Ustica, Aeolian Island, Sicily - scuba diving and prehistoric settlements

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Visit Ustica

Ustica is an island located off the Sicily coast about 70 km northwest of Palermo, and falls to the west of the group of islands known as the Aeolian Islands. The island occupies an area of about nine square kilometers and is best known as a 'paradise for scuba-divers', although it also has a small town, a natural environment and prehistoric monuments of interest.

To get to Ustica catch a ferry from Palermo or Trapani in Sicily or from Naples in mainland Italy. Only Palermo runs daily ferries.

Explore Ustica

Diving and nature

Ustica is interesting from a nature-lovers point of view, in particular because Ustica offers favorable conditions for varied and interesting marine species, which explains why it is a favorite destination for scuba diving. The island we can see is really the tip of an underwater volcanic mountain and just below sea level there are caves and rock formations, beautifully clear waters and an extensive number of species of fish and other underwater wildlife.

The numerous caves, such as the "Grotta Azzurra" or "Water Cave", the "Grotta di San Francesco il Vecchio", "Grotta della pastizza",  "Cave of the Boats","Green Cave" and the so-called " Shrimp Cave" are especially popular among divers.

Ustica coast

When you are not underwater you can also explore cliffs and coves along the coast or head inland to explore the island's landscape of Mediterranean bush, full of pine, cypress, eucalyptus, oaks, mastic, euphorbia, wild olive and broom,

Historic monuments

Your visit to 'ancient' Ustica can start with the prehistoric village of the “Faraglioni”, a large village characterized by reinforced fortress walls about one metre high and six meters thick. This wall once enclosed a village of circular or quadrilateral huts, grouped side by side and rich with ceramics such as jars, cups, trays, tanks, grinders and tools - with clear references to the Mycenaean culture.

This village, together with that of "Omo Morto", shows that during the Bronze Age, around 1450-1250 BC, Ustica benefited from its location along the obsidian (natural volcanic glass) and other trade routes. The mighty walls, built following the construction techniques of Mycenae and dating back to the Middle Bronze Age are tangible proof of the state of insecurity in which Sicily found itself following the arrival of the Mycenaeans.

Another important site created by the ancient inhabitants of Ustica is a village built on the Falconiera rock, lying near the Roman tombs. The ancient fortress, later strengthened under the Bourbons, was built on a site dating from the 3rd century BC.

The ancient founders, adapting to their pressing need for security, leveled the top of the mountain and thus gained three terraces on which they built troglodytic houses, connecting the various different levels with steps carved into the rock which came down to the sea.

All the facilities needed for the life of the settlement were dug into the rock, such as tanks for water storage, and various tools made of bronze and fragments of pottery of the Roman imperial age have been found, attesting to a human presence from the IV-III century BC to the first century AD. A votive pit contained hundreds of clay objects relating to the Punic period has also been found.

Underwater archaeology has also been fundamental to the discovery of the ancient settlements of Ustica, which was a major site for ancient maritime trade. Particularly important is the so-called "Antiquarium" of Torre Santa Maria, which offers visitors a vast collection of amphorae and anchors from the Roman Age, prehistoric triangular stone anchors, amphorae and strains of the Punic Age, two bronze helmets of the Roman Republican age, a Byzantine iron anchor and many guns.

Also on Ustica you can see medieval ruins such as the Benedictine Monastery, or "Monasterium Sancte Marie de Ustica" and the remains of the Monastery Church.

The Bourbon fortifications are also interesting to visit, as is the necropolis of the fourth to sixth centuries AD with graves dating from the prehistoric period to the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Finally, there is also a Byzantine village, which became a Bourbon military emplacement in the late 18th century.

See also history of Ustica.

Ustica cuisine

Although the island is small you will find facilities in the principal town so to finish your tour of Ustica we strongly recommend a "gourmet" detour here, perhaps with a taste of the famous "Ustica lentils" (with which the lentil soup is made), while the dishes made from lobster, crab, squid and shellfish are also delicious.

Places to visit nearby

Ustica is one of seven Aeolian Islands and as a group they are a classified UNESCO World Heritage Site for their volcanic creation and phenomena. The islands are beautiful and individualy quite different.

In brief Lipari is the liveliest and has a pretty harbour and one of the best views of the islands; Panarea is the most chic and is a favourite with the jet set; Stromboli has an active volcano whose fiery activity can be seen from a boat at night or by a guided hike to the crater; Vulcano has a smoking crater and a barren landscape complet with smoking fumeroles and a strong sulphur smell, Salina is home to vineyards and spa treatments; Alicudi has a popular treck up to the crater above its fishing village and Filicudi has an underwater park full of shipwrecks.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.

See also:

Map of Ustica and places to visit