Aeolian Islands History
Since ancient times the Aeolian islands have been considered fascinating and mysterious places. From Homer to Roman history , from eighteenth century travellers to modern day tourists, the seven islands in the archipelago have appeared and still appear as magic places where nature has reserved its own niche of uncontaminated beauty, amidst a thousand shades of blue sky and sea, amidst intense colours and intense perfumes, amidst shimmering lava and white pumice stone.
Lands where legend intertwines with reality. But it’s not only the beauty of the landscapes and coasts which make the Aeolian Islands unique. A history and culture of millenniums which bestows them, in fact, a primary place in the Mediterranean world.
Here Aeolus, mythical sovereign, dispenser of winds, chose to create his reign and before him other peoples, coming from Sicily, from the Italian peninsula, from the East and from Greece, were attracted by the resources of the dwelling place , by the mild climate and by the favourable geographical location.
The first inhabitants, arrived during Neolithic times around 4000 B.C. , were attracted by the presence of the black obsidian, that the volcanoes of the island of Lipari had emitted together with the white pumice stone.
The obsidian, shiny and cutting like glass, was very precious as it was fashioned into arms and utensils and sold to other people. The Castle of Lipari soon became the stronghold of the islands, a real natural fortress with its walls facing directly onto the sea.
Centuries later, when obsidian was no longer sought after, due to the discovery of metal, the exceptional geographical position of the Aeolian archipelago was the main reason for the arrival of travellers from different lands.
The Aeolian Islands, in fact, between 2000 and 1000 B.C. with the Bronze Age, found themselves at the centre of the routes of commerce which covered the Mediterranean sea from the East to the West, following the path of the pool up till present day England, and established therefore important points of rest and supply, and also of mooring for navigators. Amongst these the first were actually those Eoli which the legends talk about which would have given the islands there name.
At this time, apart from the main island, Lipari, important extended villages of stone shacks began to be built on Filicudi, Salina and Panarea, of which historical remains can still be seen today by visiting these extremely fascinating sites.
The very famous Mycenaean civilization left its mark on the Aeolian Islands by constructing the most ancient thermal structure in the 15th century B.C., above the spring of beneficial sulphuric waters of the location of the hot springs of S. Calogero in Lipari. When the Greek colonies arrived in 580 B.C. to create new cities in Lipari and the other islands, The Aeolian Islands already had a history spanning millenniums.
The Greeks called Lipari Lipàra or Meligunìs, maybe because of the sweet climate; Salina Dydime, the twin, for its two mountains; Vulcano Hierà, sacred, for the active volcano considered the home of the god Efesto; Stromboli Strongyle, for its shape similar to a top; Alicudi Ericusa, the island of Erica; Filicudi Phenicusa and Panarea Hicesia, from the meaning which is still unknown.
All the islands were inhabited in the Greek Age, except Vulcano, which at the time was fully active. Above all the city of Lipari was splendid, rich and prosperous in its way of life, culture and craftsmanship.
It’s sufficient to think of the gorgeous hand-painted vases or the unique collection of small masks and theatrical artefacts in the burial sites of the archaeological ruins.
The acropolis, or the real heart of the city, was the Castle, where today the home of one of the most important Archaeological Museums in Europe is situated.
The museum is named after the great archaeologist Luigi Bernabò Brea who together with Madeleine Cavalier dedicated his life to the discovery of the treasures of the archipelago. Visiting the Castle of Lipari, the five pavilions of the Museum and the area of the archaeological park is like leafing through a history book and finding page after page rich in every moment and every occurrence from the past up till the present.
The Greek city, unfortunately destroyed by the Romans, extended als
o to the slopes of the Castle, in the present day district Diana, a line of mighty and powerful walls of fortification; beyond was the necropolis, with hundreds of rich burials, of which the accompanying treasures can be admired in the halls of the Museum.
The islands fell into the hands of the Romans in 252 B.C., after a long battle, which cost them centuries of freedom, continuing ,however to maintain a position of importance in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Many routes continued to pass through these seas and there are many testimonials to the frequent shipwrecks which occurred against the rocks, which deposited on the deep seabeds of the Aeolian Islands ships with cargo of jugs and vases, caught out by sudden storms and dragged by undercurrents.
The renewal of activity of the volcanoes of Lipari makes the centuries after the fall of the Roman domination very dark. A recollection of those eruptions was given to us by the German priest Willibald, passing through the islands in 729 A.D. when he told of having seen the sky frighteningly darkened by a cloud of ashes and pumice stone.
The re-population of the archipelago came about some centuries after, in 1100, with the arrival of the Normans. The building of the first Cathedral on the Castle of Lipari is attributed to them, with an annex and cloister, dedicated to the apostle Saint Bartomoleo, still today the beloved patron saint of Lipari.
Great resounding memories of the ancient past are still felt due to the terrible and violent sacking and taking of the Castle and the people of Lipari by the pirate Kaireddin Barbarossa in 1544 .
After this tragic event the Spanish under the reign of of Carl the 5th erected walls around the fortress and still today whoever arrives by sea is witness to the grandeur and beauty imposed upon the visitor seduced by it’s splendour. Only with the decrease of dangers of further pirate attacks,during the 1700’s ,did the inhabitants manage to flourish, with new fervor and alacrity.