Hephaistos, the lame son of Zeus and Hera, the King and Queen of the Hellenistic Pantheon, was the god of blacksmiths, artisans, craftsmen, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. He was also the weaponsmith of the Gods and crafted, amongst other things, the thunderbolts of Zeus.
Of course the Romans, the greatest copyright infringers ever produced by mankind incorporated the Greek Pantheon as their own religion and mythology. Here, Hephaistos was known as Vulcanus. The roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (116 – 27 BC) cites the Annales Maximus, which go back to at least 400 BC, as the source of the first mention of Vulcanus. He mentions that king Titus Tatius (d.748 BC) dedicated a series of altars to deities among which Vulcan is mentioned.
Perhaps more suggestive is the fact that a new eruptive centre formed in the strait between Vulcano and Lipari with the first recorded eruption occurring in 183 or 123 BC. The eruptions went on for more than a century, thus were contemporary with Varro, and formed a new island Vulcanello. This was volcanic creation of new land where only sea had been before and must have been considered by the ancient world as very significant proof of divine existence and omnipotence. In addition to its theological usefulness, Vulcano provided the Romans with wood, alum and sulphur, activities continued as the main produce of the island until the last, or rather, most recent series of eruptions of 1888-90 ruined the mining works. Today, Vulcano is home to some 500 year-round inhabitants while in the summer, the population grows to about 10,000. But not to worry, renewed activity will almost certainly be preceded by irrefutable signs of unrest well in advance of any potentially devastating event.
The visual appearance of Vulcano is very suggestive with the most ancient centre of activity, the collapsed stratovolcano “South Vulcano” (ca. 120-98 kA) and Piano Caldera (ca. 98-97 kA) to the south, the Lentia Complex (15.5 kA) with the Lentia or Fossa Caldera (16 -13 kA) in which the new La Fossa cone (~6 to 5 kA) grew. To the NE of the Fossa cone an extrusion is obvious but no date has been given for it (14 kA Punta Roja lava flow?). Finally, to the north is the already mentioned Vulcanello complex (2.1 kA).
Activity at Vulcano began a mere 150,000 years ago and is divided into four major stages. The first, South Vulcano center, began at about 120 kA by building a trachybasaltic to trachyandesitic stratovolcano where pyroclastic fall and flow deposits constitute only a minor portion. The activity at South Vulcano came to an end with the collapse of the stratovolcano around 97 kA into the 2.5 km diameter Caldera del Piano. Interestingly, it seems that the caldera was formed, not by an eruption that led to a collapse but the collapse of the stratovolcano “for reasons unknown or unspecified”. Post-caldera activity continued for some 45,000 years which resulted in most of the caldera being filled by lava flows. Then there seems to have been a period of inactivity covering the next 30,000 years.
About 15½ thousand years ago, activity renewed at Quadrara and Spiaggia Lunga as well as the formation of the large rhyolitic to trachytic lava dome and flow complex of Lentia, the “Lentia Lava Dome Complex”, in the northwest. From somewhere in the strait between Vulcano and Lipari (proto-Vulcanello?) violent ash-flow forming eruptions occurred and deposited brown tuffs over a large area of the old Caldera del Piano to the south.
About 15-14 ka ago, another caldera collapse affected the island, this time in its northern part, forming the Lentia caldera. Again, there seems to have been no explosive eruption associated with the caldera collapse, which may have been “tectonically triggered”. Activity continued within the new caldera with at least five cycles of pyroclastic and lava flows, the most significant being the Punta Roja lava flow that crops out at the E base of the La Fossa cone. Eruptions also occurred from N-S trending fissures in the NW part of the older Piano caldera where the Alighieri formation and the edifice of Monte Saraceno were formed.
About 11,000 years ago, activity began to concentrate in the centre of the Lentia Caldera and at least four eruptive cycles formed the massive-looking albeit only 391 m high La Fossa cone. Over the past 2½ thousand years, there have been at least 15 confirmed eruptions with a further ten possible from La Fossa with the last terminating on March 22nd 1890.
Although activity at La Fossa continues and cannot be said to be over, the last major eruptive period recognised is the already mentioned one that began in the second century BC and led to the formation of the Vulcanello Island and complex. Eruptive activity continued with at least two further eruptions after the initial, island forming series ended in ~10 AD. The final eruption, that of 1550, connected Vulcanello with Vulcano. The activity produced three overlapping tephra and scoria cones with craters shifting from E to W, and a gently sloping lava platform mainly on the N, W and S sides of the cone cluster. The Vulcanello products are generally more mafic than most other Vulcano eruptives, being of leucite-tephritic composition, only the most recent lava flow, Punta del Roveto of 1550 being trachytic.
For further reading, I highly recommend Dr Boris Behncke’s former site, thankfully saved for posterity by the Michigan Technological University (?):
Record of historical eruptions of Vulcano: