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The island of Ischia near Naples, Italy.

Ischia is a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples. The roughly trapezoidal island lies 17.5 miles from Naples and measures around 10 km East to West and 7 km North to South with a 34 km coastline and a surface area of 46.3 km2. It is almost entirely mountainous with the highest peak being volcanic Mt. Epomeo at 788 meters: the volcano was active in Classical times Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. It has a population of nearly 58,000 people.

Ischia is also the principal city (pop.17,256) of the island, divided into Ischia Ponte and Ischia Porto. Its main industry is tourism, centering on thermal parks that cater mostly to European and Asian tourist clients eager to enjoy the fruits of the island's natural volcanic activity and highly nutritious volcanic soil.

Maronti beach looking west with the spit of St Angelo in the distance.

The name

Virgil poetically referred to it as Inarime and still later as Arime<ref> His poetical allusion was apparently to the mention in Iliad (ii.783) of Typhoeus being chained down ein Arimois</ref> Martianus Capella followed Virgil in this allusive name, which was never in common circulation: the Romans called it Aenaria, the Greeks, Pithekoussai <ref>The plural likely indicated Procida as well.</ref>. "Pliny rightly derives the Greek name from the local ceramic clay deposits, not from pithekos (ape); he explains the Latin name as connected with Aeneas' beach-head" (Princeton Encyclopedia) The current name appears for the first time in a letter from Pope Leo III to Charlemagne in 813 (iscla from insula) though there is an argument made for a Semitic origin in I-schra, "black island".


Ancient times

An acropolis site of the Monte Vico area was inhabited from the Bronze Age, as Mycenaean and Iron Age pottery attest. Euboean Greeks from Eretria and Chalkis arrived in the 8th century BC to establish an emporium for trade with the Etruscans of the mainland. Because of its fine harbor, the settlement of Pithecusae became successful through trade in iron and with mainland Italy; at its peak, Pithecusae was home to about 10,000 people.

The ceramic Euboean artifact inscribed with a reference to "Nestor's cup" was discovered in a grave on the island in 1953. Engraved upon the cup are a few lines written in the Cumae alphabet. Dating from c. 730 BC, it is the oldest written reference to the Iliad and may be the earliest extant precursor to the Latin alphabet.

In the sixth century the earliest Greek colony on the mainland was founded from here, on the coast of Campania at Cumae, likely to have been named for the Euboean city of Cuma, possibly by settlers who fled volcanic activity. In 474 BC Hiero I of Syracuse came to the aid of the Cumaeans against the Etruscans and defeated them on the sea. He occupied Ischia and the surrounding Parthenopean islands and left behind a garrison to build a fortress before the city of Ischia itself. This was still extant in the Middle Ages, but the original garrison fled before the eruptions of 470 BC and the island was taken over by Neapolitans.

The Romans seized Ischia (and Naples) in 322 BC.

Christian era until 1500

In AD 6 Augustus restored the island to Naples in exchange for Capri. Ischia suffered from the barbarian invasions, being taken first by the Heruli then by the Ostrogoths, being ultimately absorbed into the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantines gave the island over to Naples in 588 and by 661 it was being administered by a Count liege to the Duke of Naples. The area was devastated by the Saracens in 813 and 847; in 1004 it was occupied by Henry II of Germany; the Norman Roger II of Sicily took it in 1130; the island was raided by the Pisans in 1135 and 1137 and subsequently fell under the Suebi and then Angevin rule. After the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, the island rebelled, recognizing Peter III of Aragon, but was retaken by the Angevins the following year. It was conquered in 1284 by the forces of Aragon and Charles II d'Anjou was unable to successfully retake it until 1299. As a consequence of the island's last eruption, the population fled to Baia where they remained for 4 years. In 1320 Robert of Anjou and his wife Sancia visited the island and were hosted by Cesare Sterlich, sent by Charles II from the Holy See to govern the island in 1306 and was, by this time, nearly 100 years of age.

Ischia suffered greatly in the struggles of the Angevin-Durazzan period. It was taken by Carlo Durazzo in 1382, retaken by Louis II of Anjou in 1385 and captured yet again by Ladislav Durazzo in 1386; it was sacked by the fleet of the Antipope John XXIII under the command of Gaspare Cossa in 1410 only to be retaken by Ladislav the following year. In 1422 Joan II gave the island to her adoptive son Alfonso V of Aragon, though, when he fell into disgrace, she retook it with the help of Genoa in 1424. In 1438 Alfonso reoccupied the castle, kicking out all the men and proclaiming it a Castilian colony to whom he married the wives and daughters of the expelled. He set about building a bridge linking the castle to the rest of the island and he carved out a large gallery, both of which are still to be seen today. In 1442 he gave the island to one of his favorites, Lucretia d'Alagno, who in turn entrusted the island's governance to her brother-in-law, Giovanni Torella. Upon the death of Alfonso in 1458, they returned the island to the Angevin side. Ferdinand I of Naples ordered Alessandro Sforza to chase Torella out of the castle and gave the island over, in 1462, to Garceraldo Requesens. In 1464, after a brief Torellan insurrection, Marino Caracciolo was set up as governor.

