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main index   ©  Jeff Matthews   entry Aug 2015

The Islands of Sicily
 
or the Island of the Sirens?

The only official Island of the Sirens that I know of is a 1943 20th Century Fox musical by that name—but only in Italian. The original English is Coney Island, starring Betty Grable and probably some other people. I mention this because as I was looking for ways to spend my enormous wealth, I came across an article on a new wet wrinkle for the “discerning” (super-rich)—namely, portable islands:

Want to own your own island but can't find one in your desired location? The world's first portable islands will let the super-rich create eco-friendly getaways anywhere on Earth. Each island home will adhere to the customer's every need - with the renderings including options such as swimming pools, boat docks and greenery.

I was undecided—towing fees would be enormous. "Middle of the Pacific Ocean, please, and step on it." What else have they got? Ah...

If you're more interested in a traditional private island, then take a look at these stunning and remote properties.

There were some in the Caribbean, Maine, and, lo and behold, Italy—those were listed, strangely, as the Island of Sirens, Italy.

Even in Naples, when we say “Sirens” we think of “Siren Alley” (as it is known to the less discerning of us), the length of coastline that makes up the eastern side of the Sorrentine peninsula, that stretch known as the Amalfi coast. They have Li Galli islands, for example, but nothing called Island of the Sirens. I think the only place that calls itself the Anything of the Siren(s) besides all the restaurants (even some in the Alps)—the only piece of land that could remotely be compared to an island—appears to be Lo Scoglio delle Sirene [The Rock of the Sirens] just off the island of Vulcano in the Aeolian archipelago north of Sicily. Nice rock, but no swimming pool, boat dock or greenery. It's in this photo somewhere, a shot of the rest of the Aeolians taken from Vulcano.

The Italian constitution specifies that “Sicily, with the Aeolian islands, the Aegadian islands, the Pelagie Islands, Ustica and Pantelleria, constitutes an autonomous region.” (Sicily, of course, is the Big Island, but for the rest of this discussion, I am not counting it as an island. It's the mainland. This is about the islands around Sicily.) The above-mentioned islands and archipelagoes are part of the Italian region of Sicily. There are big and small islands, all in all over 100. None of the small ones are inhabited; 18 of the larger ones are. Taken together, the islands around Sicily make up a bit more than 1% of the total land area of the region of Sicily. That is, about 285 km² out of 26,000 km² for all of the region of Sicily. About 33,00 persons live on the islands around the Big Island of Sicily.

The main groups of islands or archipelagoes around Sicily (see map at top) are the Aeolians, the Aegadies, and the Pelagie islands; smaller groups are the islands of the Stagnone and the Cyclopean Isles, to the west and east, respectively, of the main body of Sicily. Individual islands are Ustica to the north in the Tyrrhenian sea and Pantelleria in the Sicily canal to the south. From a geologic and historical point of view, even the Maltese islands (south of Sicily, shaded light-grey on the map) that now make up the Republic of Malta, are part of the so-called "Sicilian archipelago". On the other hand, the Pelagie islands, particularly Lampedusa and Lampione, are really a peripheral part of Italy, politically; geologically and geographically, they are part of the continent of Africa, meaning that they rest on the African tectonic plate.

Specifically:

the Aeolians (named for the Greek god of the wind) - Group of seven main islands: Lipari (the largest; thus, the Aeolians may also be called the Lipari islands), Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea. Strombol (pictured)i and Vulcano are both active volcanoes and erupt frequently. Scientifically,  the archipelago is part of a "volcanic arc" that includes the nearby island of Ustica (mentioned below) and a series of submerged volcanoes to the north named Magnani, Vavilov, Marsili and Palinuro, as well as two that are unnamed. The Aeolian islands are on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of their scientific importance (from the UNESCO description):

The Aeolian Islands provide an outstanding record of volcanic island-building and destruction, and ongoing volcanic phenomena. Studied since at least the 18th century, the islands have provided the science of vulcanology with examples of two types of eruption (Vulcanian and Strombolian) and thus have featured prominently in the education of geologists for more than 200 years. The site continues to enrich the field of vulcanology.

The Aeolians together have a total stable population of about 14,000 persons, but, as an increasingly popular summer vacation destination, are swarmed with at least 200,000 visitors during that period.


the Aegadies - are the three islands of Favignana, Marettimo, Levanzo and a few smaller rocks in the sea, 7 km off the western coast of Sicily between Trapani and Marsala. It is interesting anthropologically as there are traces of early human habitation from the Stone Age. Historically, the islands were in the hands of the Phoenicians and were the site of the last  naval battle of the First Punic War in which the Romans defeated the Carthaginian fleet and definitively annexed all of Sicily. The stable population of the three islands is a few hundred persons, but the summer tourist trade adds to that number considerable. The islands are the site the Protected Marine Reserve of the Aegadies Island, instituted in 1991 and the largest of its kind in Europe.

