varied in intensity from time to time.
It has been observed that the violence of its eruptive force has a certain dependence on the weather—being always most intense when the barometer is lowest. From the position of the crater, it is possible to ascend the mountain and look down upon it from above. Even when viewed in this manner, it presents a very striking appearance. While there is an uninterrupted continuance of small explosions, there is a frequent succession of more violent eruptions, at intervals varying in length from seven to fifteen minutes.
Several eminent observers have approached quite close to the crater, and examined it narrowly. One of these was M. Hoffman, who visited it in 1828.
This eminent geologist, while having his legs held by his companions, stretched his head over the precipice, and, looking right down into the mouth of one of the vents of the crater immediately under him, watched the play of liquid lava within it. Its surface resembled molten silver, and was constantly rising and falling at regular intervals. A bubble of white vapor rose and escaped, with a decrepitating noise, at each ascent of the lava—tossing up red-hot fragments of scoria, which continued dancing up and down with a sort of rhythmic play upon the surface. At intervals of fifteen minutes or so, there was a pause in these movements. Then followed a loud report, while the ground trembled, and there rose to the surface of the lava an immense bubble of vapor. This, bursting with a crackling noise, threw out to the height of about 1200 feet large quantities of red-hot stones and scoriae, which, describing parabolic curves, fell in a fiery, shower all around. After another brief repose, the more moderate action was resumed as before.
Lipari, a neighboring volcano, was formerly more active than Stromboli, though for centuries past it has been in a state of complete quiescence. The Island of Volcano lies south of Lipari. Its crater was active before the Christian era, and still emits sulphurous and other vapors. At present its main office is to serve as a sulphur mine. Thus the peak which gives title to all fire-breathing mountains has become a servant to man. So are the mighty fallen!