You may wish to read an introduction to this section first.
View of Lipari from the Rome-Catania flight (above-enhanced contrast) and from the ferry from Milazzo (below)
On this side of Sicily, at a distance of nearly 25 miles from Italy, are the seven islands called the Aeolian, as also the Liparaean islands; by the Greeks they are called the Hephaestiades, and by our writers the Vulcanian Isles; they are called "Aeolian" because in the Trojan times Aeolus was king there.
Pliny the Elder - Historia Naturalis - Book III - Translation by John Bostock and H. T. Riley
Lipari is eighteen miles in circumference. The entire island is composed of a great variety of volcanic products amongst which are large masses of black and very hard compact glass, great quantity of pumices hard, porous and frangible. There are a great variety of vitrifications differing in colour and substance. The hard and dark coloured is found in all parts of the island, but in the greatest quantity on and in the vicinity of the Campo Bianco or pumice mountain. The varieties of glass or vitrified matter also differ much in their weight.
Sir George Cockburn (at the time a British Naval Officer) - A Voyage to Cadiz and Gibraltar: up the Mediterranean to Sicily and Malta in 1810/11
View of the old town
January 31st. We had a pleasant run to Lipari and passed Volcano which is smoking much. The town and castle of Lipari is beautifully situated. We are lodged at the British Consul's: the Governor came and asked us to supper and a very good one he gave us: he lives in the castle which stands high. The air feels cold but even at this season of the year we could walk on the terrace in the evening without hats to admire the prospect of the sea and rocks by moon light. (..) The old town of Lipari and the Cathedral is within the castle and ramparts on a high rock. (..) The view of the castle and town of Lipari from the sea is beautiful. Cockburn
(left) Chiesa dell'Immacolata and S. Caterina behind it; (right) evidence of early settlements near Chiesa dell'Immacolata
During the XIXth century and until 1945 the castle and the old town were turned into a penal colony. The local population was relocated outside the wall of the castle. After WWII many of the small buildings which housed the convicts were demolished and this led to unearthing foundations of very ancient dwellings. The site was a natural fortress which was protected on three sides by high cliffs and this explains why it was inhabited since prehistoric times. Today it is no longer inhabited and most of its remaining buildings house the Archaeological Museum of Lipari.
Deep excavations found evidence that the site was populated already in the Vth millennium BC. Some of the walls shown above belong to a culture which is called Milazzese because the pottery which was found there is similar to that unearthed in mainland Sicily near Milazzo. Lipari and the other islands could be easily reached from there. They are dated XIVth century BC. Other walls are named after the Ausoni, an ethnic group which reached the island from the southern part of the Italian peninsula in the XIIIth century BC and controlled it until the Xth century. Stromboli, an active volcano and the northernmost island of the archipelago, is clearly visible at sunset from many locations of the peninsula.
The natural resources which Lipari offered to the first settlers were small patches of very fertile soil and abundance of fish in its sea, because of the periodical migration of tuna fish and swordfish. These resources however do not explain how the islanders could pay for artefacts which came from Sicily or Italy or even Greece. The "gold" of Lipari was obsidian, a sort of hard glass of volcanic origin, which fractured into pieces with sharp edges. Before the development of metallurgy these pieces were used as utensils and as heads for spears and arrows, but even after they were replaced by bronze and iron tools, obsidian was highly valued because it could be used for luxury items, including mirrors.
Archaeological Museum of Lipari: reconstruction of a necropolis of the Ausoni
A necropolis of the Ausoni shows that they had two different methods for disposing of human corpses: 1) after cremation the ashes of the dead were put inside small vessels having the shape of a bucket; 2) the entire dead body was placed inside pithoi (large storage containers). It appears that the bodies were placed in a way that resembled the position of a foetus in the womb; this practice has been identified in many parts of Greece. The vessels often contained small artefacts: statues, small pots, jewels.
Walls of the old town and the only access to it; the central photo shows stones of the first Greek fortifications
So we came to the floating island of Aeolia, where Aeolus lived, son of Hippotas, dear to the deathless gods. A wall of unbroken bronze surrounds it, and the cliffs are sheer. In those halls his twelve children live as well, six daughters and six fine sons, and he has given his daughters to his sons in marriage. They are always feasting with their brave father and good mother, with endless good food set before them. All day long the house is full of savoury smells, and the courtyard echoes to the banquet's sound, while at night they sleep by the wives they love, on well-covered well-strung beds.
