Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Aeolian Islands index

Geological setting Alicudi Filicudi
Salina Stromboli Panarea
Vulcano References Travelling in the Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie)


Enchanting view (towards east) from the Chiesetta di San Bartolo on Alicudi showing, from left to right, the neighboring islands of Filicudi, Salina, and Lipari. From other vantage points, also Stromboli and Vulcano can be perfectly seen, while Panarea is not visible because it lies in line behind Salina. Taken on the afternoon of 30 August 1994.

Sunset seen from the village of Leni, on the south side of Salina, 26 September 1995. The Isole Eolie offer frequent and ever-changing displays of this kind.


The Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie in Italian, also known as the Lipari Islands) lie off the northeastern coast of Sicily. The south coast of Vulcano lies about 25 km NW of the northern tip of the Milazzo peninsula; Stromboli lies about 75 km to the north of that point. The archipelago consists of seven major and numerous small to very small islands. Lipari, the largest of the islands (see table below), is also the most populated and the administrative center of six of the seven islands (Comune di Lipari); Salina is politically independent and has three individual towns (comuni), Santa Marina di Salina, Malfa, and Leni.

Alicudi 5.2 675 100 Filicudi 9.5 774 250 Salina 26.8 962 2300 Lipari 37.6 602 8500 Vulcano 21 500 450 Panarea 3.3 421 300 Stromboli 12.6 924 (or 926) 400

The geological framework of the Aeolian islands is described on a separate page.

Since the 1970's the islands have become one of the major tourist attractions of southern Italy, and tourism has become the main source of economic activity in the archipelago. The dramatic influx of tourists especially during the high season (July-August) has caused, in the late 1990s and in the first years of the new millennium, an almost total breakdown of organization on some of the islands, so that measures to "channelize" the tourist invasion were applied, such as a special "access tickets", similar to paying for visiting a museum or a monument. A ticket is necessary to visit any of the islands, and further tickets must be paid by those who wish to climb the volcanoes of Vulcano and Stromboli. Following the major 2002-2003 eruption of Stromboli, access to the volcano is limited to about 400 m, which means that the summit is off-limits. In recent years hundreds of tourists had crowded the summit area of Stromboli at any given moment, and it must be considered mere luck that there have been only few accidents. It was also luck that the 2002-2003 eruption began during the winter - during the summer season it would have certainly caused numerous fatalities.


Alicudi seen from the east, showing the relatively simple morphology of the island. The settlement is scattered over the SE slope (at left) of the mountain which constituted the island. Photo taken on 30 August 1994.

Geological sketch map of Alicudi, simplified version after Manetti et al. (1995b).


The island of Filicudi seen from the east. Highest peak is Monte Fossa Felci (774 m); the low, dome-shaped peninsula at left is Capo Graziano. Photo taken 30 August 1994.

Geological and structural sketch map of Filicudi, after Manetti et al. (1995a). Click on image to see the large (85 k) version and legend.

View of the well-preserved lava dome complex of Monte Montagnola from the SE, 9 September 1995. The village of Pecorini lies in the area below the dome. Monte Fossa Felci lies out of the image to the right.

View from Valdichiesa, on the E flank of the Fossa Felci complex, down towards Filicudi Porto and the lava dome complex forming Capo Graziano, on 10 September 1995. The islands of Salina (left) and Lipari (right) are visible in the background. View is to the SE.


Salina, the second largest of the Aeolian islands, seen from the SW. Monte dei Porri (860 m) is at left, superseded in height by Monte Fossa delle Felci (962 m) to the right: this is the highest mountain of the archipelago.Distant neighbor, Stromboli island lies on left margin of the photograph. Photo taken 30 August 1994.

Simpified geological map of Salina, from Barca & Ventura (1993). Click on the image for large version and description.


Stromboli seen from the north on 18 March 1992.

Simpified geological map of Stromboli, from Hornig-Kjarsgaard et al. (1993). Click on the image for large version and description.


Panarea seen from the SW on 7 November 1990.


Photo above: Panoramic view of the southern part of Lipari, from the summit of Monte S. Angelo, on 15 September 1995. Notable features are annotated (visible in the large ca. 150 k JPG version of the photo).

Simplified geological map of Lipari, taken from Crisci et al. (1991).


Fumaroles deposit yellow sulfur on the N rim of the most recently active crater of the island, the Fossa crater (or Gran Cratere). In the background of this photo, taken on 18 April 1995, the islands of Lipari and Salina are visible.

