On the north of the Sicilian coast, in Messina district, lies a lost world of pure nature and astounding silence in the Tyrrhenian sea. It is the volcanic archipelago of the Aeolian Islands.
This amazing archipelago, with its many beaches, coves, bays and sea stacks, in addition to fumaroles and ancient mule tracks surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, was, according to mythology, the dwelling of Aeolus, god of all winds, from whom the islands have inherited their name “Aeolian”.
The Aeolian Islands are Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Alicudi, Filicudi, in addition to the two volcanoes Stromboli and Vulcano, and five smaller islands, which are Basiluzzo, Dattilo, Lisca Nera, Bottaro and Lisca Bianca.
Its extraordinary nature, the magnificent fusion of sky and sea, which have witnessed the birth of this natural masterpiece in the Quaternary period, have earned the archipelago a place in UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000.
The islands, like huge splinters of lava soil emerging from their abyssal womb, have been inhabited from ancient times, and, because of their favourable position, were colonized by Greek settlers six centuries before Christ. The archipelago was a thriving commercial hub thanks to the local manufacturing of obsidian.
The advantages of this area caught the attention of the Roman Empire and the Carthaginians, and resulted in one of the battles between the two peoples. In later times, the Aeolian Islands were conquered by the Arab fleet and inhabited by the Spanish community.
Every isle of the y-shaped archipelago shows traces of the populations who used to live there, and is an object of interest, on an international scale, for volcanologists and botanists, because of the presence of more than 900 species of plants on the islands.
Each and everyone of them stands out for its unique characteristics.
The biggest and most inhabited island is Lipari, which can be proud of its archaeological museum, a cultural and artistic gem, while Panarea is one of the most renown as a prestigious destination of the international tourism.
Salina is the second biggest isle and it is also named “the garden of the Aeolians”, or the “Green Island”. It is famous for its fern forest, its capers production and the delicious malvasia wine, one of the most known local products; it was brought to the international attention also because it was the set of the Italian film “Il Postino- The Postman”, starring the lamented Neapolitan actor Massimo Troisi, a film about poetry and life, which had 5 Oscar nominations, and even won one.
If the tourist preferred to see the “wild side” of the archipelago, on its western side, Alicudi e Filicudi are the living proof of an uncontaminated past, far from the chaotic globalization era.
According to Greek mythology, the black sand shores of Vulcano hosted the forges of Hephaestus, god of the fire and divine blacksmith, a superstition clearly suggested by the constant jets of vapour coming from both the surface of the island and the sea surrounding it. In addition to the power of this scenario, the therapeutic sulphurous mud of Vulcano clearly states the primordial relation between man and Nature.
Last but not least comes “the black pearl” of the Aeolian Islands, Stromboli and its active volcano, which frequently eructates, offering a show of extraordinary power to the eye of the beholder and giving life to the so called Sciara del Fuoco, a continuous lava stream ending up into the sea. Other sights worth seeing on the island are the small village of Ginostra, a small group of white houses clinging to a cliff and the Strombolicchio rock, originated by one of the eldest volcanic eruption in the Aeolian Islands and crowned by a huge lighthouse.
A perfect film set, so perfect, in fact, to be chosen by Ingmar Bergman for its “Stromboli Terra di Dio (Stromboli land of God)” in the 1950s.
Easy to be reached by ferry or hydrofoil from Palermo or Milazzo, the Aeolian Islands, forged by water and fire, like mythological giants emerging from the sea, remind the tourist of an ancient, primeval past; the violent clash of the natural elements creates a surprising scenario of rare beauty, at times delicate, at times powerful, which involves the eye and never tires the visitor, for it is ever- changing.
The archipelago could be defined as a sort of “Mediterranean melting pot”, where culture and nature, relax and adventure blend to give the visitor a savoury cocktail for all tastes, as it happens in the Salina Doc Fest, a festival of narrative documentaries which is an annual meeting point for film- makers coming from many countries.