The Aeolian Islands (Italian: Isole Eolie, pronounced [ˈiːzole eˈɔːlje], Sicilian: Ìsuli Eoli, Greek: Αιολίδες Νήσοι) 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 Aeolians (Italian: Eoliani). The Aeolian Islands are a popular tourist destination in the summer, and attract up to 200,000 visitors annually.
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.
Scientifically the archipelago is defined as a volcanic arc. The origin of the Aeolian Islands is due to movement of the Earth's crust as 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 "Aeolian Arc" extends for more than 140 kilometres (87 miles), but the area of geological instability caused by the collision of Africa and Europe is much larger. It includes Sicily, Calabria, and 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 Aeolian 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.
During the Bronze Age, the Aeolians prospered by means of maritime commerce in an area which extended from Mycenae to the British isles, from where tin was imported. Villages on the Aeolian islands flourished on Capo Graziano (Filicudi), Castello (Lipari), Serro dei Cianfi (Salina), Capo Milazzese (Panarea), and Portella (Salina). All these settlements were destroyed by the new Italic invasions in 1250 BC.
The Aeolian Islands were occupied by the Ausonians led by Liparus. Liparus was succeeded by Aeolus whose house, according to Homer, gave hospitality to Odysseus.
6th–4th century BC
In 580 BC, Greeks exiled from Rhodes and Knidos landed at Lipari and began a period of Greek domination, which was known for acts of piracy against Etruscan and Phoenician shipping. There was fine work in the production of vases and other ceramics.
3rd century BC – 3rd century AD
The islanders were allies of the Carthaginians against Rome. Although the Battle of the Lipari Islands in 260 BC led to Carthaginian victory, the Romans later sacked Lipari and their domination led to a period of 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 which contained the body of Bartholomew was washed upon the beach of Lipari, with the result that Bartholomew was 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 sacked Lipari, massacred the population, and enslaved the survivors.
11th–15th century AD
The Normans liberated Sicily from the Arabs and laid the foundations of a period of good government and renewal. King Ruggero sent the Benedictine monks to Lipari, which gave rise to considerable development on the islands. A cathedral dedicated to Saint Bartholomew was built, as well as the Benedictine monastery in the castle. Lipari became a bishopric and agriculture made progress in Salina, as well as the smaller islands. In 1208 Frederick II of Swabia acceded to the throne of Sicily. The period of prosperity which followed, and which was consolidated during the course of his reign, ended with the domination of the Angevins and the rebellion of the Sicilians which culminated in the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers. The Aeolians however, remained loyal to Charles of Anjou, and commercial links were established with Naples, the capital of the Angevin kingdom. In 1337 Lipari opened its gates to the French fleet without resistance, and in return obtained various commercial and fiscal benefits. In the middle of the 15th century, Naples and Palermo united in the Kingdom of the two Sicilies under the crown of Alfonso V of Aragon. The Aeolian privileges were recognized. Aeolian privateers fought alongside 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 occupied Lipari and laid siege to the castle. The desperate defense of Lipari was no match for the terrible havoc caused by the Muslim cannonade, and the defenders surrendered. 9,000 of the 10,000 citizens of Lipari were captured and enslaved. Many had already been killed while others were finished off while attempting to escape. A number of citizens were ransomed in Messina and returned to the islands. Only after the tragedy did the Spanish authorities turn their attention to Lipari and repopulate the city with Sicilian, Calabrian and Spanish families. The city walls and houses were rebuilt and an Aeolian fleet was constructed which was able to successfully defend the Tyrrhenian Sea from the Turks.
At the beginning of the year 1693, an 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 improved greatly during the 17th century with agricultural progress (malvasia grapes, Capers, excellent variety of fruit, vegetables and fishing). With the Bourbons came the affliction of criminal and political prisoners. This unhappy imposition continued and worsened until the unification of Italy. In 1916, the penal colony was closed but the fascist regime tried to reopen it in 1926 — in vain. The island population reacted by pulling down the remains of the ex-penitentiary in the castle. However, not long after, the castle was converted to accommodate anti-fascist political prisoners 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 Aeolian Archaeological Museum.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Aeolian Islands were visited by Archduke Ludwig Salvator 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.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
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 pose a threat to the islands' place on the list, according to the Italian UNESCO Commission.