Aeolian Islands

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Lipari Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily, named after the demigod of the winds Aeolus. The locals residing on the islands are known as Eolians (Eoliani). The Aeolian Islands are a popular tourist destination in the summer, and attract up to 200,000 visitors annually.

The largest island is Lipari. The other islands include Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, Panarea and Basiluzzo.


The present shape of the Aeolian Islands is the result of volcanic activity over a period of 260,000 years. There are two active volcanoes - Stromboli and Vulcano. The volcanic activity of steaming fumaroles and thermal waters are on most of the islands. Only the one on Stromboli, the northernmost island, is still active. Scientifically the archipelago is defined as a "volcanic arc". Geology explains the origin of the Aeolian Islands is due to movement of the Earth's crustas a result of plate tectonics. The African continental shelf is in constant movement towards Europe. The resulting collision has created a volcanic area with ruptures in the Earth's crust with consequent eruptions of magma. The "Eolian Arc" extends for more than 140 kilometres, but the area of geological instability caused by the collision of Africa and Europe is very much larger. It includes Sicily, Calabria, Campania together with Greece and the Aegean islands.

The complex of the eight Aeolian Islands, covering an area of 1,600 square kilometres, originated from a great plain at the bottom of the Tyrrhenian sea. Emissions of lava from depths of up to 3,600 metres resulted in the formation of the Eolian Islands, together with Ustica and a series of submarine volcanoes named Magnani, Vavilov, Marsili and Palinuro, as well as two that are unnamed.


Curbing urban development has been a key to preserving the Aeolian islands in a natural state. New buildings are severely restricted. Existing residences can be bought and restored but must be constructed to resemble its whitewashed houses. Traditional houses consist of modular cubes constructed from indigenous building materials — stone, lava, pumice and tufo. Almost all houses have a large outdoor terrace, usually shaded by grape-vines and flowering vines. The houses, balconies and terraces are mostly decorated with brightly patterned terra-cotta tiles, a throwback to long-ago Spanish conquerors.

Open Water Swimming in the Aeolian Islands[edit]

  • The first man to ever complete a swim from the Aeolian Islands to Sicily was Michele Rossetti in 1975, who swam the 22.5 km course from Vulcano to Milazzo with wetsuit and fins in 7 hours 30 minutes in 1979 at the age of 58 years old.
  • Nino Musciumarra, "the Shark Of the Strait", swam the same course with no wetsuit in 8 hours 31 minutes.
  • The first athlete who has swum from Vulcano to Milazzo without fins is Gianni Golini from Rome, who set the first freestyle record in 6 hours 27 minutes in 1978.
  • A Sicilian swimmer, former member of Italian national team Pippo Nicosia , swam faster than Golini and set the new record in 1986, swimming from Vulcano to his hometown of Milazzo in 5 hours 27 minutes 7 seconds. His time is still the current record on the course.
  • Another Sicilian swimmer, Nino Fazio, swam from Vulcano to Sicily following a new route in 1987, starting from Vulcano and reaching the mainland Sicily after 21 km in Capo Calavà, in 6 hours 27 minutes 23 seconds.
  • Nino Fazio has completed other two Vulcano-Capo Calavà crossings, in 2005 and in 2006, finally setting the new record on this route with 5 hours 35 minutes 5 seconds.
  • In 2011, at the age of 50, Nino Fazio swam from Vulcano to Milazzo in 6 hours 50 minutes.
  • Cristina Scotto, from Messina, holds the female record on the Vulcano-Capo Calavà, 5 hours 37 minutes 2 seconds, a course she swam twice in 1989 and 2005.
  • Cristina Scotto has also completed much longer swims from the islands of the Aeolian Archipelago to Sicily: Vulcano-Capo D'Orlando, 31 km in 1991; Salina-Capo D'Orlando, 41 km in 1992; Lipari-Milazzo 31 km in 1994. Finally, she has also completed the classic Vulcano-Milazzo swim in 2007.
  • Another historical swim across the Island was the Panarea-Salina-Lipari-Vulcano (33 km) completed by Sicilian athlete Fabrizio Mandanici in 2007, in 10 hours.
  • Fabrizio Mandanici has also been for one year the record-holder on the Vulcano-Capo Calavà, which he swam with Cristina in 2005.
  • After a beautiful 10 km race in Panarea organized by Maurizio Castagna in 2007, no other official Open Water swim race has taken place in the Aeolian Islands.

All the individual crossings are recorded by at the page Albo d'Oro.


4000 – 2500 BC

First evidence of Sicilian migration in Lipari (Castellaro Vecchio). Manufacture and commerce of obsidian highly developed until introduction of metals.

