Lipari is the main town on the island. Clearly visible, as you approach the island from the sea, are the top of the town, the fortified city with behind (visible if you come from Marina Lunga) the former Franciscan convent, now Town Hall. Far below at its feet sit the two bays of Marina Corta, watched by the small church of the Anime del Purgatorio (once isolated on a rock, now linked to the mainland) and by the 1600’s church of San Giuseppe, and of Marina Lunga, the larger of the two inlets. On the last night of the festival of St. Bartholomew on 24 August, Marina Corta is illuminated by a magnificent display of fireworks, set off from the sea. The lower part of town or città bassa, with its main street Corso Vittorio Emanuele lined with charming shops and restaurants, provides the perfect context for the traditional passeggiata (walk).
Castello – This is how they refer to the citadel, a structure constructed on a Greek acropolis before being surrounded by walls in the 13th century. In the 16th century Charles V had it reinforced after the town was sacked by Barbarossa. It is best approached from piazza Mazzini, by the most ancient route: past the fortifications and the Greek tower (dating back to the 4th century BC), with its great medieval portcullis (12th-13th century), lies the heart of the citadel. On the right is the Chiesa di Santa Caterina, with beyond it, an archaeological area which has been excavated to reveal superimposed layers of dwellings (huts), buildings and roads from various periods spanning the Bronze Age (Capo Graziano culture) through to Hellenistic and ancient Roman times. Behind sits the Chiesetta dell’Addolorata and the 18th century Chiesa dell’Immacolata. Left of these, in the centre, rises the cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of the Eolian Islands, Saint Bartholomew: medieval in plan, it was rebuilt during the Spanish domination, while the façade dates back to the 19th century. The adjacent cloister is Norman. Opposite is a flight of steps dating from the early 20th century; to build it some of the ancient walls had to be demolished.
Museo Archeologico Eoliano – The collections are accomodated within several different buildings, displayed in sections relating the history of the islands from the Prehistoric to the Classic times. Special sections are devoted to marine archaeology and vulcanology. Most of the relics are from excavations undertaken since 1949. At the entrance to each room are explanatory panels of two different types: the first type, more detailed, is for visitors who wish to complete a thorough tour of the museum; the other, red, provides the basic facts pertaining to the successive development of cultures.
The section on Lipari Prehistory begins with a room entirely reserved to obsidian, the glass-like volcanic stone which has been so prized for its strenght and razor-sharp cutting edge; although fragile, it was widely used and exported in Antiquity for making tools. The Capo Graziano culture (1800-1400 BC, owing its name to an area in Filicudi island) and the ensuing Capo Milazzese’s (from Panarea) marked a period of high prosperity for the islands (room 5 and 6), characterized by a demographic and commercial increase. Evidence for this is provided by the presence of large Mycenean vases likely traded here for raw materials. The following epoch (13th- 9th century BC), known as the Ausonian period, after the people that, according to historian Diodorus Siculus, arrived from the Italian mainland, is classified according to various criteria: there are many one-handled bowls with horn-shaped appendages (probably intended to ward off evil spirits) which, later on, evolve into stylised forms of animal heads (rooms 7 and 9). Room 10 onwards is devoted to the Greek and Roman ages. After being long abandoned, the acropolis at Lipari was colonized by people from Knidos and Rhodes (6th century BC). The lid of the Bothros (votive pit) of Aeolus, with its stone lion-cum-handle (room 10) is particularly striking. The cult of Aeolus seems to have been shared by both established residents and colonizers. The other glass-cases contain the “offerings” found in the pit.
The buildings opposite contain rooms devoted to the prehistory of the smaller islands and to vulcanology (building at left); the geological evolution of the islands is explained through boards, diagrams and scale models.
The chronological display continue in the building north of the cathedral (the nmbering of the rooms has been inverted in the first three rooms: Room 18 leads through to room 17 and then 16 before continuing with 19, etc.). The reconstruction of the Bronze Age necropolis (12th century BC) is particularly interesting: this compares burial after cremation (12th century BC) – when urns containing the ashes are covered with bowls and placed inside small pits dug in the ground (room 17), with information burials (14th century BC) – when large pithoi or jars (containing the curled-up body of the dead person) were simply interred in the ground. Trading vassels encountering storms at sea often came in to shore to find shelter; on their route were two notable black spots renowned as being highly dangerous; Capo Graziano (on Filicudi) and the area known as Le Formiche (the Ants which consists of treacherous rocks hidden just below the surface just off Panarea). From these two places have been retrieved the shipwrecked cargo of some twenty trading vassels that comprised large numbers of amphorae of various types, of which the museum has a vast collection (see Marine Archaeology section). The grave goods, dating from the 6th-5th century BC, include an unusual array of rather coarsely modelled clay figurines (room 21), which are of particular interest in that they re-enact different domestic tasks; a mother washes a child, a woman intent on making soup in a bowl and another grinds grain with a mortar, on the edge of which perches a cat. Among the fine examples of red-figure ware, made in Sicily or mainland Italy, emerges one depicting a highly unusual scen (360 BC): a naked acrobat balances in a hand-stand before Dionysus and two comic actors with exaggerated features. Behind the group, in two panels, are painted the portraits of two additional actors. In the same glass are three vases by the so-called painter of Adrastus (king of Argos); the third one bears a very dramatic scene where, under the portico of the palace of Argos, Tydeus confronts Polynices, the son of Oedipus, who was exiled from Thebes.
