Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen

Wolfgang Sartorius, a German geologist in search of Mount Etna’s Treasures

Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen was a 19th-century German geologist, mineralogist and astronomer, born in Göttingen in 1809 and died in 1876. He was one of the pioneers in the field of volcanology, he made important studies on several volcanoes giving special importance to Etna.

Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen came from a wealthy family and showed an early interest in science. During his university studies in Göttingen, he pursued mathematics, physics and then turned to mineralogy and geology. He received teachings from important academic figures such as Wilhelm Eduard Weber and Carl Friedrich Gauss, known for their contributions to the fields of physics and mathematics.

Scientific studies and works of Wolfgang Sartorius

Sartorius von Waltershausen initiated an extensive campaign of scientific studies on Etna in Sicily, with the intention of writing a paper on the volcano’s geology. His study trips to Sicily, from 1834 to 1837 and again from 1838 to 1843, resulted in detailed topographical surveys and in-depth geological analyses of Etna. He collaborated with several experts, including architect Roos, astronomer Peters, and architect and archaeologist Saverio Cavallari. The main result of his research was the Publication of the work “Atlas des Aetna” (Atlas of Etna), between 1844 and 1861, containing detailed topographical and geological maps, illustrations of the volcano’s structure, and prints depicting views of the studied area, representing an unprecedented effort in the context of volcanological studies at the time.

Among his most important works we can mention (in chronological order):
  • vber die submarinen vulkanische Ausbrüche in der Tertiär-Formation des Val di Noto (Göttingen 1846);
  • Physisch-geographische Skizze von Island (Göttingen 1853);
  • Atlas des Aetna (Weimar 1848-61);
  • Übner die vulkan. Gesteine in Sicilien und Island und ihre submarine Umbildung (Göttingen 1853);
  • Geologischer Atlas von Island (Göttingen 1853);
  • Über das Etna und seine Ausbrüche (Leipzig 1857);
  • Untersuchungen über die Klimate der Gegenwart und Vowelt (Haarlem 1865);
  • Der Aetna (Leipzig 1880), posthumously in collaboration with A. von Lasaulx.

Der Aetna

After his death in 1876, the documents left by Sartorius von Waltershausen were entrusted to Professor Arnold von Lasaulx, a graduate student in mineralogy in Berlin. His important work in processing and integrating these manuscripts culminated in 1880 with the publication of the work “Der Aetna“. This two-volume work summarized the studies conducted by Sartorius on Etna and integrated them with Lasaulx’s additions, helping to keep the original research work alive and up to date.

Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen’s geological descriptions of Etna, including details on surrounding areas such as Paternò, Biancavilla, Adernò and Bronte, provided a fundamental basis for understanding the volcanic geology of the region. These studies have also included references to ancient inscriptions and monuments, contributing to a more comprehensive view of the history and geology of the area.

Sartorius Mountains on Mount Etna

Craters Mounts Sartorius in the summerIn January 1865, at 1700 meters on the northeastern slope of Etna, a complex of three major volcanic cones and other secondary complex of three major volcanic cones formed, generating a lava flow that reached as high as 850 meters. The eruption ended in June of the same year, without damaging any towns nearby. Eleven years after the eruption Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen died, the 1865 craters were dedicated in his honor, a tribute to his scientific studies that bound him to the Sicilian volcano.

The Sartorius Mountains are located on the outer flank of the Serra delle Concazze and are shrouded in a landscape characterized by the presence of larch pine trees and typical Etna birch trees with white bark and golden foliage in autumn, representing one of the most striking places on Etna.

You can visit these ancient craters with a beautiful trek to the Sartorius Mountains on two Dream Island excursions: