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Stromboli: Volcanic Landscape of the Sicilian Island

For centuries, the isola bedda (the beautiful island) has seduced us.

For centuries, the isola bedda (the beautiful island) has seduced us. We love its colors, its fruits and its imperfections. Sicily is the key to everything, as Goethe once said. So we shouldn’t be surprised that regardless of the comings and goings of saracens, Borbouns and everyone in between, it’s never truly changed. Mother nature blessed it with a unique magnificence. A land of fire and sulfuric vapors that is welcoming, rich, but also unpredictable. All qualities that are reflected in the island of Stromboli, where we can find Iddu (Sicilian for “him”), the unmentionable and most active volcano in Sicily after the Etna. 

When you land on its black sands, sprinkled with nets and sea vessels, the air is filled with the smell of sulfur and sugar. It’s the bittersweet smell of danger. Suddenly you’re at the mercy of the forces of nature and you have no horizons besides the blue that surrounds everything. Every traveler is aware of this, like Ulysses, who was welcomed by Aeolos, god of the wind, after stopping there during his long return voyage to Ithaca.

The island of fire isn’t only made for expert sea-dwellers. It’s also the perfect place for avid hikers. An early-morning stroll through Ginostra, Scari or Piscità, the small villages of Stromboli, is a mystical experience. You choose the island not only for the love of the sea, but for an abstract reason, a mental one, the need to be on your own, the desire to be isolated…. Contemplate the blackness of the beach, the scent of lemons and jasmine… and you go through an island sparsely inhabited but so full of life.

Pink hibiscus flowers stain the walls of the houses in these towns, otherwise silent under the sun, where mysteries hide underneath the polylobed leaves of fig trees.

The pink flowers, when squeezed, become karkadè: a summer drink infusion typical of Middle Eastern countries, while if you pick a fig tree instead, you can feel the earth sighing under your feet.

Sometimes the peace of the villages makes you forget you’re on an active volcano, but all you have to do is climb towards its flaming mouth to remember.  Being at the top of the crater feels like walking on a dark sea shell ready to explode, capable of covering everything with lava and ash. Every now and then its murmurs channel the underground energy of the place. On the streets, warnings etched on light blue signs point to escape routes from tsunamis, a constant threat.  

Indeed, one of the greatest dangers, when the volcano wakes up, is the occurrence of disastrous landslides and subsequent tidal waves. The last warning was only a few days ago, but some scientists have discovered that the most disastrous tsunami occurred in the Middle Ages. A tsunami devastated the coasts of Campania and destroyed the ports of Naples and Amalfi, claiming thousands of victims. The poet Francesco Petrarch, who was ambassador to Pope Clement VI in Naples in 1343, also witnessed the phenomenon and described the terrible event in his Epistulae.

According to research, it was the landslides of the Sciara del Fuoco of Stromboli that unleashed the waves throughout the Tyrrhenian Sea!

And for the island’s inhabitants, in such cases, there is no escape route.

Today, people try to save themselves through the evacuation routes, they have just 4 minutes to do so, according to seismographs, following the blue light of the road signs like fireflies in the night.

On the island, the evening is the perfect time to circumnavigate Strombolicchio, a volcanic rock that rises up with its lighthouse in the distance, and wait until sunset, when the sun and volcano, giant fiery sons of Hephaestus, bid each other farewell. However, the most fascinating spectacle occurs at night. There’s an ancient trail leading from the town of Piscità to the cliffs of Iddu. This trail goes all the way to the Osservatorio, a restaurant where you can gaze not only at the stars, but at something far brighter: jets of lava erupting from the mouth of the volcano and illuminating the night like fireworks. 

An old legend says that men who hold memories of the volcanic lands become immortal. Almost as if the volcano were transferring its eternal energy to them and creating a magnetism and kinship between human beings and wild nature. Every visitor to Stromboli experiences intense moments that fossilize in their hearts and stay afloat there, like small porous pumice stones on the water’s surface. 

Stromboli is surrounded by a romanticism that you can feel in the swelling moonlit waves of the sea, in the gurgling fire deep underground, in the howling wind. Maybe these are the elements that make Stromboli the island of love.

It’s no surprise that Roberto Rossellini picked this out of all the Aeolian islands as the set for his film Stromboli (Terra di Dio). The protagonist in the film is portrayed by Ingrid Bergman, Rossellini’s love interest after he split from his previous partner, explosive actress Anna Magnani.  These romantic vicissitudes and conflicts give us an insight into the cinematic climate of the 50s. You can try to relive those moments by entering the house of Ingrid Bergman, the only one painted in red, now open to the public as a  museum. 

Just like the walls of its houses, even the doors of Stromboli, true works of art, tell love stories. They smile at passersby with their bright colors and symbols of the land of fire painted on them, like the reptile that greets tourists with a welcoming phrase: “A Stromboli l’amore è geco”- gecko rhyming with “cieco” meaning blind, completes the Italian pun declaring, “On Stromboli love is blind”. 

Stromboli is fueled by the energy of its visitors and has the ability to purify them with its vapors and sulfuric waters, like in an ancient ancestral ritual. The spirit of the phoenix courses through it, always ready to rise from its ashes. 

If you decide to travel to Stromboli, you must be prepared to come back home with fresh eyes and the knowledge that one day the island of love, like the phoenix, could suddenly burn up, transform and disappear… only to be reborn, stronger than before.