The southernmost glacier in Europe is in Sicily

The Grotta del Gelo is a unique Etna cave, a “magic” cave in which it is winter even when it is summer. So called for the perennial presence of ice that for over three hundred years has been accumulating inside. At an altitude of 2,025 meters is the perennial ice more than three meters thick where above is fire and below is ice. It extends for 125 meters in length with a difference in height of 30 meters. 

A cave with a high slope, with a funnel-shaped entrance of about ten meters in diameter, usually covered with snow until spring. Thanks to the shape of the cave, the snow slides deep inside, where it has the opportunity to freeze.

The story

The Grotta del Gelo is actually a flow tunnel originating from a lava flow, due to an eruption that began in July 1614 and ended in July 1624. The various eruptions produced a particular type of lava (pahoehoe) which, accumulating, gave life to the current caves including, in fact, the Grotta del Gelo. In March 1981 the cave was in danger of disappearing due to an eruption that occurred a few meters away but, fortunately, the flow stopped a few tens of meters from the entrance of the cave and the damage was not irreparable. Being a completely natural phenomenon, however, this cave risks disappearing at any moment. Precisely for this reason the cave is annually subjected to extensive climatological-environmental monitoring by the speleologists of the CSE (Erneo Speleological Center). It is impossible to predict if and when the cave will disappear but, for now, it is still possible to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of this magical place. What happens inside the Grotta del Gelo? The walls and the surface of the flow, in contact with the atmosphere, cool down thus creating a sort of covered channel made of solidified lava, inside which the still incandescent lava flow flows. When the flow of the flow decreases, the level of the lava flow inside it is lowered more and more, leaving a hollow structure called “flow tunnel”.


  • Inside the glacier even in the warmest periods, the temperature never rises above the -6 C;
  • It was once known only by the shepherds, because they used it to water their flocks; 
  • At the beginning of the seventies, it became a destination for hikers, tourists, experts and scientists, thanks to its opening and its conical shape;
  • Until World War II, the “ice and snow trade” was also practiced.

How to reach the Grotta del Gelo

The Grotta del Gelo can be reached after about five hours of walking on the volcano, the easiest route starts from the “sea-snow road” of Etna. From here starts a path that can also be used by bike that leads to the refuge Timpa Rossa. Once you arrive, you will find a path on the rough lava marked by stone turrets, sticks planted on the ground and some spray of paint, which will bring you to the Cave of Frost.

In summer the cave is easily accessible, although it takes 5 hours to reach it. In winter its entrance is often hidden by snow, which completely covers it.

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