A Tour of Italy's Fiery Trio
Rock&Gem Magazine|April 2020
In May of 2019, my wife and I were able to enjoy our honeymoon, two weeks in Italy. It marked my first ever trip into Europe, and I could not skip the opportunity to accomplish another first, seeing my first stratovolcanoes up close and in person! After a great amount of convincing from my non-rockhounding new bride, we were able to book sightseeing time with Italy’s “big three,” Vesuvius, Etna, and Stromboli. Not only are these the only three active volcanoes in Europe, but they also have a very complex story to tell once one delves into their behavior and their constituent rocks.


In starting our honeymoon in Venice, we proceeded to head southward with our final stop being the island of Sicily. After a memorable jaunt to Rome, our next stop was Naples, the primary base for visiting the historic town of Pompeii and the mountain responsible for its infamous sudden demise in 79 A.D. via a pyroclastic cloud.

We started our morning with an awe-inspiring tour of Pompeii’s ruins led by a graduate student of archaeology, Francesca, from the University of Naples. This cataclysm is primarily controlled by the fact that Vesuvius is classified as a composite volcano (a.k.a. stratovolcano). These volcano types occur at subduction zones, where a thin, but heavy oceanic plate subducts under a thicker, more buoyant continental plate. In this case, it is the African Plate subducting under the Eurasian Plate. Evaporating water from the down-going oceanic plate interacts and lowers the melting point of the mantle wedge above, creating magma that ascends to the surface.

Since said magma has incorporated the water vapor needed for melt generation, as well as other key elements and gases during its rise, eruptions associated with subduction are typically on the explosive side.

Although we had yet to ascend the mountain itself, we already experienced our first sampling of the variety of eruptive igneous rocks Vesuvius produced. Near the end of our tour, after viewing mostly structures made from marble, we were able to see some low-lying rooms and barriers made from a combination of yellow pumice and weathered tephrite. In general, Vesuvius erupts a myriad of rocks from across the igneous chemical spectrum. This includes felsic (light color-rich in silica, aluminum, sodium, and potassium), mafic (dark color-silica poor-rich in iron and magnesium), and those in-between (intermediate composition).

Composite volcanoes that are land-bound are known to produce eruptive rocks that are typically intermediate to felsic. The pumice is a lightweight felsic rock littered with gas-voids (where the yellow shades found here are a result of weathering). The tephrite is a type of intermediate rock composed of small and coarse crystals (the latter precipitating from underground magma, whereas the latter is cooled erupted lava that carried the larger pre-formed crystals to the surface). This is termed a porphyritic texture. Intermediate porphyry rocks are all but typical with stratovolcanoes, but these tephrites are a little different than their far-more common cousins, termed andesites. Tephrites differ in that they have no quartz, but a nominal presence of feldspathoid minerals (I call them “feldspar wannabes”), such as nepheline (Na, K)AlSiO4 and leucite (KAlSiO 3 ).

After enjoying a pizza lunch on the slopes of Vesuvius, our tour bus took us up to the parking trailhead, wherein we began a twenty-minute hike to the main crater. Along our ascent, the two dominant rock types we encountered were fresh blue-green tephrites and brick red scoria. After taking in the sights (and smells) of this inaugural visit to a stratovolcano crater, we enjoyed a short rolling-in of a wall of fog that obscured our panoramic view of Naples in the distance and made us feel like we had stepped foot on another planet!


After three days of relaxation along the AmalfiCoast, we took an overnight train to the famed island of Sicily to begin the last leg of our honeymoon. Although some sadness crept in, being near the end of the trip, I knew that the action was just about to heat up! We stayed in the town of Taormina and arranged a sunset tour of the southern portion of Etna. Once our guide, Giuseppe, collected four other tourists, we made our way through Catania; a town notably worn by time, nature, and economics.

The afternoon’s festivities began with a delightful stop serving as one benefit of Etna’s presence; a tasting of products made from the volcano’s fertile soil. Some of the delicacies sampled included: honey, wine, olives, and figs. After a half-hour of satisfying our palates, we continued upward the southern slope of Etna. With this volcano being the tallest in Europe, a drastic temperature change quickly set in from that of Catania, requiring us to bust out sweatshirts. Our first adventurous stop was to explore a small, recently-discovered lava cave right off the main road. While waiting for a prior tour group to wrap up their visit, I had some time to again explore some of Etna’s constituent rocks. While standing on black vesicular basalt flows, I noticed that we had parked right next to a raised mound composed of pahoehoe textures; a Hawaiianbased name used to refer to lava that cooled in a pattern resembling twisted ropes (or Laffy-Taffy).

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine


‘Division of the World Is Inevitable'

Countries need to choose whether to align with autocrats or democracies, says a former NATO Secretary-General

10 mins read
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)


The latest in coastal real estate and resorts

2 mins read
Ocean Home
April/May 2022

Why We Are Not Responsible Toward the Environment

DR. ICHAK ADIZES is an expert in change management for organizations. Here he shares some of the reasons why companies are not changing their actions in relation to the environment, even though everyone knows we are facing an environmental crisis. He also offers simple solutions that will bring change.

4 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
April 2022

For the Love of Aubrey

You know, the sharp, sarcastic, enchanting woman of our collective dreams who's filming The White Lotus, promoting new movies (yes, plural, and yes, they're good), and plotting her next brilliant move.

10+ mins read
Issue 03, 2022



2 mins read
Reason magazine
June 2022

There Is No Liberal World Order

Unless democracies defend themselves the forces of autocracy will destroy them.

9 mins read
The Atlantic
May 2022

Think Like a Bear (Hear Us Out)

Be true to yourself, even when it's really difficult, Karen Duffy (yes, the former MTV VJ) advises her cub...er, son. In this letter to him, from her new book, Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who's Been Through it, she shares lessons on how to do just that, which she learned from her own challenging times, including being diagnosed with an incurable neurological disease and from some hard-partying bears.

4 mins read
The Oprah Magazine
Volume 2. No 2 - 2022


After two years of cancellations, deferments and marathon sessions with airline customer service, many travelers are hoping to book summer trips that actually pan out this year.

3 mins read
April 15, 2022

Where Russian Tourists Are Missing

The Ukraine invasion’s travel curbs are hurting businesses from Thailand to the Maldives

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 11, 2022

Without Russia, Science Going Solo on World's Woes, Dreams

Without Russian help, climate scientists worry how they’ll keep up their important work of documenting warming in the Arctic.

5 mins read
April 01, 2022