the Pelagies - The Pelagie Islands are the three small islands of Lampedusa, Linosa, and Lampione, located in the Mediterranean Sea between Malta and Tunisia, south of Sicily. To the northwest lies the island of Pantelleria and the Strait of Sicily. Geographically, Lampedusa and Lampione belong to the African continent. The islands have been largely deforested and are relatively barren even of what used to be native olive groves. The stable population is about 4500. Although the island is a potential vacation spot for tourism, the recent geopolitical situation in North Africa has made it less and less desirable since the island is a main goal for refugees from that continent, most of them embarking in Libya. The Libya-Lampedusa refugee smuggling route is notoriously perilous, even deadly. The refugee population of the island threatens to overwhelm facilities to handle them. The island is the site of a marine protected area, instituted in 2002, concerned with preserving the Loggerhead Sea Turtle.                   (pictured: northeastern cliffs of Lampedusa)

the islands of the Stagnone - These are four islands (termed a 'microarchipelago') of San Pantaleo (Mozia), Isola Grande, Schola, and Santa Maria that make up the perimeter of and small islands within the Stagnone lagoon, off the coast of Marsala in the west, the largest lagoon in Sicily. San Pantaleo (Mozio) was an ancient Phoenecian colony, and the whole lagoon is today a protected regional nature preserve.


the Cyclopean Isles - another microarchipelago, these isles (pictured) are located in the shadow of Mt. Etna in the east.  The Cyclopean isles are thought to have been at one time joined to the mainland. The isles consist of Lachea, the large faraglione (rock), the small faraglione, and four other prominent rocks arrayed in the form of an arc. The name reveals the role they play in Homer's Odyssey. Indeed, these isles were the abode of the one-eyed monsters called the Cyclopes. The rocks in the water are said to be the missiles hurled by the blinded cyclops Polifemus at the fleeing Ulysses:
Ripping off the peak of a towering crag, he heaved it
so hard the boulder landed just in front of our dark prow
and a huge swell reared up as the rock went plunging under--
a tidal wave from the open sea. The sudden backwash
drove us landward again, forcing us close inshore...
--Homer, The Odyssey, book IX lines 538-542 (trans. Robert Fagles)
Ustica - The single island of Ustica is 67 km/41 miles NW of the city of Palermo on Sicily. It is about 3.5 km long and 2.5 km wide and has a stable population of about 1300. It is not part of the relatively nearby Aeolian group. It is isolated and surrounded by relatively deep water, which makes is attractive for scuba diving, the main tourist draw. It shows evidence of stone-age inhabitants and may have been settled permanently from the Aeolians. It has been more or less constantly inhabited in historic times: Phonecians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans; as well, there was a Benedictine monastery built on the island in the 6th century AD. It was the site of  battles between Christian and Muslims and the victim of numerous Saracen raids. It was fortified by the Kingdom of Naples in 1759 and in more recent times served as an island of exile for political prisoners under Mussolini in the 1920s and '30s. In spite of the scarcity of water, there is an ongoing attempt to develop tourism.

Pantelleria - is a single island in the Strait of Sicily, 100 km/62 mi southwest of Sicily and 60 km (37 mi) east of the Tunisian coast, which can seen in the distance. The island is part of the Sicilian province of Trapani. It has an area of 83 km2 (32 mi2) and is the largest volcanic satellite island of Sicily.
The island is the summit of a largely underwater volcanic complex that last erupted in 1891 below sea level. The stable resident population is about 7700. The island is of enormous anthropological interest because of the presence of unearthed dwellings and artifacts dated at 35,000 years old. As well, there are ancient tombs similar to the Nuraghe of Sicily. In historic times, the island was in hands of the Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and then Norman Italy. Pantelleria was also crucial in WWII to the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943 since planes could be based within striking distance of Sicily. Pantelleria has an airport and is a popular tourist destination, holding as it does a large nature preserve, a natural lake (pictured), hot springs, and many items of archaeological and geological interest.


A
s far as I know, none of the inhabited islands are up for sale. That wouldn't make sense, anyway, since there are already private property owners on them and they might be standing by to repel boarders. What you want is a small uninhabited island that is owned by the state or, most likely, the region. That is, semi-autonomous regions in Italy such as Sicily and Sardinia have some liberty in what they can sell off, and with the wave of privatization currently going full blast in Italy, you might be able to pick up a few acres to plant your palms and boat harbor. I hear that in Sardinia, Santo Stefano island is for sale, but so far nothing is going in Sicily, again as far as I know. Me, I'm holding out for Coney Island.




image credits: top - "Isola di Sicilia": Hanhil based on NordNordWest derivative work: Yiyi -license  CC BY-SA 3.0 at Wikimedia Commons;
 - Aeolian photo,
mmarkos90 wikipedia; Lampedua, J. Sciberra; Cyclopean Isles, gnuckx; Pantelleria, Francesca Fabbrica.


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