We came, then, to their city with its fine palace, and Aeolus entertained me there for a month, questioning me on everything: Troy, the Argive fleet, and the Achaean return. And I told him the whole tale in order. When I asked, in turn, to depart with his help, he too denied me nothing. He gave me a leather bag, made from the flayed hide of a nine-year old ox, and imprisoned all the winds there.
Homer - Odyssey - Book X - translation by A. S. Kline
The association between Lipari and the floating island of King Aeolus was first made by Philitas of Cos, a Greek philosopher and poet (ca 340-285 BC). Lipari was colonized by the Greeks in the VIIth century BC.
Necropolis with Greek sarcophagi outside the old town
After WWII a large necropolis outside the old town was excavated. It had been used for many centuries even after the Roman conquest of the island during the First Punic War. The sarcophagi contained many artefacts of the Vth and IVth centuries BC which show that the inhabitants were in close contact with the Greek world and could afford to import some luxury items from it. The image used as background for this page shows a golden earring of the IVth century BC at the archaeological museum.
Archaeological Museum of Lipari: "Tanagra" statues
A number of small statues depicting women involved in ordinary activities were placed inside some sarcophagi. They have a toy-like appearance. It has been suggested that they were made for young girls becoming adults and then were buried with their mistresses. They are named after an ancient town in mainland Greece where they were first found.
Archaeological Museum of Lipari: stock characters, dancers and theatrical masks
A large group of small artefacts related to Greek tragedies and comedies was found in the necropolises of the island. They are dated IVth and IIIrd century BC and they portray stock characters and dancers. Their fine execution and the variety of subjects indicate that the inhabitants of Lipari were very fond of theatre.
Site of the Greek Theatre and modern reconstruction of its likely layout
Archaeologists found evidence of a small theatre at the southern end of the old town. Similar to many other Greek theatres (e.g. those at Tindari and Taormina) it most likely enjoyed a commanding view before new walls were built in the XVIth century.
A large number of different types of Greek vases were found on the island, but those which most raised the interest of the archaeologists were made locally by a painter who utilized several colours, rather than red and black only. His works are dated beginning of the IIIrd century BC.
Lipara, with a town whose inhabitants enjoy the rights of Roman citizens, is so called from Liparus, a former king who succeeded Aeolus. Lipari was listed by Pliny the Elder among the towns of Sicily in the Ist century AD and a Bishop of Lipari attended a synod in Rome in 501, but the island retains limited evidence of the Roman and Byzantine rules. In 838 the Arabs raided the island and deported its inhabitants.
Norman cloister of the Cathedral; (insets) details of two capitals
The history of Lipari started again after its conquest by the Normans in the XIth century. The island was repopulated by founding a Benedictine abbey there and by assigning large estates in mainland Sicily to it. The abbots were able to attract new settlers. Eventually Lipari became a bishopric see. In 1544 corsair Hayruddin Barbarossa (Red Beard) seized and destroyed the town and sold its inhabitants into slavery. The cloister of the Cathedral is almost the only medieval monument of Lipari. It was built making use of ancient columns, but not of ancient capitals.
(left) XVIth century walls seen from Marina Corta, the old harbour; (right) SS. Anime del Purgatorio at the old harbour
The raid by Barbarossa was part of a long struggle for hegemony in the Mediterranean Sea between Emperor Charles V and Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The Emperor conquered Tripoli and Tunis, but Ottoman corsairs retorted by raiding the coasts of Italy and Spain. Lipari was repopulated by the Emperor and the town was protected by state-of-the-art fortifications. The same occurred at nearby Milazzo and in other coastal towns of Sicily. Eventually Tripoli and Tunis returned into Suleyman's hands, but the failed Ottoman siege of Malta in 1565 and the Christian victory at Lepanto in 1571 reduced the likeliness of an invasion of Sicily. The inhabitants of Lipari could live without having fear of being sold at Suq el-Berka, the slave market of Tunis, but the same did not apply to the inhabitants of the other islands.
The Cathedral was rebuilt soon after 1544, but it was entirely redesigned in the XVIIIth century. The fašade is dated 1761 and the decoration of the interior is of the same period. In 1931 a direct access to the Cathedral was opened in the walls of the town at the request of the Bishop. The new street was named Via del Concordato in order to celebrate the 1929 Treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See which settled the Roman Question.