Geological sketch map of Vulcano island, from Ventura (1994). Click on image for large version and explanation.


Most remote and westernmost of the Aeolian Islands, Alicudi has retained much of the "savage" character that all of these islands once had. Rising steeply from the sea, the island does not offer much opportunity to build roads; thus there is only one leading from the port to the largest hotel on the island - its length may be at best 300 m. Everything else is stairs. The principal means of transport on Alicudi is donkeys.
The highest place on the island is 675 m-high Montagnola, with its neighboring peak Filo dell'Arpa (662 m).
Geologically, Alicudi is more recent than previously believed. In a recent paper by Manetti et al. (1995b), an age of 28 ka is given for the youngest volcanics on the island, a cluster of lava domes (Filo dell'Arpa) within a small summit caldera both of which are visible in the image.

Alicudi at a glance

Area: 5.2 km2
Location: 50 km W of Lipari
Highest elevation: 675 m
Age of volcanism:
Lave di Galera <120-98 ka
Torrente Cirino Formation <98-97 ka
Filo dell'Arpa Formation ca. 97-50 ka

Notable morphologic features:
Montagnola (675 m)
Monte Filo dell'Arpa (662 m)

Residents: about 100 (in a small settlement extending up the SE flank of the steep slope of the island)


Significantly more complex than Alicudi, Filicudi has several small villages, a road network, and more varied volcanic centers. the highest point is Monte Fossa Felci (almost identical to the name of Salina's highest peak), reaching 774 m elevation. Important secondary volcanic centers are Montagnola (a name frequently used for minor but prominent hills or mountains in Italy) and Capo Graziano. The youngest of these features is the dacitic lava dome cluster of Montagnola, probably extruded some 35,000 years ago.

Filicudi appears to have some of the oldest rocks exposed anywhere in the Aeolian islands (>1 million years). Many of the volcanic centers on the island, however, have a youthful morphology.

A prehistoric (bronze age) village is located on the flank of the Capo Graziano dome, the main tourist attraction of the island. Other places worth seeing are the Grotta del Bue Marino and the tall, narrow rocky islet of "La Canna" off the W coast of the island. Filucudi furthermore offers tantalizing panoramic views from many locations, and a church tower whose topmost part has been rotated and displaced by an earthquake in 1978.

Filicudi at a glance

Area: 9.5 km2
Location: 30 km W of Lipari
Highest elevation: 774 m
Age of volcanism:
Zucco Grande Formation ca. 1.02 Ma
Filo del Banco Formation 0.34 Ma
Monte Palmieri, Sciara, Guardia, Capo Graziano and Montagnola: 0.25-0.19 Ma
Valle la Fossa and La Canna 40 ka

Notable morphologic features:
Monte Fossa Felci (774 m)
Monte Montagnola (349 m)
Monte Terrione (278 m)
Capo Graziano (174 m)
Monte Guardia (145 m)
"La Canna" (71 m)

Residents: about 250


Salina, the "green island", hosts the highest mountain of the Aeolian Islands and offers marvellous landscapes, panoramic views, lovely villages, and the charming crater of Pollara where many outdoor scenes of the movie "The Postman" (1994) were filmed. While all other islands of the Aeolian archipelago are administered by the municipality of Lipari, Salina has three independent municipalities, which is reflected in a strongly different attutude toward tourism. The island is much quieter even during the month of August, the peak of the tourist season. Although its most recent eruptions occurred about 11,000-13,000 years ago, it is not sure whether the island is to be considered volcanically extinct. No signs of volcanic unrest have occurred in historical time, although weak fumarolic activity is occurring offshore from the island's most recent volcano, Pollara.

Salina at a glance

Area: 26.5 km2
Location: 4 km NW of Lipari
Highest elevation: 962 m
Age of volcanism:
Rivi and Capo volcanics ca. 0.43 Ma
Fossa delle Felci (1st cycle) 127-100 ka
Porri volcanics: 100-66.5 ka
Fossa delle Felci (2nd cycle) 24->13ka
Pollara volcanics 30-<13 ka

Notable morphologic features:
Monte Fossa delle Felci (962 m)
Monte dei Porri (860 m)
Pizzo del Corvo (529 m)
Crater of Pollara (diameter about 1 km, depth 0-500 m)

Residents: about 2500

The Salina home page


Northernmost of the Aeolian islands, Stromboli enjoys its fame as having one of the few volcanoes on Earth that erupt virtually continuously, and most tourists who visit the island only come to see the volcano. The volcano, though most of its activity is relatively mild, presents a significant hazard potential, and tourists climbing to its summit are exposed to the risk of being surprised by "larger-than-normal" explosions. Lava flows are emitted episodically (most recently in 1975, 1985-1986, and 2002-2003) while stronger explosive events are also known, such as in 1919 and 1930. The lastest major eruptive event, in 2002-2003, generated a small but damaging tsunami which led to the total evacuation of the island for the first time in its history.

