Italian Regions: Islands

Figure 1.-- Here we see a Sicilian family in 1969. It is a good example of everyday summer clothing at the time. All the girls are wearing dresses, and the boys short trousers. Probably today all these boys would be wearing a t-shirt, but not in those time. One boy wears a t-shirt, three wear a white shirt, two undershirts and one is bare-chested. All these ways were quite common. Foto by Ivano Malossi (amateur).

Quite a number of islands are located off Italy. They are located all along the coast and vary in size. The two most important Italian islands are Sicily and Sardinia. Sicily in particular has played an important role in European history. It is a large island and dominates the central Mediterranean. For this reason it has been one of the most fought over island in the world. Sicily is especially important in Italian history. With the Roman conquest it became thorougly italianized. Both as well as Corsica were acuired by the Romans in the Punic Wars. Another famous but smaller island is Elba where Napoleon was exioled. Sardinia is another important island making up Italy. We have some limited on the island. An Italian reader tells us about the festival of Saint Salvatore at Cabras, a village on the eastern coast of Sardinia. Corsica is now French, but for much of its history was Roman or Italian. It was seized by France in the 18th century before the French Revolution. Thus the young Napoleon grew up as a French subject.


Other than the big islands (Sicily and Sardinina), Capri is certainly the best known Italian island. It is located only about 30 km from Naples, on the southern edgev of the Bay of Naples, part of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It has been described as the world's most beautiful islands. Unlike many small Italian islands, Capri is not volcanic in origins. Capri is located on the Western edge of a wide Bahamian-type Mesozoic carbonate platform. This is known as Campania-Lucania platform which rises in the Lepini Mountains in the Lazio region of Italy to the Massif whch is in the the Calabrian Pollino Nature Reserve. The island is composed of two two high-rising rocky massifs (the Capo to the East and the Solaro to the West). In between is low depression which includes the urbanized area. The island is close to the coast and was thus settled by humans in the Neolithic area. Octavian took control even before he became emperor as Auguustus. Tiberius governed the Empire from Capri. Other wealthy Romans built villas here. The people of Capri watched the Vecuvius explode and destroy Pompei. During the Middle Ages, Capri like other Meditarrean was attacked by the Barbary Pirates who pilaged it and deported the population as slaves. The island was also targeted by the Ottoman Empire in its attemps to control southern Italy. Modern Capri as in Roman times is a tourist mecca and ferries run to and from Naples.


Corsica is a Mediterranean island department of metropolitan France located north of Sardinia. It was in ancient times a Carteginia colony taken invaded by Rome. It was seized by the Vandals, but was laster ruled by a secession of Italian regimes. Corsica is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. France seized the island a decade before the French Revolution (1768). As a result the young Corscican, Napoleon, became a French subject. The island is very wild and mountenous. Corsica until the 20th century was quite poor and dominated by banditry and family blood feuds. Local and Italian traditions resisted French culture and a nationalist movement has resisted French authority.


Another famous but smaller island is Elba located only a few miles off the Tuscan coast. Elba is the best known island of the Tuscan Archipelago. It has beautiful beaches and interesting fortress towns. The island is 20 km from the mainland, separated by the Piombino Channel. It is the largest remaining surface stretch of land that once connected the Italian peninsula to Corsica. There are treeless mountain ranges. The highest elevation is Monte Capanne (about 1,000 meters). The island has not featured prominately in history, but it has a long history. The first inhabitants were the Ligures Ilvati and as a result was called lva in ancient times. It was renounded for its iron resources and mines. The Greeks called it Aethalia (fume) because of the metal smelting furnaces. The Etruscans seized the island and then the Romans (about 480 BC). After the fall of Rome the island was pillaged by first barbarians and then, like other Mediterranean islands, the Saracens During the medieval period it was transferred to several different principalities. Durung the Napoleonic Wars it was acquired by France. Partly as a result, after Napoleon abdicated (1814), he was given possession of Elba as a sovereign principality. He arrived on the island (May 4, 1814). He at first set about mofernizing his new fiefdom. He oversaw needed improvements, especially the roads. Soon he came to believe that it was not a worthy task for a ruler of hid genius. He slipped away from the island (February 26, 1815) and sucessfully eluded Royal Naval patrols to launch is 100 Days Campaign ending at Waterloo. The Congress of Vienna subsequently restored the island to Tuscany (1815). And as such it necame part of the unified Italian Kingdom.


Ischia is the largest island in the Bay of Naples, like Capri to the south separates the Tyrrhenian Sea from the Bay of Naples. It is, however, much less known than Capri. Islanders insist that Ischia is even more beautiful than Capri. The island is roughly trapezoidal island and is about 30 km from Naples. Ischia is part of a massive volcanic area and is volcamic in origin. It is larger than Capri and more mountaneous and like Capri was once connected to the mainland. The highest elevation is Mount Epomeo (788 meters). The island was inhabited in Neolithic times. There was a Greek colony on the island (8th century BC). The Greeks operated a copper mine there. Gerone of Syracuse (Siracusa) built a fortress on the spot of the present Castello Aragonese. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions drivevthe Greek colonists from the area. An eruption left a round crater which is now the circular port of Ischia Porto. The island's fertility is due to the rich colcanic soil brought farmers back. The island belonged to the Emperor Augustus who traded it with the Neapolitans for Capri. The last reported eruption occurred in the medieval era (1302). The island cintinues to be volanic hot spot feeding 69 fumaroles and hot springs. An earthquake destroyed many of the island's historic buildings (1883). A reader tells us, "My wife came from the island of Ischia. The town where she was born looks very similar to the photograph of Capri. While not as wll known as Capri, the island is cert popular with Italian as well as German tourists. There are several popular spas.