Cathedral: (left) interior; (right) coat of arms of Lipari showing St. Bartholomew the Apostle
I visited the Church which like all in Sicily has several beautiful marble altars and some fresco pictures with all the usual horrible subjects of boiling, flaying or beheading saints; and there is also a large silver Saint, the patron of the Church; however he could not save it from a thunder bolt which struck the front two years ago at the top and rent the wall to the very bottom. Cockburn
According to tradition the body of St. Bartholomew washed up at Lipari in 264 and it was kept in the cathedral of the time until the Arabs seized the town. The relics were moved to Benevento, but in 983 part of them was relocated to S. Bartolomeo all'Isola Tiberina in Rome.
Other churches: (left) S. Antonio; (centre/right) Madonna delle Grazie
The fact that Lipari was a bishopric see led some religious orders to build monasteries and nunneries. S. Antonio was part of a Capuchin monastery which was founded in the XVIth century. The order left the island after a short period and when the Capuchins came back they built another monastery and Chiesa dell'Immacolata. The construction of Madonna delle Grazie began in the early XVIIIth century and it was promoted by a Bishop of Lipari. There are two other churches in the old town: S. Caterina and Chiesa dell'Addolorata.
View of Marina Corta and of Vulcano in the distance
Travellers, in order to complete their
Tour round the Sea-coast of Sicily, usually prefer, wind and weather permitting, to embark in a Speronara at
Messina, visiting the Lipari Islands, and going thence to Cefalu; instead of going by land to the latter Place: for
although the Mule-track is good, as far as Milazzo, it is rough and mountainous thence to Cefalu.
This little voyage, generally speaking, occupies about three days; and is not incommodious; because a Speronara
has a deck, with a fixed awning for Passengers; who eat and sleep under it; finding their own mattresses, pillows and coverlets.
The following account is an extract from the Journal of an English Gentleman who went from Messina to Cefalu by sea, during Midsummer, 1826: "We set out at seven in the morning in our Speronara, with a Helmsman, 10 Rowers, and 2 Boys. (..) We steered with a fair wind for Lipari; and at about half-past seven in the morning were close to its remarkable Hill of White Pumice; which is exported in large quantities, and a source of wealth to the Island. We cast anchor close to the Lazzaretto at 10 o'clock; and remained on board till 1; waiting for our passports; because the Authorities were not quickly found, it being a Festa. At one, however, the British Vice-Consul, hearing of our arrival, invited us to his house; and received us most hospitably."
Mariana Starke - Travels in Europe for the Use of Travellers on the Continent and likewise in the Island of Sicily - 1838 Edition - based on a travel to Sicily made in 1834.
An island, its rocks smoking, rises steeply by
the Sicilian coast, near the flanks of Aeolian Lipare.
Beneath it a cave, and the galleries of Etna, eaten at
by the Cyclopean furnaces, resound, and the groans from
the anvils are heard echoing the heavy blows,
and masses of Chalybean steel hiss in the caverns,
and fire breathes through the furnaces. It is Vulcan's home
and called Vulcania.
Virgil - Aeneid - Book VIII - translation by A. S. Kline
This literary quotation made many travellers of the past land on this then uninhabited island.