Stromboli at a glance

Area: 12.6 km2
Location: 40 km NE of Lipari
Highest elevation: 924 or 926 m
Age of volcanism:
Strombolicchio 204-25 ka
Palaeostromboli I and II 156-55 ka
Palaeostromboli III 35 ka
Scari and Vancori complexes 26-13 ka
Neostromboli 14-5.6 ka
Sciara volcano 10 ka to recent

Notable morphologic features:
I Vancori (924 or 926 m)
Pizzo sopra la Fossa (918 m)
Timpone del Fuoco (147 m)
Strombolicchio (56 m)

Residents: about 400

The Stromboli home page


Panarea, the "jet set" island among the Eolie, is geologically much younger than has been believed until relatively recently. The island, which is highly dissected and tectonized, is only a part of a much larger, mainly submarine, volcanic complex whose most recent eruptive activity occurred only 10,000 years ago. Increased activity at the submarine fumaroles of Panarea - which are known since classical times - began in November 2002, subsided during the first months of 2003, and resumed in late January 2004. The significance of this phenomenon is not clear but probably represents nothing else than "normal" fluctuations in the lifetime of a dormant volcano.

Panarea at a glance

Area: 3.4 km2
Location: 20 km NE of Lipari
Highest elevation: 421 m
Age of volcanism:
oldest rocks in NW sector 21+/-19 ka
lava domes at E coast 135 ka
Basiluzzo lava dome <10 ka

Notable morphologic features:
Punta del Corvo (421 m)
Castello lava dome (257 m)
Basiluzzo dome (165 m)
Dattilo island (103 m)

Residents: about 300, increasing to 2000 in August

The Panarea home page


The largest of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari, is geologically extremely complex and its eruptive history has extended to the very recent past. The island is covered with the products of extremely violent explosive eruptions. In spite of the - even though relatively low - volcanic hazard, the island is flooded with tourists during the summer season and hosts the main town in the Aeolian archipelago.

Lipari at a glance

Area: 38 km2
Location: 30 km N of the Sicilian coast
Highest elevation: 602 m
Age of volcanism:

(to be supplied)

Notable morphologic features:
Monte Chirica (602 m)
Monte S. Angelo (594 m)
Monte Pilato (476 m)
Monte Guardia (369 m)
Monterosa (239 m)

Residents: about 8500

The Lipari home page


All volcanoes of the world owe their name to Vulcano, the southernmost of the Aeolian Islands. Though morphologically relatively unspectacular, the eruptive activity at its active cone in Ancient times impressed observers that much that they suggested it was the home of the God of Fire. Vulcano is potentially extremely hazardous, but a village, overcrowded during the summer season, lies right at the foot of its most recently active cone. The most recent eruption occurred at the Fossa crater in 1888-1890 and was purely explosive; viscous lava was extruded during an eruption in the 18th century. The northernmost portion of the island is constituted by the youngest volcanic edifice, Vulcanello, which began to form during the second century B.C. and remained active through the 16th century.

Vulcano at a glance

Area: 21.2 km2
Location: 1 km S of Lipari
Highest elevation: 500 m
Age of volcanism:
South Vulcano: ca. 120-98 ka
Piano Caldera: ca. 98-97 ka
Post-Piano caldera cycle: ca. 97-50 ka
Lentia Complex: 15.5 ka
Fossa Caldera: 16->13 ka
Fossa cone: 6-5 ka-recent
Vulcanello: 2.5 ka-recent

Notable morphologic features:
Piano Caldera with M. Aria (500 m)
Monte Saraceno (481 m)
Fossa cone or Fossa Grande (391 m)
Vulcanello (123 m)

Residents: about 500 (permanent, but during the summer season up to 10,000 people stay on Vulcano each day)

The Vulcano home page

Copyright © Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

Page set up in late 1995, last modified on 29 January 2004
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