History of Panarea

See Panarea guide for highlights and historic monuments

History of Panarea

Over many centuries Panarea, like all the Aeolian Islands was mostly deserted, and even in 1825 there were only a thousand people on the island, and probably, between the 16th and 17th century, the population was even more scarce because of raids by the Turks. Things probably changed after 1693, when the Turks were defeated by the fleet of Lipari [1].

Bronze age village at Panarea

However, the island was still inhabited to some extent even in very ancient times. Excavations carried out by Luigi Bernabò Brea in the Aeolian Islands in 1947 brought to light a village located on the promontory of “Punta Milazzese” that was easily defensible, hence why it was chosen as the site for this Middle Bronze Age village which consisted of circular huts, in which the remains of Bronze Age vases were found that show a relationship with the Mycenaeans in the early 13th century BC [2].

Roman occupation

Archaeological data also shows that the island was inhabited in Roman times. In recent months a Roman ship was recovered - we know from the earliest explorations by experts that the ship was carrying jars of dried fruit and dates back to the first century AD.

The discovery of other wrecks of cargo ships suggest that the island was at the center of an intense trade in the Mediterranean and the presence of so many shipwrecks supports the validity of the proposed etymology of L. Zagami, by which Panarea was called "The Damned" because of the danger of the many rocks rising from its waters.

In Roman times Panarea was basically used as a military outpost and for trade; in Basiluzzo a Roman settlement was found, and later, in medieval and modern times, the island was an outpost of Arab Piracy in the Mediterranean.

Today Panarea is a high standard resort, especially during the  summer months of July and August, and it is also expensive to visit. Note that outside these months the island is attractive to everyone who loves nature and especially archaeology and volcanology, of which Panarea is an example of exceptional interest.

Etymology of Panarea

With a certain paradox we could say that Panarea is the "Neverland." This is because Strabo (58-25 BC), in his "Geography", speaks of an island in the Aeolian archipelago which he calls "Euonymos", and which also gives us the etymology, meaning "the island to the left".

Strabo says: "[...] The seventh island is 'Euomynus' which is farthest out in the sea and is high desert; Because it is so named it is more to the left than the others, to those who sail 'from' Lipari 'to' Sicily [...]". However, with these coordinates and coming from Lipari to Sicily, there is nothing! In fact, even in the 19th century A. Firmin Didot, rightly explained, "[...] This Strabo and his passage is definitely wrong, because, coming from Lipari to Sicily, there is no island to the left" [3].

Some scholars also logically thought that Strabo would indicate some other island. In fact, L. Zagami wrote: [...] Some believed that Panarea corresponds to the island called "Euonymos" by the ancients, which was in fact included in the Aeolian Islands.

Strabo also cites "Euonymos," explaining the etymology of its name, saying it was so called because, compared with sailors coming from the port of Lipari, it was located ‘to the left’ (...) But, with the name "Euomenos" the island of Basiluzzo as well that of Stromboli could be noted  [...]".

Other scholars, Zagami observed, "referring to the expression of Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), who called Euonymos  “minima” (or "smallest") and "Novissima" ("very recently") have held that the name "Euonymos" indicates the island of  “Vulcanello”, born just recently in relation to Pliny,  i.e. in 183 BC" [4].

The obvious error of Strabo has been identified by  H. Mertz, who has thought of an evident error in the text, which was amended and corrected:

[...] “Here an unusual error in transposition appears in Strabo's 'Geography' persisting for some two thousand years (...) The original Greek text should be read: (...) “to those who sail 'To' Lipari 'From' Sicily”, not the reverse. Geographically, no island exists further out to sea, more to the left than the others when one sail from Lipari to Sicily. Furthermore, the high sea is not be found in that direction since Italy itself lies there. On the other hand, Alicudi, errousnely identified alike by Strabo and all later Geographers. does exist farthest out in the high sea” [5].

In the Middle Ages the island was re-named, and, according to writing handed down by 'Anonymous from Ravenna' (7th-8th century AD), turned into “Pagnaria”: “[…] ‘Panaria’, the proof of the present name dates back to the Geographer from Ravenna, who indicated it with the name of 'Pagnarìa'. The name is clearly of Byzantine origin and among the proposed etymologies there are "Panaràia" (light, thin) or better still, "Panaràia", "The Damned", "Panaraiòtes" (full of holes), spongy; "Panéros" (full of mountains ")," Panàrroia "(without streams)" [6].

The same considerations are in L. Zagami [7], who goes on to explain better the meaning of certain etymologies, such as the term "Panaràia", meaning "The Damned" (perhaps because of the rocks around it). Presumably Zagami’s hypothesis has a historical basis, because just recently the remains of a Roman ship that probably sank because of the cliffs have been found in the waters around the island:

"[...] The islands to the north of 'Panaria' are in large numbers, many of them can be defined as simply rocks above the water, located close to each other, and they are called "Ants", a name that indicates their outstanding number [...]" [8].

However, the question of the "names" of Panarea is unique. With the name Latinized by the Moderns it was called "Panaria", by Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575), Vincenzo Coronelli (1650-1718) and Fazello (1498-1570), but about the name by which it was known by the Ancients, contemporary historians do not agree. Some called it "Icesia" without the "h", Ptolemy and many others "H-icesia" or “H-icesium”. Others called it "Thermis-i-a" and Strabo used "Thermis-sa".

Natale Conti (1520-1580) and Iohann Jacob Hoffmann (1635-1706) believe that its etymology comes from the Greek word "Thermes", meaning "heat" because of the thermal baths (... ).

Other scholars, like Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575),  say "Panaria" is the old "Evonimos" or “Evonymus” for Ptolemy (90-168 AD), and Pliny, but Filippo Cluverio  (1580-1622) and Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598-1671) believes that ‘Evonymos’ is the proper name of ‘Vulcanello’ (..).

Appian (95-165 AD), Lendro Alberti (1479-1522) and Giovanni Botero (1533-1616) called it "Didyme," but this is wrong, because "Didyme" is the name of ‘Salina’ [...]" [9].

See also our Panarea travel guide


1. See "Research on rural dwellings in Italy, Olschki., 1973:  112

2. see L. Bernabò Brea-M. Cavalier, "Meligunìs Lipàra", III. Prehistoric stations of the Aeolian Islands. Panarea, Salina and Stromboli ", Palermo, 1968: 1-132

3. See Strabo," Strabonos Geographike: Strabonis Geographica. Strabonis geographicorum tabulae XV", edited by A . Firmin Didot, 1877: 979

4. See L. Zagami, "Lipari and its five millennia of history," Ditta  D'Amico, 1960,: 53-54

5. Vedi Henriette Mertz, “The wine dark sea: Homer's epic of the North Atlantic”, Mertz, 1964, pp. 43-44

6. See G. Libertini, “Le isole Eolie nell'antichità Greca e Romana”, Bemporad, 1921: 12 footnote 3

7. “Lipari and its five millennia of history”, Ditta D'Amico, 1960: 52, note 65

8. See "Uses and customs of all nations ...", Milan, 1858, Vol. III: 41

9. See Giovanni Andrea Massa, " La Sicilia in prospettiva …, 1709, Vol II: 478