We slept on Lipari: and embarking next morning at a quarter before four, reached the Bay of Vulcano at a quarter before five. The Bay exhibits Wild Rocks. This Island rose out of the sea 202 years previous to the Christian era; and was consecrated by the Greeks to Vulcan: indeed all the Lipari Islands were denominated Vulcani Insula. We landed at five; and in a quarter of an hour reached the base of the Crater; to the summit of which the ascent is gradual, the path good, and the time occupied in ascending about 40 minutes. We went down by an easy declivity into the Crater; which is deep, grand, and exceedingly splendid with respect to the colours of its crystal-sulphurs, large numbers of which are continually collected. On retracing our steps we reached the summit at 10 minutes past 7; and embarked in our Speronara at 8. Having cleared Vulcano, we steered for Cefalu. Starke
"Fumarole" (small emissions of steam and gases) at Vulcano
Volcano far exceeds Etna and Vesuvius as an object of natural curiosity. It is still a burning mountain and affording the greatest variety of volcanic productions that can be conceived. (..) Volcano affords every thing that the naturalist, the philosopher or the curious traveller can desire in this branch of natural history. I shall always think of the day with pleasure. (..) I remained scrambling about the Volcano till 4 o clock. With some difficulty I got the guide to go with me over some heaps of this volcanic matter to a spot on the opposite side of the crater from whence there issued a hot spring the water appeared very clear. Before this I was almost suffocated and burned: every button of my coat was turned black by the smoke and sulphur and the epaulets ruined; the Sicilian officers who came down with me had unluckily new uniforms on and they were totally spoiled. Cockburn
We passed the island of Panaria about 1 o clock PM. The Moors landed here a year ago and carried off nineteen men, women and children, all of whom they sold in Barbary. Cockburn
A fair breeze during the night brought us near Stromboli , the ancient Strongyle, where, with occasional rowing, we arrived at nine in the morning. By the aid of a letter of recommendation to a Priest, called Don Giuseppe, we procured a room to dine in, and feasted on exquisite figs. At half-past two we set out for the summit of the Mountain, finding the ascent rapid, and the heat excessive. The depth of the sand, and the steepness of the path, render this ascent more toilsome than those of Etna and Vesuvius: it occupied nearly three hours. From the summit we saw the Crater about half-way down; and the sight was grand and imposing. The Eruptions were only occasional; and resounded like cannon, shaking the ground. Starke
1777 watercolour by Charles Gore showing, Stromboli, Strombolicchio, a nearby islet, and Mount Etna
in the evening we re-embarked; and
rowed under the Island till we came in
sight of the beautiful little Volcano.
Two small Mouths threw up fire incessantly; that on the south being the most
active; and, at intervals, its force increased: while a northern Mouth, between every 6th and 10th minute,
threw up large quantities of stones: but they were ejected with less violence than those thrown from the opposite
side. The finest Eruption we saw startled us; for it began with a sound, like the discharge of artillery; which
was followed by a shower of stones so vivid that the whole side of the Mountain glowed with these bounding red-hot
balls. Some of the largest broke to pieces as they rebounded against others; but, before they reached the sea, their
heat was nearly gone. These Eruptions, reflected in the water, were magnificent. Starke
At seven in the evening, with the western horizon all golden from the sunken sun, and specked with distant ships, the full moon sailing high over head, the dark blue of the sea under foot (..) we sighted superb Stromboli. (..) Distance clothed him in a purple gloom, and added a veil of shimmering mist that so softened his rugged features that we seemed to see him through a web of silver gauze. His torch was out; his fires were smouldering; a tall column of smoke that rose up and lost itself in the growing moonlight was all the sign he gave that he was a living Autocrat of the Sea and not the spectre of a dead one.
Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad - 1867
Campo Bianco at Lipari (pumice quarries)
We sailed at 9 o clock AM from Stromboli and arrived near Lipari before 3 o clock. As we had sufficient time we landed at the White Mountain called Campo Bianco; it is composed of pumice stone. After viewing it we re-embarked and got into Lipari harbour in an hour. Cockburn.
The quarries were closed in 2005. They were the main economic resource of the island between 1800 and 1950.
View of Salina from the Rome-Catania flight (above) and from the ferry from Milazzo (below)
Salina, named after salt-works which existed in the island, was called Didyme (twins) by the ancient Greeks because of its two extinct volcanoes. It is the second largest island of the archipelago and that with more farming opportunities. It is renowned for its capers and its big lemons.
Lemons at S. Maria di Salina
Plan of this section:
Agrigento - The Main Temples
Agrigento - Other Monuments
Catania - Ancient Monuments
Catania - Around Piazza del Duomo
Catania - Via dei Crociferi
Catania - S. Niccol˛ l'Arena
Palermo - Gates and City Layout
Palermo - Norman-Arab Monuments
Palermo - Martorana and Cappella Palatina
Palermo - Medieval Palaces
Palermo - Cathedral
Palermo - Churches of the Main Religious Orders
Palermo - Other Churches
Palermo - Oratories
Palermo - Palaces of the Noble Families
Palermo - Public Buildings and Fountains
Palermo - Museums
Piazza Armerina and Castelvetrano
Reggio Calabria - Archaeological Museum
Selinunte - The Acropolis
Selinunte - The Eastern Hill
Syracuse - Main Archaeological Area
Syracuse - Other Archaeological Sites
Syracuse - Castello Eurialo
Syracuse - Ancient Ortigia
Syracuse - Medieval Monuments
Syracuse - Renaissance Monuments
Syracuse - Baroque and Modern Monuments
Taormina - Ancient Monuments
Taormina - Medieval Monuments
Villa del Casale