1600 – 1250 BC

During the Bronze Age, the Aeolian prosper by means of maritime commerce in an area extending from Mycenae to the British isles, from where tin was imported. Villages on the Eolian islands flourished on Capo Graziano (Filicudi), Castello (Lipari), Serro dei Cianfi (Salina), Capo Milazzese (Panarea), and Portella (Salina). All these settlements are destroyed by the new Italic invasions in 1250 BC.

1240 – 850 BC

The Aeolian Islands are occupied by the Ausonians led by Liparus. Liparus is succeeded by Aeolus whose house, according to Homer, gave hospitality to Odysseus.

6th – 4th century BC

In 580 BC Greek exiles from Rhodes and Knidos land at Lipari begin a period of Greek domination, which was known for acts of piracy against Etruscan and Phoenician shipping. Fine work in the production of vases and other ceramics.

3rd c. BC – 3rd c. AD

The islanders are allies of the Carthaginians against Rome. The Romans sack Lipari and their domination leads to a period of decadence and poverty.

4th – 10th century AD

At the fall of the Roman empire, the Aeolian Islands came under the sway of the Barbarian Visigoths, the Vandals and the Ostrogoths, followed by the harsh domination of the Byzantine empire. In the year 264, a coffin containing the body of Bartholomew is washed upon the beach of Lipari, with the result that Bartholomew is immediately elected the Patron Saint of the Aeolian Islands. Calogerus the hermit was active on Lipari during the first half of the 4th century and he gave his name to the thermal springs. In 836 the Saracens sack Lipari, massacre the population, and enslave the survivors.

11th – 15th century AD

The Normans liberate Sicily from the Arabs and lay the foundations of a period of good government and renewal. King Ruggero sends the Benedictine monks to Lipari, which gives rise to considerable development on the islands. A cathedral dedicated to Saint Bartholomew is built together with the Benedictine monastery in the castle. Lipari becomes a bishopric and agriculture makes progress in Salina, as well as the smaller islands. In 1208 Frederick the 2nd of Swabia accedes to the throne of Sicily. The period of prosperity which follows, and is consolidated during the course of his reign, ends with the domination of the Angevins and the rebellion of the Sicilians culminating in the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers. The Aeolians however, remained loyal to Charles of Anjou, and commercial links are established with Naples, the capital of the Angevin kingdom. In 1337 Lipari opens its gates to the French fleet without resistance, and in return obtains various commercial and fiscal benefits. In the middle of the 15th century, Naples and Palermo unite in the Kingdom of the two Sicilies under the crown of Alfonso V of Aragon. The Aeolian privileges are recognized. Aeolian privateers fight with the Spanish against the French.

16th – 20th century AD

On June 30, 1544, a fleet of 180 Turkish vessels under the command of the great corsair Ariadeno Barbarossa occupies Lipari and lay siege to the castle. The desperate defense of Lipari is no match for the terrible havoc caused by the Muslim cannonade, and the defenders surrender. 9,000 of the 10,000 citizens of Lipari are captured and enslaved. Many were already killed while others are finished off while attempting to escape. A number of citizens were ransomed in Messina and returned to the islands. Only after the tragedy do the Spanish authorities turn their attention to Lipari and repopulate the city with Sicilian, Calabrian and Spanish families. The city walls and houses are rebuilt and an Eolian fleet is constructed which is able to successfully defend the Tyrrhenian Sea from the Turks.

At the beginning of the year 1693, an 1693 Sicily earthquake|earthquake destroyed all the towns in eastern Sicily causing 140,000 deaths.After the population invoked the protection of Saint Bartholomew during prayers in the cathedral, there was not a single victim on the Aeolian Islands. The economic conditions of the islands improve greatly during the 17th century with agricultural progress (malvasia grapes, Capers, excellent variety of fruit, vegetables and fishing). With the Bourbons comes the affliction of criminal and political prisoners. This unhappy imposition continues and worsens until the unification of Italy. In 1916, the penal colony is closed but the fascist regime tries to reopen it in 1926 - in vain. The island population reacts by pulling down the remains of the ex-penitentiary in the castle. However, not long after, the castle is converted to accommodate anti-fascist politicals in enforced exile. Liparians fraternized with these exiles until the Liberation. After the war, the same room that had housed the opponents of fascism became the Eolian Archaeological Museum.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Aeolian Islands were visited by Duke Luigi Salvatore of Austria - a friend of the islands and also a man with a profound knowledge of the archipelago. Between the years 1893-96 he published a work of eight volumes on the Aeolian Islands.

In August 1888, the crater named Fossa on Vulcano erupted and caused many deaths in the sulphur mines. The eruptions continued for 19 months.[1]

UNESCO World Heritage Sites[edit]

The Aeolian Islands are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. However, inaccuracy, the missing closure of a pumice quarry, and the oncoming building of some four harbours by the shore of the sole town of Lipari[2] pose a threat to the islands' place on the list, according to the Italian UNESCO Commission.[3]

==External links==