Italy – The Aegadian Islands

OFF the western extremity of Sicily lie shallows, sand-banks, and calcareous islands of the same comp( sition as the adjoining mainland. These are the. AEgades, or Goat Islands, named after the animals which climb their steep escarpments. Favignana, near which the Romans won the naval victory which terminated the first Punic war, is the largest of these islands. Its steep cliffs abound in caverns, in which heaps of shells, gnawed bones, and stone implements have been found, dating back to the contemporaries of the mammoth and the antediluvian bear. Conflicts between contrary winds are frequent in this labyrinth of rocks and shoals, and the power of the waves is much dreaded. The tides are most irregular, and give rise to dangerous eddies. The sudden ebb, locally known as niarnbia, or ” tipsy sea ” (mare ubbriaco ?), has been the cause of many shipwrecks.

PANTELLARIA rises in the very centre of the strait which unites the Western Mediterranean with the Eastern. The island is of volcanic origin, abounds in thermal springs, and, above all, in steam jets. Placed on a great line of navigation, Pantellaria might have become of importance if it had possessed a good harbour like Malta. To judge from certain ruins, the population was more considerable formerly than it is now. There exist about a thousand odd edifices, called sesi by the inhabitants, which are supposed to be ancient dwellings. Like the nuraghi of Sardinia, they hate the shape of hives, and are built of huge blocks of rock without mortar. Some of them are twenty-five feet high and forty-five feet wide i and Rossi, the archaeologist, thinks that they date back to the stone age, for pieces of worked obsidian have been found in them.

From the top of Pantellaria we are able to distinguish the promontories on the Tunisian coast, but, though it is nearer to Africa than to Europe, the island nevertheless belongs to the latter continent, as is proved by the configuration of the sea-bottom. This cannot be said of Linosa, an island with four volcanic peaks to the west of Malta, and still less of the Pelagian Islands. The latter, consisting of Lampedusa and a satellite rock called Lampion owe their name (Lamp-bearer and Lamp) to the light which, legend tells us, was kept burning by a hermit or angel for the benefit of mariners. In our own days this legendary lamp has been superseded by a small lighthouse marking the entrance to the port of Lampedusa, where vessels of three or four hundred tons find a safe shelter.

About the close of the eighteenth century the Russians proposed to establish a military station on Lampedusa to rival that of Malta, but this project was never carried out., and has not been taken up by the Italian Government. The population consists of soldiers, political exiles, criminals, and a few settlers, who speak Maltese.