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Lipari (Sicilian: Lìpari, , ancient Greek: Meligunis) is the largest of the Aeolian Islandsmarker in the Tyrrhenian Seamarker off the north coast of Sicily, and the name of the island's main town. It has a permanent population of 11,000; during the May-September tourist season, its population may reach up to 20,000.


Lipari is the largest of a chain of islands in a volcanic archipelago that straddles the gap between Vesuviusmarker and Etnamarker. The island has a surface area of 37.6 km² and is 30 km from Sicily. Besides the main town, most of the year-round population resides in one of the four main villages: Pianoconte is almost due west across the island, Quattropani in the northwest, Acquacalda along the northern coast, and Canneto is on the eastern shore north of Lipari town.


A pumice mine just east of Acquacalda.
It is generally accepted that the island was created by a succession of four volcanic movements, the most important of which was the third one, presumably lasting from 20,000 BC to 13,000 BC. A further important phenomenon should have happened around 9,000 BC (C14 exams by Keller). The last recorded eruptions occurred in the fifth century CE when the airborne pumice covered Roman villages on the island. The volcanos are considered inactive, though steaming fumaroles may still be seen. As a result of the volcanic origins, the island is covered with pumice and obsidian. Pumice mining has become a large industry on Lipari, and the pale pumice from Lipari is shipped internationally.


Ancient history

Lipari's position has made the harbor of strategic importance. In Neolithic times Lipari was, with Sardinia, one of the few centers of the commerce of obsidian, a hard black volcanic glass prized by Neolithic peoples for the sharp cutting edge it could produce. Lipari's history is rich in incidents as is witnessed by the recent retrievals of several necropolis and other archaeological treasures. Man seems to have inhabited the island already in 5,000 BC, though a local legend gives the eponymous name "Liparus" to the leader of a people coming from Campania. Its continuous occupation may have been interrupted violently when the late 9th century Ausonian civilisation site was burned and apparently not rebuilt. Many household objects have been retrieved from the charred stratum.

Greek Colonists from Knidosmarker under Pentathlos arrived at Lipara in 580 BC and settled on the site of the village now known as Castello or la Cittade. The colony successfully fought the Etruscansmarker for control of the Tyrrhenian. Allied with Syracuse at the time of the fateful intervention of Athens in the west in 427, Lipara withstood the assault of Athenians and their allies. Carthaginian forces succeeded in holding the site briefly during their struggles with Dionysios I, tyrant of Syracuse, in 394, but once they were gone the polis entered a three-way alliance which included Dionysios' new colony at Tyndaris. Lipara prospered, but in 304 Agathokles took the town by treachery and is said to have lost pillage from it in a storm at sea. Many objects recovered from wrecks of antiquity are now in the Aeolian Museum at Lipari. Lipara became a Carthaginian naval base during the first Punic War, but fell to Roman forces in 252-251 BC, and again to Agrippa in Octavian's campaign against Pompey. Under the Roman Empire, it was a place of retreat, baths (the hydrothermic waters are still used as a spa) and exile.

History from the Middle Ages to the present day

Lipari was probably an episcopal see from the 3rd century, (first bishop was St. Agatone) and at least from the 6th century the precious relics of St. Bartholomew could be admired in its cathedral.

In the 9th century, Sicily was conquered by the Arabs, and soon Saracen pirates began to raid across the Tyrrhenian Seamarker, with dramatic effects for Lipari. In 839 the Saracens slaughtered much of the population, the relics of St. Bartholomew were moved to Beneventomarker, and Lipari was eventually almost totally abandoned. The Normans conquered the Arabs throughout Sicily between 1060 and 1090, and repopulated the island once their rule was secure. The Lipari episcopal seat was reinstated in 1131.

Though still plagued by pirate raids, the island was continually populated from this point onward. Rule of the island was passed from the Normans to the Hohenstaufen Kings, followed by the Angevins, and then the Aragonesemarker, until Carlos I, the Aragonese King became the Spanishmarker King, and then quickly was crowned Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In 1544, Ariadeno Barbarossa ransacked Lipari and deported the entire population. Charles V then had his Spanish subjects repopulate the island and build the massive city walls atop the walls of the ancient Greek acropolis in 1556.

The walls created a mighty fortress which still stands today. The acropolis, high above the main town, was a safe haven for the populace in the event of a raid. While these walls protected the main town, it was not safe to live on the rest of the island until Mediterranean piracy was largely eradicated, which did not truly end until the 19th century.

During Fascism, Lipari Island was a destination for the confinement of members of the political opposition: among them, Emilio Lussu, Carlo Rosselli, Giuseppe Ghetti.

An interesting museum has recently been created to collect a relevant part of local archaeological retrievals; its disparate sections relating to the human history of the entire Aeolian Islands from prehistoric to classical times, also cover vulcanology, marine history, and the paleontology of the western Mediterranean.

Ecclesiastical history

Count Ruggiero had founded a Benedictine abbey in Pattimarker, and in 1131 the antipope Anacletus II made Patti an episcopal see, uniting it with the Abbey of Lipari. Pope Eugenius III in 1157 confirmed the action of the antipope, the first legitimate pastor of the see being Gilbertus.In 1399, the sees of Lipari and Patti were separated.

The Symbol of Lipari

After seven years of historic research, the symbol of Lipari (a decoration of the baroque period which dates back to the 16th century) found its identity. The symbol of Lipari is uniquely displayed in the corners of few ancient-made banisters. The symbol is exhibited in the balconies and on the streets of the island. The decoration, created by able artisan hands, is achieved through the “wrought” technique to form the centre-piece (the welded central element of the unique decoration)of a unique design. However, today the symbol is found on balconies with a modern manufacture technique. The design is fused by soldering, but with less complex curves, reminiscent of Baroque tradition.

Why the Lipari symbol? The symbol represents the island of Lipari and has been re-launched from ancient times. It is present in every nook and cranny where the Baroque taste is still popular despite the introduction of new styles. Only in the last year has a historical cultural research on the decoration been completed.

Professor Antonietta Rosa Raso provided further insight after a long dialogue at the Baroque contest and I acquired a clearer historical concept of the elements which compose the symbol. The symbol of Lipari is composed of two Norman swords which cut the four winds, characterised by curls located in the four opposite points. Another important element is the centre-piece nail. The rewarding power emphasises of protection of the symbol. Firstly signified by the aesthetic design and finally the import of the symbol. The swords which cut the four winds serve as protection from the storms represented in the cardinal points of the Arabic half moon and the centre-piece nail to protect the larger shield (embodies Baroque artistry which is equipped with the powerful Spanish shields to defend itself during the bloody battles). Given the ancient traditions and import, the symbol of Lipari is ultimately an amulet to protect from misfortune.

Historical research conducted by Francesco Bertè in conjunction with Professor Antonietta Rosa Raso.Lipari 10 February 2005

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