We describe the evolution of the volcanic activity and deformation patterns observed at Mount Etna during the July–August 2001 eruption. Seismicity started at 3000 m below sea level on 13 July, accompanied by moderate ground swelling. Ground deformation culminated on 16 July with the development of a NE–SW graben c. 500 m wide and c. 1 m deep in the Cisternazza area at 2600–2500 m above sea level on the southern slope of the volcano. On 17 July, the eruption started at the summit of Mount Etna from the SE Crater (central–lateral eruptive system), from which two radial, c. 30 m wide, c. 3000 m long fracture zones, associated with eruptive fissures, propagated both southward (17 July) and northeastward (20 July). On 18 July, a new vent formed at 2100 m elevation, at the southern base of the Montagnola, followed on the next day by the opening of a vent further upslope, at 2550 m (eccentric eruptive system). The eruption lasted for 3 weeks. Approximately 80% of the total lava volume was erupted from the 2100 m and the 2550 m vents. The collected structural data suggest that the Cisternazza graben developed as a passive local response of the volcanic edifice to the ascent of a north–south eccentric dyke, which eventually reached the ground surface in the Montagnola area (18–19 July). In contrast, the two narrow fracture zones radiating from the summit are interpreted as the lateral propagation, from the conduit of the SE Crater, of north–south- and NE–SW-oriented shallow dykes, 2–3 m wide. The evolution of the fracture pattern together with other volcanological data (magma ascent and effusion rate, eruptive style, petrochemical characteristics of the erupted products, and petrology of xenoliths within magma) suggest that the eccentric and central–lateral eruptions were fed by two distinct magmatic systems. Examples of eccentric activity accompanied by central–lateral events have never been described before at Etna.