An eruption in 1381 sent a lava flow as far as the Ionian Sea, about 10 miles (16 km) away.
The most violent historical eruption, however, was in 1669 (March 11–July 15), when about 990 million cubic yards (830 million cubic metres) of lava were thrown out.
While the volcano in its present form does little to disrupt the surrounding region, it has a long and even mythological history. In Greek mythology, Etna (spelled Aetna in Grecian texts) is said to be the burial place of a giant killed by the Greek god Zeus.
Historically, this seems to have been the first attempt to divert a lava stream. The eruption of 1852–53 flattened large stands of timber and nearly destroyed the town of Zafferana.
During the 20th century there were eruptions in 1908, 1910, 1911, 1918, 1923, 1928, 1942, 1947, 1949, 1950–51, and 1971.
Etna’s geological characteristics indicate that it has been active since the end of the Neogene Period (i.e., for about the past 2.6 million years). A number of subsidiary cones have been formed on lateral fissures extending out from the centre and down the sides.
The present structure of the mountain is the result of the activity of at least two main eruptive centres.