Italian Journal of Geosciences - Vol. 139 (2020) f.3

The precious treasure of Mariano Valenza: the history of Ludovico Sicardi and the birth of geochemical volcano monitoring

Sergio Calabrese (1-2-3), Lorenza Li Vigni (1-3), Filippo Brugnone (1-3), Giorgio Capasso (2), Walter D’Alessandro (2), Francesco Parello (1) & Paolo Ferla (1)
(1) Dipartimento Scienze della Terra e del Mare (DiSTeM), via Archirafi, 36, 90123, Palermo, Italy. (2) Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, sez. Palermo, via Ugo la Malfa 153, 90146, Palermo, Italy. (3) Associazione Naturalistica Geode, via Agrigento 15/A, 90141, Palermo, Italy. Corresponding author e-mail:

Volume: 139 (2020) f.3
Pages: 413-435


I was lucky enough to meet Mariano Valenza in September 1995. I was hitchhiking on the highway that leads from Cefalù to Palermo to go back home. I had spent my summer holidays in the beautiful and wild Madonie mountains. An off-road vehicle (a Land Rover Defender) stopped and a refined gentleman with a curious and charismatic gaze offered me a ride. During our journey, we chatted pleasantly and he told he was originally from that area. When I told him, I was a Geology student, he smiled at me and said "Then we will meet again soon, I am going to be your Teacher of Geochemistry!". After a few weeks the lessons began and I met again Professor Valenza in Via Archirafi 36, at the University of Palermo. I will never forget the first introductive lesson of his course: "... we are going to study how the chemical elements have formed in the stars, and how these elements have spread out on our planet; we are going to study the chemical- physical laws regulating their geochemical cycles and how they move in between the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the lithosphere. We will also learn how the isotopes of these elements allow us to date the geological phenomena and the age of our own planet Earth; ...let's imagine that we are ourselves made of billions and billions and billions of atoms, and it is statically possible that one of Napoleon atom could be here, in this class room!". I was truly fascinated and I discovered my passion for this interesting subject. In via Archirafi 36, in the historical building of the University of Palermo, once home of the Istituto di Mineralogia, I have graduated and got a Ph.D. in Geochemistry, and still nowadays I am working there. In these last 25 years I have learnt to know the stories of different personalities and their scientific researches, which have been hidden and looked after in the ancient building of the University for almost one century. With this article, we would like to remember Professor Mariano Valenza, by telling some stories about him and some others told by himself. Amongst these extraordinary stories we have focused on the one of a little-known scientist, Ludovico Sicardi (1895 - 1987), a modest man who followed his passion for volcanoes. In his field, he was a true innovator and the present research in the field of the geochemical surveillance of volcanos is deeply in debt to him. The "Scuola di Geochimica dei Fluidi", born in the '70s at the University of Palermo, has the most debt of gratitude to him, but also the one which has treasured best his memory. This special paper is dedicated to Professor Valenza, who was one of the founders of this school and, before that, the teacher of most of this piece's authors. He had preserved, beside the historical memory, also many documents, photos, and the scientific equipment used by Sicardi for his studies. Sergio Calabrese, Palermo, March 2020


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