The cult of Dionysus, god not only of the wine, but also of the theatre and celestial bliss (for those who were initiated into its mysteries) explains the inclusion, among the grave goods recovered from votive pits, of statuettes of actors and theatrical masks; the museum has an extremely rich, varied and ancient collection of such objects (room 23), which is quite unique. The last section of the museum is devoted to Lipari’s Hellenistic and Roman epochs (a big quantity of moulded oil lamps stamped with different kinds of decoration is held); also displayed are various artefacts (notably ceramics) relating to the Norman, Spanish, Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Parco Archeologico – On the far side of the citadel on the right. In the archaeological gardens are aligned numerous ancient sarcophagi. From the terrazza there is an enchanting view over the little church of the Anime del Purgatorio, jutting out into the sea opposite Marina Corta, and Vulcano on the horizon.
Tour of the island – 27km round trip; set out from Lipari città in the direction of Canneto, to the north.
Canneto – This small village set back from the great sweep of coast is a favorite spot from where to set out for the white beaches, visible from Canneto, that are accessible by a footpath. The clear sea is due to the high content of pumice dust. From the harbour of Canneto, it is possible to visit the pumice quarries near Porticello. The simplest way, what is also the most picturesque and traditional, is to go by boat with one of the many fishermen who buzz about the harbour; the other way is by bus.
Cave di Pomice a Porticello – This lovely bay is lined by a mass of pumice quarries and workshops; all, save the last and most northern, are now abandoned. Waste resulting from the extraction and working of the stone accumulates naturally in mounds of fine white sand along the shore, which hardens with time. On the beach, lie small fragments of black obsidian. The scene is strangely compelling: the sea is of the palest tinges of blue, as clear as glass (revelaing the pumice-lined seabed), old wooden jetties once used for loading pumice onto boats are ghostly still. One of the bathers’ favorite pastimes is to climb the white mounds and cover themselves with pumice dust to smooth their skin. The keenest kids can then emulate the children in the scene from Kaos (by film-makers Taviani brothers), who hurled themselves down the mounds, roly-poly fashion, straight into the sea (however, the sea is now about a metre away). Dramatic views of the white pumice slopes of Campo Bianco can be enjoyed along the road especially at sunset. For a split second, the scene might evoke some alpine context among tall snow-covered slopes.
A little further on is the Fossa delle Rocche Rosse, where the island’s most impressive flow of obsidian can be admired.
Beyond Acquacalda is Puntazze, offering a beautiful view spanning five islands: from left to right are Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina, Panarea and Stromboli.
Stufe di San Calogero – Just beyond Pianoconte, take right. The water of this hot springs have been famous for their therapeutic properties since Antiquity. Amongst ruins of ancient buildings (alongside a modern spa which was unfortunately closed), is a domed chamber. This is likely the oldest thermal complex, and indeed the only Hellenistic building, still in use today even if it only provides people with “DIY” therapy requiring them to splash themselves with water that springs from the ground at a temperature of 60°C.
Quattrocchi – This belvedere opens out on a beautiful panorama with Punta S. Iacopo and Punta Perciato in the foreground. Behind are the faraglioni, big rocks emerging from the waters, and, in the background, the island of Vulcano. The Odissey tells that these were hurled by Polyphemus against Ulysses who had blinded him by thrusting a flaming stake into his only eye; the hero then escaped with his companions by clinging to the bellies of rams belonging to the Cyclops. A beautiful view of Lipari can be enjoyed as you approach the town on your tour.
Boat trip around the island – Departures from Marina Corta. A boat tour offers the opportunity to explore the island’s jagged coastline, dotted with arches, boulders and craggy rocks.
Lipari is the largest and the most populated of the Aeolian islands. Its physical relief, with its gentle lowlands, has prompted a number of towns to spring up both along the coast and inland.
Inhabited since the antiquity and renowned for its obsidian, the island enjoyed great prosperity although it was often subject to raids and attacks among which is the one launched by Turk Kaireddin Barbarossa, who, in 1544, landed at Porto delle Genti (a small hamlet near Lipari) and ravaged the city killing or deporting the population as slaves to Africa.
The main moorings on the island are in the town of Lipari, which is served by two ports: Marina Corta is used by the hydrofoils and by smaller craft, while ferries moor at Marina Lunga. From here it is easy to get to the island’s other towns, that are Canneto, Acquacalda, Quattropiani and Pianoconte. It is advisable to tour the island by car or bike, also available at various hire places.
Time for a treat
The Pasticceria Subba, at 92, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, in Lipari city, has been making fabulous goodies: cannoli (filled with ricotta cheese), cassate (brimming with candied fruit), pasta paradiso (melting moments) and ice-cream.
A special evening meal
The restaurant E Pulera, in via Diana, only opens for dinner from June to October, dining outside, in a charming garden. In July and August, typical Aeolian dishes are served accompanied by traditional music and folkloristic shows.