Pontine Islands

The Pontine Islands are some of the lesser known Italian islands. They are a Mediterrnean archipelago off the southwestern coast of Italy. The Pontines are located close to the coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Tyrrhenian Sea is set off ftom the Mediterranean by Sardinia ans Sicily. The archipelago derives their name from Ponza, the largest island. The other islands include Palmarola, Zannone, and Gavi to the northwest, Ventotene along with Santo Stefano to the southeast. All the islands in the group were frormed from volcanic activity. As it is relatively close to the coast, the islands have been inhabited from the Neolithic era. The Etruscans carved the "Blue Grottos". A local legend depicts the islands as the lost Kingdom of Tyrrhenia which disappeared along with a narrow strip connected to mainland Italy. The first historical event recorded thsate was the Romn victory over the Volsci (338 BC). The great wealth developed by Rome resulted in wealthy people looking for pleasant places to build retreats. And during the extended reign of Augustus, many residences were not only built on Ponza, but on Ventotene as well. Rome used Ponza and Ventotene not only as retreats and a place to exile troublsone citizens that did not rise to the lrvel of execution. Nussolini's Fascists were doing the same in the 1920s and 30s. Italians were forced to abandoned the islands during the late-Medieval era because raids by North African Barbary pirates. Many Meditwrranean islands suffered similar fates. The Kingdom of Naples re-colonized the islands (18th century). With American military action and French colonization of Algeria and Tunisia, the Mediterranean became safer. After the unification of Italy, the islands became part of the Kingdom of Italy. Ponza and Ventotene today are populated, but the smaller islands are not, but are popular tourist attractions. Ventotene and Santo Stefano have been made land and sea conservation areas. The islands along with wildlife offer small vineyards, wild herbs and flowers, and charming secluded beaches and grottos.


Sardinia is another important Mediterranean island making up Italy. We have some limited information on the island. Sardinia has an extendive history. Sardinia has been settled since the Paeolithic Age. Archaeologists have no idea how the first humans reached sardinia or from where. Unlikele Sicily, Sadinia was located at some distance from the coast. It was inhabited throughout the Neolithic Age. There are architectural treasues on the island. They include the ‘Nuraghe’, the Domus de Janas, holy wells, temples and the mystic giant tombs, which are huge stones set into the ground called ‘betili’ or ‘menhir’ which stem from the megalithic architecture. There are 7,000 Nuraghi and hundreds of archaeological monuments that are located all over the island. It is not as strategically placed as Sicily which fominated the narrows between the eastern and Western Mediterranean. Thus Sardinia has been largely a backwater of history. The Phoenicians first founded colonies on the island. The major enticement were the miberal resources. The Carthaginians seized the island (about 510 BC). The principal Punic cities were Tharros, Nora and Sulci. Rome obtained control of Sardinia during the Punic Wars (238 BC). The Sardinian-Punic people resisted Roman rule, but over seven centuries of Roman rule the population was largely Romanized. With the fall of Rome the island was seized by the Bandals and then the Byzantines. The medieval history of Sardinia was complicated with local dynasties and then Aragon playing important roles. The major historical importance of Sardinia is the role it played in the unification of Italy. An Italian reader tells us about the festival of Saint Salvatore at Cabras, a village on the eastern coast of Sardinia. Another interesting festival is the festival of St. Efisio. This is Sardinia's most important event. It is both religious and secular festival.


The two most important Italian islands are Sicily and Sardinia. Sicily in particular has played an important role in European history. The history of Sicily is essentialy the history of Western civilization. It is a large island and dominates the central Mediterranean. A glance at the map shows that Sicily is the key to the Mediterranean. It is the largest island in the Mediterranean and controls movement between the eastern and western Mediterranean. For this reason it has been one of the most fought over island in the world. Sicily is especially important in Italian history. Sicily featured prominately in the Peloponesian War. It was also an important battleground in the First Punic War. With the Roman conquest it became thorougly italianized. Both as well as Corsica were acuired by the Romans in the Punic Wars. Sicily became associated with Naples in the medieval period, becoming part of the Kingdom of the Two Siclies. Many Sicilians joined the Italian emigration to America beining with them along other things, pizza and the Mafia. Unlike most other immigrant groups, qiote a number of Italisns including Sicilians returned home. The island played a role in the naval struggle between Italy and Britain for control of the Mediterranean (1940-41). And because of its stategic location, the Allies invaded (July 1943). The Socilian campaign was unusual in that so many Sicilians had either been to America or had relatives in America.


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Created: 1:42 AM 4/9/2007
Last updated: 11:52 PM 5/15/2010