Art and History


The prosperity that Lipari enjoyed during the two centuries of Greek rule came to an end with the Roman conquest. The island, small but independent, had reached a level of wealth, which is shown by the production of refined pottery and the unusually large size of the town.
After the destruction, massacres and deportations of the Roman conquest there followed a long period of poverty: Lipari became a provincial town of no importance, subject to the Castle garrison.
It became a ‘Municipium’ in the imperial age, a place of deportations and internment.
From the third century onwards, under Byzantine influence, it was possibly a bishopric and the destination of hermits in search of refuge. The Christian community recognised Saint Bartholomew as its patron and his remains became an object of worship.
Digs which brought to light the remains of an arena, spas and roads show that Lipari had regained its vitality by the 5th century. In 543 the Goths established a naval base on Lipari. In the early Middle Ages Lipari declined rapidly, both as a result of volcanic activity on Monte Pelato and Forgia Vecchia in 729, and because of continuing raids by the Arabs who devastated the town and deported its inhabitants in 838.
The islands were uninhabited for two centuries until the arrival of the Normans in 1083 and the foundation of a monastery by Benedictine monks. In 1091 the monastery obtained the feudal seigniory over the Eolian islands, with a bull issued by Pope Urban II.
In 1095 the abbot of the monastery, Brother Ambrose, promulgated the ‘Constitutum’, which granted to citizens and their heirs property of the land they cared for. In order to colonise Lipari the right to property was extended to outsiders, but only after having cultivated the land for three years and with the obligation to hand it back to local people in the event of selling it. A concrete policy of repopulating the islands was started up through the exploitation of land abandoned after the Saracen incursion of 838. A photographic reproduction of the document can be seen in Room XXVI of the Museum of Lipari.
The cathedral dedicated to Saint Bartholomew was built next to the Benedictine Abbey, a century after the arrival of the Normans, with material taken from the Greek walls, over the ruins of the proto-Christian one, which had in turn perhaps replaced a Graeco-Roman temple.
The magnificence of the Cathedral demonstrates that the town had come back to life. Trade flourished again thanks to tax privileges (free export of sulphur, alum and pumice stone) granted to Lipari by the Angevin and Aragonese kings. In 1544 the Saracen pirate Ariadeno ‘Red Beard’, allied with the French against Charles V, attacked and sacked Lipari with a fleet of 150 ships after a long siege. He burnt the houses and Cathedral and deported 8,000 people, the entire population, as slaves. There was great dismay in the Christian world. Charles V, the Spanish king of Naples, had stronger walls built around the town and, through tax exemptions and privileges, encouraged the re-population of Lipari (principally with Spaniards and people from Campania).
However, the islands continued to live in terror of incursions and in 1589 were annexed to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Not until the late 1700s, with the end of Turkish piracy, did the town begin to expand again, first under the Spanish, then under the Bourbons, the Savoias, the Austrians and finally under the Spanish again, until the unification of Italy.