Zafferana Etnea is a very special town located at almost 600 metres above sea level within the Etna Park, the mountain of Europe's largest active volcano that has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its territory reaches up to the summit of the volcano and includes three large wooded valleys, such as the Valle del Bove, which were formed in eruptions over the centuries. From Zafferana Etnea there is a road leading to the summit of the volcano and from the town you can enjoy an incredible view of the sea of Catania, Syracuse and the Calabrian coast.
The name is probably due to the cultivation of saffron, but it could also come from the Arabic 'giallo' (yellow) from the colour of the broom that covers the area.
Not much is known about its history; earthquakes and eruptions have wiped out many vestiges of the past. Remains of a Roman road have been found connecting the coast with the inland area of Boschi di Aci, where the Romans used to take wood to build boats.
The monastery was founded by the Priory of St James, possibly on an earlier monastery founded by St Sabinus, a bishop of Catania who around 700 abandoned the diocese to retire in hermitage with some disciples.
The monastery had a church dedicated to the apostle St James, which was later destroyed by the terrible Val di Noto earthquake of 1693.
As early as the early eighteenth century, work began on a new church dedicated to the Madonna della Provvidenza, which was later rebuilt in the Baroque style after the earthquake of 1818. The architecture plays with the contrast between the light colour of the marble of the façade and the dark colour of the lava of the staircase and the streets.
In 1792, a terrible eruption opened craters and caused lava to flow, swallowing many of the crops. According to a popular legend, the lava flow stopped during a miraculous procession with the Madonna della Provvidenza. Since then, an annual pilgrimage began and a statue was erected on the site that is still honoured today.
Until 1826, Zafferana was not an autonomous territory and it was King Francis I who elected it as an administrative municipality.
The last earthquake was on 19 October 1984, while between 1991 and 1993 the longest lava flow occurred, stopping only 1 kilometre from the inhabited centre.
Zafferana Etnea today is known as the City of Honey, and in its territory about 15% of Italian honey is produced, and as the City of Wine with Etna Doc wines made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes.