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Aeolian Islands

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The Aeolian Islands (Italian Isole Eolie) lie to the north of Sicily and are in the summer a main tourist resort, attracting up to 200,000 visitors.

The islands were colonized by the Greeks around 580 BC[?]. They named them after the God of he Wind Aeolus.

The largest island is Lipari, and the others include Vulcano, Salina[?] and Stromboli[?]. The town of Lipari has about 11,000 inhabitants. Vulcano is famous for its fango[?] baths.

The Aeolian Islands have been listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Table of contents

The Æolian Island -- Stromboli -- Origin of name

The Æolian Islands are all of volcanic origin. The most interesting among them, for the length of time it has been in action and the constancy of its activity, is Stromboli. This name is a corruption of the ancient Greek name Στρογγυλη {Strongulæ} which was given to it because of its round swelling form. This is a very fussy little volcano, for it keeps perpetually puffing, growling, and fuming. It throws out columns of steam, and at intervals stones, cinders, and ashes, which are for the most part drifted by the wind into the sea. This restless volcano has been in almost uninterrupted activity since at least the third century before the Christian era --however much further back.

Position of crater

Several enterprising travellers have ascended to the crater of Stromboli. It was examined with great care in 1828 by M. Hoffmann, a celebrated Prussian geologist, who, while being held fast by his companions, leant over the crag immediately above the crater, and looked right down into one of its active mouths. He thus describes what he saw:--

Description of crater

Three active mouths were seen at the bottom of the crater. The principal one, in the middle, was about two hundred feet in diameter; it shows nothing remarkable, only fuming slightly; and numerous yellow incrustations of sulphur coat the walls of its chimney. Close by this mouth is another, somewhat nearer the precipice, only twenty feet wide, in which I could observe the play of the column of liquid lava, which at intervals poised itself at a level. This lava did not look like a burning mass vomiting flames, but as glossy as molten metal--like iron issuing from the smelting furnace, or silver at the bottom of a crucible.

This melted mass rose and fell--evidently urged by the powerful tension of elastic vapours pressing it upwards from beneath; and it was easy to perceive the balance of effect between the weight of the molten masses and the pressure of the steam which resisted them. The surface rose and fell rhythmically: there was heard a peculiar sound, like the crackling of air from bellows entering the door of a furnace. A bubble of white vapour issued at each crack, raising the lava, which fell down again immediately after its escape. These bubbles of vapour dragged to the surface of the lava red-hot cinders, which danced as if tossed by invisible hands in rhythmic sport above the brink of the opening.

This play, so regular and attractive, was interrupted, every quarter of an hour or so, by more tumultuous movements. The mass of whirling vapour then rested motionless for a moment--even making a jerking motion of return, as if inhaled by the crater, from the bottom of which the lava rose more strongly as if to encounter it. Then the ground trembles, and the walls of the crater starting bend. It was quite an earthquake. The mouth of the crater uttered a loud rolling bellow, which was followed by an immense bubble of vapour, bursting at the surface of the lava with a loud thundering report. The whole surface of the lava, reduced to glowing splinters, was then tossed into the air.

The heat struck our faces forcibly; while a flaming sheaf rose right into the air, and fell back in a shower of fire all around. Some bombs ascended to a height of about 1200 feet, and in passing over our heads described parabolas of fire. Immediately after such an eruption, the lava withdrew to the bottom of the chimney, which then yawned black and gaping. But erelong there was seen re- ascending the shining mirror of the surface of lava, which then recommenced the rhythmic play of its ordinary less violent bubblings.

What an agreeable visit this must have been! Don't you think, between ourselves, that the German philosopher must, on this occasion, have greatly resembled an Irishman in love, seeing he was so eager to reach the mouth of the crater?

New volcanic island named Julia

Before passing on to the description of other existing volcanoes, it may entertain you to hear something about Julia. This interesting crater had a short and troubled existence. She was not born like others of her name, but rose suddenly and majestically out of the sea, as the poets feign that Venus did of old. She did not, however, keep her head long above water, but after raging and fuming for about a couple of months, she plunged again under the waves. This happened in the year 1831.

It was a French philosopher (Constant Pr¬®¬|vost) who christened her Julia; but it is hard to divine what prompted him to act so ungallantly. Perhaps, at the moment, he may have had in his eye some Julia of his acquaintance, with very red hair and a very fiery temper.

Phenomena preceding its elevation

This volcanic island rose out of the Mediterranean, about midway between the Island of Pantellaria and the village of Sciacca on the southern coast of Sicily. From about the 28th of June to the 2nd of July 1831, the inhabitants of Sciacca felt several slight shocks, which they imagined to have proceeded from Etna. On the 8th of July the crew of a Sicilian ship, which was sailing at a distance of about six miles from Sciacca, suddenly observed in the sea a jet of water about 100 feet high. It rose into the air with a thundering noise, sustained itself for about ten minutes, and then fell down. Similar jets continued to rise in succession, at intervals of about a quarter of an hour, and produced a thick mist overspreading the surface of the sea, which was much agitated and covered with a reddish scum. Shoals of dead fishes were drifted on the waves. On the third day the jets were between 800 and 900 feet in diameter, and between 60 and 70 feet in height, while the steam from them rose to nearly 1800 feet.

On the 12th of July the inhabitants of Sciacca had their nostrils assailed by a strong smell of sulphur, and beheld the surface of the sea covered with black porous cinders, which, being drifted ashore, formed a bed of some thickness on the beach. So great was the drift of volcanic ashes, that boats could hardly struggle through the water, and multitudes of dead fishes floated on its surface. Next morning they saw rising out of the sea a column of dark vapour, which, however, towards night became lurid red. From time to time, during both the day and night, they heard loud reports, and saw bright sparks of fire through the dusky vapour.

Description of island and crater

On the 18th of July the captain of the Sicilian ship discovered that an island had arisen out of the sea at the spot whence the appearances before described had proceeded. It had already attained a height of nearly twelve feet, and had in its centre a crater, which vomited forth immense jets of steam, along with ashes, cinders, stones, &c. The water which boiled in this crater was reddish, and the cinders, which covered the sea all round the island, were of a chocolate colour. The island subsequently attained a height of upwards of 90 feet at its highest point, and a circumference of about three-quarters of a mile. A channel of communication was also opened between the sea and the interior of the crater, which had a diameter of about 650 feet. The vapours and other matters thrown up from the mouth of the volcano formed a luminous column upwards of 200 feet in height.

On the 29th of September it was visited by the French gentleman who gave it the name of Julia, and it then presented the appearance which we have sketched. He landed with a party and proceeded to examine the crater, in which he found a circular basin filled with reddish water, almost boiling hot, and fresh. This basin was nearly 200 feet in diameter. There rose from the water bubbles of gas, which made it appear as if it were boiling. The water was not quite at the boiling point, however, yet the bubbles of gas were sufficiently hot to burn the fingers.

These bubbles rose from a great depth, and each, on bursting, which it did with a feeble report, threw out sand and cinders. At a short distance from the crater there rose sulphurous vapours, which deposited sulphur and salt. The loose dust and ashes forming the soil of the island were hot, and walking on them was difficult. The foregoing woodcut will give you an idea of the appearance which the crater presented to those visitors.

Its disappearance

In the following month of October nothing remained of this wonderful island but a hillock of sand and cinders; and at the end of six months it had quite vanished. Soundings taken a few years ago show ten feet of water over the spot, so that, although the island has disappeared, there is still a shoal left behind. This temporary volcano is best known in England under the name of Graham's Island; so called after an English naval officer of that name, who was the first to set foot on it, and who planted upon it the English flag, so claiming it for his sovereign. The Sicilians allege this to be the reason why it disappeared so soon--that it was in a hurry to escape from under the English yoke.

Rise of islands at Santorin

Similar phenomena have been taking place during the past year, 1866, in the Bay of Santorin, situated in the island of that name, which lies to the northward of Crete. There are several islands in the bay, all apparently of volcanic origin, and one of them was thrown up about three centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. Last year their number was increased by a series of eruptions similar in their attendant circumstances to those which accompanied the upheaval of Julia. The first warnings were given on the 30th of January 1866, by low underground rumblings, and slight movements of the ground at the south end of New Kammeni, one of the formerly upheaved islands in the bay. Next day these phenomena increased in violence, and quantities of gas bubbled up from the sea. On the 1st of February, reddish flames ascended from the water, and on the 2nd there rose, out of the harbour of Voulcano, an island, which was christened "George." The volcanic agitation was prolonged during February and March--the upheaval of other two islands being the result. Whether these additional islands will continue permanently above water remains to be seen.

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