Aeolian Islands Hystory
The Aeolian Islands, situated north of Messina in the heart of the Mediterranean, are a group of seven islands of volcanic origin, known as the islands of the God of Fire and Wind. In Homer’s adventures of Ulysses, the Greek God of Winds, Aeolus entrusted him with a goatskin bottle containing the winds with the order never to open it, something his wretched companions did making the journey towards Ithaca ever-more treacherous.
Not only known as the land of the God of Winds, but also the God of Fire; Vulcano, the southern-most island is the legendary home of the God of Fire, Ephesus, who delivered the mythical fumaroles.
The island group boast a rich history equivalent of its fertile land. Inhabited since 4000 B.C, in the Neolithic age, as there was a significant presence of obsidian, a hard black volcanic glass which was widely used to make sharp objects, and was one of the few trade centres of obsidian in the Mediterranean, and therefore a prosperous area. In fact, Lipari was also the most densely populated area in the Neolithic age as many preservations show at the Archaeological Museum situated at the castle which dominates the town.
In 264 B.C, at the beginning of the First Punic war, Lipari was allied with Carthaginians who underwent repeated attacks by Roman fleets. Successively in 252 B.C, the Roman Counsellor Caio Aurelius declared the island a Roman colony. Between 37 and 36 B.C it was conquered by Octavian against Sextus Pompeius, and the partisans of Pompeius were exiled in the region of Campania.
Under the Roman Empire the islands were prosperous, as they were a commercial trading area for sulphur, Alum Rock and salt. After the fall of the Roman Empire the arrival of the Byzantines sent the islands into decadence, and were replenished only with the arrival of the Normans who erected the castle of Lipari.
Until 1340 the islands saw alternative populations of Svevians, Angioins and Aragons, whose governments assured prosperity.
A fundamental historic moment was the looting and attack of Lipari in 1544 by a Turkish fleet headed by Corsair Ariadne Barbarossa, who after 11 days of attack imprisoned around 8,000 of Lipari’s inhabitants and deported them to Turkish territory, where they were used as slaves.
Carlo V attempted to re-populate the islands by encouraging the Spanish and residents of Campania to inhabit the islands and re-built them. However, it took more than a century before the population rose to over 10,000, after slow re-construction. It was not until pirates practically disappeared, towards the end of the 1700’s, that the inhabitants began leaving the higher areas of the islands and populated lower ground. Lipari was then part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s until modern day.
With the intensification of maritime fleets at the beginning of the 19th century, Lipari flourished thanks to its strategic position as it was an obligatory stop-off point. Economic growth improved and in 1891 the island’s population grew to 20,000. However, the islands suffered famine as the plant lice, phylloxeridae, destroyed the vineyards bringing poverty and famine, resulting in significant migration towards the New World.
Today, agriculture, fishing and tourism are the main sources of economy. Over the last 50 years there has been a significant growth in tourism, not only due to the breath-taking natural features of the islands but also their history and culture, recognized in 2000 under the UNESCO world culture heritage.
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