The Eolian Islands from emigration to sustainable development


Around 1880 the Eolian islands, experienced a moment of great economic and demographic development.
Agriculture and fishing traditionally occupied a large part of the workforce, although the merchant fleets of Lipari, Salina and Stromboli numbered more than 200 ships, with ‘Paranzieddi’, ‘Bovi’, ‘Marticane’ and ‘Briantini’ providing connections with Naples, Livorno, Marseilles and Toulon.
It was the success of malmsey which towed along all the other local agricultural products, particularly capers, in demand throughout the Mediterranean.
On Lipari, pumice quarrying began and on Vulcano alum and sulphur excavation was intensified.
A few years later, however, a terrible parasite, phylloxera, destroyed the malvasia vines, the Eolian Mining Company went bust and the inauguration of the railway from Naples to Reggio Calabria took away the Eolians’ transport monopoly.
The ebbs and flows of history: the economic decline of the islands was repeated, as happened thousands of years before, when the obsidian produced here was replaced by bronze.

The emigration

Emigration to Australia, the USA, Venezuela and Argentina began and, in a few years, decimated the Eolian population. On Panarea the population declined from 1,100 to 300, on Lipari from 12,000 to 8,500, on Salina from 9,000 to 4,000, on Stromboli from 5,000 to 400, on Alicudi from 1,200 to 150 and on Filicudi, which experienced the highest rate of emigration, from 2,500 to 200 inhabitants.
After the Second World War, in a precarious economic climate, agriculture was helped by the construction of water collection basins, to fight against drought and the fishing fleet was increased, becoming the second largest in Sicily.
New work opportunities began to appear for the remaining people, thanks to the arrival of tourists wishing to discover the charm of these wild volcanic islands, which they had seen in popular films (Stromboli with Ingrid Bergman and Vulcano with Anna Magnani).
Important archaeological remains were discovered and, thanks to the will of Professor Bernabò Brea and Signora Cavalier, the Eolian Museum was opened, a source of pride for all the islanders, because the underwater artefacts, pottery vases, jewellery and masks bear witness to the importance of the islands in the Mediterranean for thousands of years.
The quarrying of pumice started up again, employing more than 200 people by the 1970’s. Tourism contributed to economic improvement; the first hotels and restaurants were opened and houses were restored to be rented out in summer.
Italian tourists purchased land and houses abandoned by emigrants, often at bargain prices, doing them up as summer homes.
In the 70’s and 80’s despite considerable financial resources, sometimes a result of patronage, there was a stagnation of planning and public works.
Everybody was contented with the positive economic trend and hoped it would continue.
Now the reductions in public spending have created serious economic imbalance.
Concern about the present economic situation is accompanied by new plans and efforts to ensure development of the islands.
For example, the adoption of a ‘rural plan’ as a means of territorial planning; the development of new opportunities with investment in ‘sea farming’ (the breeding of marine species in tanks in the sea) and the organising of training courses on Lipari, for ‘sea farming’ plant technicians, to start young people up in this new type of work; plans for other courses in the port service sector, presented to the Region for funding, in anticipation of the ‘Ports Plan’.
In agriculture, with EU resources, plans have been made to re-launch typical products, such as malmsey, capers and raisins, and to create a service centre for tourism in the small Sicilian islands. There is an intention to open the first experimental wine cellar in the Eolian islands and to increase tourism, through interest in nature, culture and spas. The Eolian islands have begun to receive a new image with the cultural festival ‘Constitutum’, which is the celebration of the 900th anniversary of the birth of the ‘Communitas Eoliana’, and which has received national and international attention.
We invest today, thinking of tomorrow, to make our islands more hospitable, to improve living conditions, to create development, so that nobody will be forced to leave their homeland.

Luigi Amato