In February of 1495, with the arrival of Charles VIII, Ferdinand II landed on the island and took possession of the castle, and, after having killed the disloyal castellan Giusto di Candida with his own hands, left the island under the control of Innico D'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara and del Vasto, who ably defended the place form the French flotilla. With him came his sister Costanza and through them they founded the D'Avalos dynasty which would last on the island into the 1700's.

1500 - 1700

Throughout the fifteenth century, the island suffered the incursions of pirates and Barbary privateers - in 1543 and 1544 Khair ad Din, called Barbarossa, laid waste to the island, taking 4,000 prisoners in the process. In 1548 and 1552 Ischia was beset by his successor Dragut Rais. With the increasing rarity and diminishing severity of the piratical attacks later in the century and the construction of better defenses, the islanders began to venture out of the castle and it was then that the historic center of the town of Ischia was begun. Even so many inhabitants still ended up slaves to the pirates, the last known being taken in 1796.

During the 1647 revolution of Masaniello, there was an attempted rebellion against the feudal landowners.

From 18th century until today

With the extinction of the D'Avalos line in 1729, the island reverted to state property. In March, 1734 it was taken by the Bourbons and administered by a royal governor seated within the castle. The island participated in the short-lived Republic of Naples starting in March, 1799 but by April 3, Commodore Trowbridge- under the command of Lord Nelson had put down the revolt on Ischia as well as on neighboring Procida. By decree of the governor, many of the rebels were hung in a sqaure on Procida now called Piazza dei martiri (Square of the Martyrs). Among these was Francesco Buonocore who had received the island to administer from the French Championnet in Naples. On February 13, 1806, the island was occupied by the French and on the 24th was unsuccessfully attacked by the English.

On July 28, 1883, an earthquake destroyed the villages Casamicciola Terme and Lacco Ameno.

Today Ischia is a popular tourist destination, welcoming up to 6 million visitors per year, mainly from the Italian mainland as well as Germany (approximately 5,000 Germans are resident on the island). Ischia is easily reached by ferry from Naples, journey time approx 40 minutes - 1 hour. The number of thermal spas on the islands makes it particularly popular with tourists seeking "wellness" holidays.


In 1948, American author Truman Capote stayed in room number 3 in the Pensione Lustro in the town of Forio on the island. He wrote an essay about his stay there, which later appeared in Local Color, published in 1950 by Random House.

Parts of the Hollywood film, The Talented Mr Ripley, starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, were filmed on the island.

Main sights

  • Villa La Colombaia (Lacco Ameno - Forio)

The Villa, surrounded by a park, was made by Luigi Patalano famous local socialist giornalist. It is now the seat of the cultural Institution dedicated to Visconti, which is involved in cultural activities promotion such as music, cinema, theatre, art exhibitions, work-shops, cinema reviews. A museum dedicated to Luchino Visconti. The Villa and the Park are accessible to public visits.

  • La Mortella Gardens (Forio - San Francesco)

This park is located at Forio d’Ischia and was originally the property of the English composer William Walton, who lived in the Villa next door with his Argentinian wife, Susanna, and who died here in 1983. When the composer arrived on the island in 1946, he immediately called a botanical expert from England to lay out the garden, planting wonderful tropical and Mediterranean plants, some of which have now reached amazing proportions. The gardens include wonderful views over the the city and harbour of Forio. A museum dedicated to the life and work of William Walton now comprises part of the garden complex.

  • Aragonese Castle (Ischia Ponte)

It's built in 474 b. C. on a rock near the island, by Gerone. At the same time, two towers were built to control enemy fleet’s movements. The rock was then occupied by Partenopei (the ancient inhabitants of Naples). In 326 a. C. the fortress was captured by Romans, and then again by Partenopei. Alfonso of Aragon in 1441 d.c. connected the rock to the island through a stone bridge instead of a previous wood bridge, and wanted the walls were fortified in order to defend the inhabitants against the raids of pirates. About in 1700 on the islet, used to live about 2000 families, there was a larisses Convent, the Abbey of Basilians from Greece, the Bishop and the Seminar, the Prince with a military garrison. On the same rock there were 13 churchs. In 1912, the Castle was sold to a private owner. Today the Castle is the most visited monument of the island. You can access the Castle through a tunnel with large openings which let the light enter. Along the tunnel there is a small chapel consacrated to San Giovan Giuseppe della Croce, the patron saint of the island. Alternatively, a more comfortable access is possible by a modern lift. After arriving outside, it is possible to visit the Church of the Immacolata and the Cathedral of Assunta. The first was built in 1737 at the same place where there was a small chapel dedicated to Saint Francis, and closed after the suppression of Convents in 1806 as well as the Nunnery of Clarisses.


External links