Lipari is the name of an island and also the only major town in the archipelago of the Aeolian Islands, off the north coast of Sicily.
It is also the liveliest place, and its attractive harbour area and wide choice of cafes and bars make it a popular base for exploring the islands. Boats between the islands and from Milazzo on north-east Sicily also almost all pass through Lipari harbour (larger boats at Marina Lunga, smaller boats at Marina Corta) so it is easy to reach the other islands if you are based here.
You will first want to spend some time strolling around and enjoying the atmosphere in Lipari town. There are two harbour areas here, separated by the citadel in its clifftop position and the town centre. The citadel is an imposing site since it still retains most of its defensive walls, and the town centre is to the west of the citadel.
Lipari has ben occupied for at least 6000 years (see history of Lipari) and it was here that the people of the Neolithic, Bronze and Hellenistic Ages settled so it is to history that we turn on a visit - don't worry, we mention beaches and leisure activities later!
The Acroplis and the Aeolian Museum are the highlights in the town itself. The Acropolis, now called the castle, forms the heart of the old town in Lipari. You can access the citadel from the south side of Piazza Mazzini, where you can see the 16th century Church of Saint Catherine and of the Addolorata, with its rich altars, gilded stucco work in the 17th century baroque style, and a painting depicting the crucifixion.
A little further on is the Cathedral of San Bartolo, the patron saint of the Aeolian Islands, and built by the Norman Count Roger. The church only retains the arched vaults of this ancient Norman building because the interior and the façade have been rebuilt since.
Inside the cathedral artworks of interest include a silver statue of Saint Bartholomew and a 17th century picture depicting the "Madonna of the Rosary."
Rebuilt in the second half of the 16th century and completed with a barrel vault, the cathedral is high and rectangular with several chapels to the sides. In the 18th century the cathedral underwent radical changes to its structure and decorations, so the ceiling frescoes depicting biblical scenes date from this period and the silver statue of the Protector and the wooden altar were added. Towards the end of the 18th century the tower was erected.
Passing the Church of Our Lady of Grace, which has several interesting frescoes, you come to the 18th century Bishop's Palace, which is to the right of the cathedral and now home to the remarkable museum of the Aeolian Islands.
Lipari Aeolian Museum
The museum in Lipari holds archaeological remains from the Neolithic age, the bronze age and the Greek and Roman periods. In recent years it has been expanded with a section dedicated to underwater archaeology and volcanology and is now very much a highlight of a trip to Lipari.
The exhibition is carefully laid out to make the visit enjoyable even for non-specialists and consists of 27 sections, ranging from Neolithic to modern times. Among the highlights are:
- the first section of archaeological objects of obsidian* (blades and splinters), which accompany some articles of pottery in the “Stentinello style”, decorated with engravings of great artistic value. Room No 10 holds the Greek-Roman artefacts.
* obsidian is the natural glass like rock that results from volcanic activity and attracted settlers here over the centuries
- near the west wall you can see a massive stretch of wall that uses Norman monastery, consisting of blocks of lava stone taken from the 4th century Greek walls.
Particularly noteworthy is the "bothros" or "votive pit" from the shrine of Aeolus, which was located on the Acropolis. You can also see some ceramic statues in terracotta - particularly outstanding is a "deinos", a vessel to pour wine and water, presumably made in Attica and with black figures attributed to the so-called “Painter of Antimenes” painted on the outer edge to represent the exploits of Hercules and Theseus.
- next in Lipari Museum you enter the garden of the inscriptions, where you can see coffins and funerary stelae carved in lava stone and bearing the names of the dead from the Greek and Roman necropolis.
- the sub-marine remains of the Aeolian archipelago exhibited are exceptional, and retrieved from the shipwreck filled waters. Among the most important are the “Ciabatti, Signorini Wreck”, with ceramics of the Early Bronze Age, and black painted pottery probably of Aeolian manufacture from the first half of the 3rd century BC. Bronze coins from the Roman period were also found in the "Alberti Wreck”, with some amphorae.
- in the volcanology section of Lipari museum there is an important educational section which introduces the geology of the archipelago and also the other natural resources of the region such as the production of wines and local products.
Next to the Museum you can see the archaeology site of Lipari with ruins spanning several thousands of years.
Beaches and other activities
While history is all very interesting many visitors are here to enjoy the beautiful coastline, beaches and beautifully clear blue-green waters. Most beach lovers head a short distance north of the town to the pebble beach at Canneto, and the more intrepid continuing further north to the white sandy beach at Spaiggia Bianca.
Exploring the rest of the island is easy with the buses from Marina Lunga or by renting a bike. You can also organise excursions to the other islands from the harbour, or to other highlights around the coast of Lipari island.
There are also several very scenic walks near Lipari so ask for details in the tourist office on Corso Vittorio Emanuel II in the centre of town. The most popular walks are probably the climb up Monte Sant'Angelo or to the roman ruins at San Calogero, starting from Pianoconte.
The ancient tradition of producing liqueurs is carried on today with the production of Grappa, Mandarin, and the “Malvasia di Lipari”, a fortified dessert wine with the color of honey.
Today, the typical Aeolian cuisine is seafood based, with grilled fish, spaghetti "alla Strombolana" with capers, pasta with sea urchins, and also the "Mulincianeddi", a kind of meatball made with eggplant, capers, tomato and red pepper.
Map of Lipari and places nearby
Lipari places to visit
See more places nearby in the Sicily guide