Nature, history, mythology: welcome to the Aeolian Islands. This archipelago belongs to the province of Messina and includes seven islands, also known as ‘the seven sisters’. Sicilians call them Ìsuli Eoli, ancient Greeks used to call them Αιολίδες Νήσοι because, according to the legend, the god Aeolus, the keeper of all winds, used to live here and was the king as well. Summer is coming, therefore there’s not any better destination than this to enjoy the sea and discover some curiosities. Ready? Let’s start our itinerary with Sicilian Secrets.
The Aeolian Islands are one of the most appreciated tourist destinations and every year attract many visitors from all over the world. Lipari, Vulcano, Stromboli, Panarea, Salina, Alicudi and Filicudi are seven gems in the Tyrrhenian Sea, this is a volcanic archipelago and, geologically speaking, it is defined as a volcanic arc. Nowadays, Stromboli and Vulcano are still active.
The Aeolian Islands are so gorgeous! In 2000, they were listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for providing “an outstanding record of volcanic island-building and destruction, and ongoing volcanic phenomena”.
History…once upon a time in the Aeolian Islands
The history of the Aeolian Islands begins in the Neolithic Age, between 5,000 and 4,000 BC. The first evidence of human beings was in Lipari and was strictly related to the presence of obsidian, a material that quicky became the soul of commerce for people living in this area.
Many dominations colonized this archipelago, during the Punic Wars, for example, the islanders supported the Carthaginians against Rome, but although the Battle of the Lipari Islands in 260 BC led to a Carthaginian victory, the Romans later sacked Lipari and their domination led to a period of poverty.
When the Roman Empire fell, the barbarians first and the Byzantines later, occupied the Aeolian Islands. Then there was the Arab invasion in 836 and finally, in 1061, the Normans conquered Sicily and the king Roger II of Sicily assigned the Benedictine monks to Lipari, who gave rise to considerable development on the islands.
This period of prosperity ended during the domination of the Angevins. After the Sicilian Vespers, the Aeolians remained loyal to Charles of Anjou and many commercial links were established with Naples, the capital of the Angevin kingdom.
Many centuries passed and many events happened! Do you know that on New Year’s Day in 1909, because of some fake news published on international newspapers, people read that the Aeolian Islands had been ‘swallowed up by the sea’ due to an intense volcanic activity?
Let’s explore more in detail all these islands, let’s board…and sail!
Ancient Greeks called it Μελιγουνίς (Meligounís), the ‘land as sweet as honey’. Then the Romans named it Lipara and the geographer Strabo identified it with Aeolia, the famous island of the winds in the ‘Odyssey’. Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands and even if during the Fascist regime it was used to exile political prisoners, today is the centerpiece of the Aeolian life.
Visitors cannot miss the Cathedral dedicated to St. Bartholomew, the patron Saint of the island, characterized by a magnificent staircase, and the archaeological museum, a cultural spot to learn a lot about human history of the Aeolian Islands from prehistoric to classical times, vulcanology, marine history, and the paleontology of the western Mediterranean. Moreover, the ancient castle and the entire acropolis must be part of any perfect bucket list…this is the best place to ‘feel’ the history!
Welcome to the second largest island of the archipelago, here is Salina. On this island there are three small towns – Santa Marina, Malfa and Leni – and some other villages such as Rinella, Valdichiesa, Capo Faro, Lingua and Pollara.
During the Hellenic Age, it was called Δίδυμη (Didyme) that in ancient Greek means ‘twins’. If you look at Salina from the sea, you can understand the reason of this name! There are two mountain peaks that actually look…like twins and since 1981 they are part of a nature reserve.
On the island there are many traces of Greek and Roman culture but one of the landmarks that deserve to be visited is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Terzito built in 1630 that every year, on July 23rd, attract a lot of pilgrims. Do you want to know why Salina has this name? It’s related to ‘salt’, in fact in Lingua there’s a salt lake that in the past hosted a salt mill.
Cinema in Salina
The island is a celebrity! In 1970, it was the set of ‘Road to Salina’ directed by George Lautner and in 1994, was chosen to shoot some scenes from ‘Il Postino: The Postman’ by Michael Radfort with Massimo Troisi and Maria Grazia Cucinotta. Unforgettable.
Strength, here is the perfect word to describe Vulcano. First of all, let’s learn something about the name of this island. The Ancient Greeks called it Θέρμεσσα (Thérmessa) that means ‘the source of heat’, then it became Ἱερά (Hiera) that means ‘holy’. Why? Because Vulcano was the place where Hephaestus, the god of fire, used to live. Technically, Vulcano was his private foundry, in fact even the Roman believed that Vulcano was the chimney of their god Vulcan’s workshop and for this reason, they re-named the island after him. Just legends, but maybe…not only! Vulcano belongs to the Aeolian Islands and is characterized by a bunch of volcanic calderas and one of the four non-submarine active volcanoes in Italy.
People who get to this island generally enjoy some time in a sort of natural pool by the sea…it’s full of mud and you can immediately smell the scent of sulfur. Water is warm, sometimes hot, and mud makes your skin soft. My advice? Wear an old bathing suit because even if you wash it many times, it’ll be a little bit stinky for a while.
Because of its mysterious charm, Vulcano inspired directors, writers, etc. For example, the movie ‘Vulcano’ (1950) by William Dieterle with Anna Magnani takes place here but was partially filmed in Salina too. Moreover, the Japanese mangaka Hirohiko Araki set part of the story from ‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ in Vulcano and…have you ever heard about the American writer Richard Paul Roe? In his opinion, despite many other different interpretations, the play ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare is set on the island of Vulcano rather than in the Americas, close to Bermuda. Who knows!