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Aeolian islands

In winter, to the traveller going along the sinuous coast road that flanks the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Aeolian Islands (which became World Heritage in 2000) appear in the motionless and clear air like certain drawings by children, with the outlines of the islands floating between sea and turquoise sky. On warm days, instead, when haze settles on the horizon, the uncertain blue outlines of the islands look like those of an ancient fleet that has run aground, hopefully awaiting rescue. But in either season, they accompany the traveller for long stretches, and it is difficult to resist their call, as if new sirens intoned their bewitching songs from the coasts that seem so near. The Aeolians are almost magic islands, and fabulous ones: the ancient Greeks, fascinated by their changing appearance - indeed, they appear and disappear according to the whim of the clouds and the winds, changing their colour and, it would seem, even their positions - set more than one of their myths here. It is not difficult to understand this even today, though our souls are now accustomed to every form of technology, from the moment when you reach Vulcano, the first landing place of the sailor coming from the Sicilian coasts. With its dark look and the smell of sulphur floating around, it might seem indeed like the antechamber of hell... and in some respects it was hell, for the hosts of damned that, up to the end of the nineteenth century, were forced in a state of inhuman imprisonment to extract sulphur and alum from the bowels of the earth. Today of those poor wretches only the memory remains, and the island is instead a destination of tourists and vulcanologists. The former come in search of the emotion of a bath in the heated by the volcano (which has therapeutic validity for the treatment of some skin diseases) and of an ascent to the volcano cloaked in dust and sulphur crystals; the latter are attracted by the possibility of observing and studying volcanic phenomena close up, the only trace, at least for the time being, of eruptive activity that provoked huge cataclysms in the past, described by historians from the epoch of Pliny the Elder on with abundance of dreadful details. It was really an eruption that detached Vulcano from its neighbour Lipari, the pulsating heart of the archipelago, its capital since the most remote epochs, when the islands were at the centre of the flourishing trade in obsidian, the volcanic glass sought even in the most distant lands in the Mediterranean for its properties: it was not only a very sharp stone, but it also had a reputation for being thaumaturgic, magic. The village is all around two landing places and in it there is the Aeolian Archaeological Museum, one of the most important in Italy, set in the area of the castle, the fortified zone where the successive inhabitants of the island settled. In addition to finds testifying to the ancient history of the archipelago, the museum also has a vulcanological section in which the particular geology of the islands is illustrated. After a visit to the museum you can visit the church dedicated to the patron saint, St. Bartholomew, which has a beautiful ceiling; you can also see the excavations that have brought to light residences from different epochs, some prehistoric, and look out from the belvedere near the theatre, to enjoy the magnificent panorama of Marina Corta, the picturesque harbour that is one of the hearts of social life on Lipari. After you get back onto the sea a must is to sail round the island, which will allow sailors to admire caves, little bays and cliffs, before setting off for Salina, the next stage. Dominated by the massive shape of two mountains, this island is known as "the green one" because of the quantity of vegetation that covers it, and in effect its two main products are linked to nature: capers and Malvasia, a sweet liqueur known since antiquity. On Salina you can visit the village of Pollara, with a beach at the foot of a Cyclopic sheer part, and you can look for traces of Massimo Troisi, who here made Il Postino, his last film. The archipelago, besides, can boast of a long cinema history: on Stromboli, for instance, Roberto Rossellini made his film Stromboli with Ingrid Bergman, giving the public black and bare images of the island. It is nothing but the peak of a huge submarine volcano, whose activity, documented since the remotest times, never ceases, so much so that eruptions, at almost regular intervals of 15-20 minutes, even acted as a lighthouse for people who crossed the low Tyrrhenian. Today nighttime excursions are organized to see the eruptions reddening against the black velvet of the sky. Now we must speak of Panarea, a picturesque mix of sea, archaeology and social life. This island for some years has been distinguished by exclusive tourism, being preferred by the bestknown members of the international jet set. Near Punta Milazzese there is one of the prehistoric villages that are most important for the history of the archipelago, but also the splendid Cala Junco, one of the most beautiful in the Aeolian Islands. And we must also speak of the two most secluded and solitary sisters, Alicudi and Filicudi. The former, more to the west, is not an island for everybody: you need only know that there is not even one road but only paths up which you climb on foot or on a mule's back. The houses are few and tiny, concentrated in the western part, and it is only for a few years that they have had electric energy. Filicudi is also very distant from mass tourism, although less wild than its neighbour. A must is a bathe in the gigantic Sea Ox cave, as well as excursions to the Perciato and the Canna spit, a basaltic rock-stack that rises over seventy metres from the surface of the sea. And as we are talking about islands and sea, your luggage must include a mask and nozzle: in this way even less expert people can explore the magnificent seabeds, observing on the water's surface Gorgonia grasslands and the rapid flashes of every sort of fish.

(source: Sicilian World Heritage)

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