The Seven Pearls of the Mediterranean
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the Aeolian archipelago is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea northeast of the Italian island of Sicily. The archipelago receives its name from the Greek god of the winds, Aeolus. Seven unique islands constitute the archipelago: Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Vulcano, Alicudi, and Filicudi. The formation of all seven islands is the result of volcanic activity, though only two of the islands, Stromboli and Vulcano, currently contain an active volcano. Other various forms of volcanic activity such as fumaroles, holes from which hot gases and vapors emerge, as well as the remnants of volcanoes, such as craters, are present on all seven islands.
The islands are arranged in a large “y” shape with Vulcano at the southernmost tip, Alicudi to the west, and Stromboli to the east. The archipelago is referred to by many as “The Seven Pearls of the Mediterranean” because each island is filled with untouched, natural beauty, which leaves an unforgettable impression. Each year, tens of thousands of travelers visit these islands to experience the natural beauty found on the land as well as the limpid blue waters of the sea. Continue reading to discover more about each distinct island.
The largest island of the archipelago in terms of both land area (14 square miles) and population (about 9,000 inhabitants), is Lipari. It is for this reason that the Aeolian Islands are also sometimes referred to as the Lipari Islands. The five villages on the island of Lipari are connected by a panoramic road that travels through the island. The villages include: Lipari, Pianoconte, Canneto, Quattropani, and Acquacalda. One of the most popular areas of the island is its highest point, Mount Chirica, measuring roughly 1,975 feet and providing breathtaking panoramic views of the archipelago. Lipari also contains the three main ports of the archipelago, helping the islands remain connected to nearby Sicily. This island is visited for its stunning bays and white beaches colored by pumice, the first class Archeological Museum featuring one of the finest collections of ancient artifacts in the Mediterranean, the Greek acropolis, the Lipari Cathedral built by the Normans, and the dazzling pumice caves.
Salina is the second largest of the seven islands, and it contains the highest points of elevation in the archipelago. Among these is Mount Fossa delle Felci, which at more than 3,000 feet is the highest point in all of the Aeolian Islands. Salina’s name derives from an ancient salt mine that was once located in a small lake near the area of the island called Punta Lingua. The salt mine is long gone, but the lake itself has become a haven for many migratory birds traveling to and from Africa. In this part of Salina, bird-watchers have the chance to admire egrets, bitterns, and even rare pink flamingos. Salina is also known for its beautiful beaches, a vast forest of ferns known as Fossa delle Felci, locally produced granite, and for being the setting of Massimo Troisi’s Academy Award winning final film “Il Postino”.
Panarea is the smallest of the seven islands measuring roughly 1.3 square miles, but it offers a brilliant night-life making it the most popular of the islands among young adults. It was also the first of the islands to attract large numbers of tourists thanks to its pristine coastlines, wide assortment of natural fauna, relaxing hot springs, and stunning underwater eruptions. Though Panarea is the island with the lowest points of elevation, it still features unforgettable views of the surrounding cliffs that rise from the sea. Many visitors are also drawn to the neighborhood of San Pietro which features typical houses and workshops.
Stromboli is the only island of the archipelago with permanent volcanic activity in the form of numerous minor eruptions. In fact, thanks to this continuous activity, Stromboli has lent its name to a type of volcanic eruption: the Strombolian Eruption. Visitors are drawn to the island to witness the stunning Sciara del Fuoco, which occurs when lava flows from the volcano to the coast of the island and into the sea. Because of the volcanic activity, Stromboli’s beaches are black with volcanic ash, in contrast to the white beaches of Lipari. Other attractive sites include the docks and little white houses of the village of San Vincenzo and the picturesque Strombolicchio cliff topped with a lighthouse that was built in the 1920s.
According to Greek and Roman mythology, Vulcano is the supposed location for the forge of Hephaestus, the god of fire, blacksmiths, and volcanoes. This distinction is quite appropriate thanks to the continuous activity that occurs on Vulcano in the form of fumaroles and above-ground and underwater steam currents. There is also an abundance of sulfuric mud present on the island, which is revered for its therapeutic properties. Points of interest include the alum and sulfur caves, the large crater known as Gran Cratere della Fossa, the cave Grotta del Cavallo filled with stalagmites and stalactites, and the Valle dei Mostri that is filled with unique rock formations resembling monsters.
One of the youngest islands, estimated by scientists to be merely 90,000 years old, is the island of Alicudi. Today, the island is scarcely inhabited and it does not have any roads navigable by car. The western side of the island features many cliffs, while, in contrast, the eastern side is filled with terraces, evidence of the island’s rich agricultural past. This island, along with Filicudi, attracts visitors who wish to relax and remove themselves from the bustle found on the other islands. Thanks to its rich natural beauty and persistent silence due to the absence of cars, this island is deemed the wildest and most remote of the archipelago.
Like Alicudi, Filicudi is a small, remote island perfect for visitors who wish to experience a peaceful sojourn and remove themselves from the chaos of everyday life. The few inhabitants of the island mostly reside in houses with thick white walls that stand out beautifully against the bright blue backdrop of sea. Visible from the island is the rock stack known as La Canna, which rises from the sea to a height of more than 250 feet. Other sites include the Scoglio della Fortuna, a stunning rock formation that has created a natural pool with crystalline water perfect for diving, and the Grotta del Bue Marino, a cave on the water which refracts light in awe-inspiring ways.