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History of Ischia

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Ischia Prehistory

Ischia is of volcanic origin and linked in classical mythology to Typhon, (Tifeo or Tifone), the monstrous son of Gaea and Tartarus. As the husband of Echidna, Typhon fathered many monsters, including the dog Cerberus, Hydra, Chimaera, Orthus, Sphinx, the Nemean lion and vultures. He was one of several personifications of volcanism since flame gushed from his mouth (in addition to having a hundred dragon heads under his arms and coils of vipers under his thighs etc). This giant rebelled against Zeus and came close to winning. At one point, Typhon managed to cut through the sinews of Zeus' hands and feet so that Zeus couldn't use his thunderbolts. Zeus' son Hermes helped him out on this occasion and Typhon was finally killed by Zeus and buried under what is now Mount Etna in Sicily. Another version has him buried at the foot of the island of Pithecusae (Greek Pithekoussai), today's Ischia, erupting flames and boiling water, and causing earthquakes by his movements. 

Neolithic materials are sporadic and isolated on Ischia. The most important archaeological finds come from the locality of Cilento. Together with some ceramic fragments, archaeologists have found terracotta weights for fishing nets and a few stone tools, in particular flint and obsidian knife blades and residual tool-making flakes. During the first half of 8th century B.C. and after an eruption, the village that existed from the Bronze Age until the First Iron Age on the Hill of Castiglione, between Porto d'Ischia and Casamicciola was completely abandoned.

Pithecusae: Greeks between the 8th and 2nd centuries B.C.

Around 770 B.C., Greek colonisers coming from Chalcis (Calcide) and Eretria in the island of Euboea, settled in Ischia, named it Pithecusae and founded a town. For a long time the etymology of the toponym was thought to come from the term "Pithekos", monkey, and to indicate the presence of this animal on the island. The other name of the island was Inarime, a word used by Tyrrhenians for "monkey". However, the etymology is more likely related to pithos (a jar). In this case, the term would indicate the commercial nature of the settlement. The colonisers selected the safest side of Ischia for their settlement. The acropolis on the headland of Monte di Vico on the northwestern end of the island, together with the adjacent area, including the suburban centres of the Hill of Mezzavia, the harbour area and the necropolis in the valley of S. Montano, which was no longer effected by volcanic activity. Historical sources mention three or four eruptions between 770 and 350 B.C., but excavations carried out both in the necropolis and on the acropolis of Monte di Vico indicate that the occupation of Ischia was never interrupted during this period.

Clues to the culture of the first colonial period include some small exotic objects, such as scarab seals and scarab jewels and different types of ceramic, among the funeral objects found in a few tombs, which indicate trade with the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. There are finds originating from Corinth and Euboea, in Greece, and considerable evidence of trading relations between Pithecusae and some Italian regions, such as Apulia (Puglia), Ionic Calabria, Sardinia and, most of all, with southern Etruria, Latium (Lazio) and the closest parts of Campania. In Pithecusae, the ceramic industry was not the only one. There is also evidence of a metallurgical industry, which, together with trading, contributed to the flourishing economy of the island during the second half of 8th century B.C. On the hill of Mezzavia, Localitą Mazzola, dry stonework ruins suggest bronze and iron processing, as well as extraction of silver and gold. 

The most famous find is, without a doubt, "Nestor's cup", coming from a tomb in the necropolis of Rhodes, on which is engraved in Euboean alphabet, with reference to the town of Pithecusae, a three verse epigraph alluding to the famous Nestor's cup described by the Iliad. This is the only example of a poetic passage we have written in a language that is contemporary with the Iliad. The transcription of the text, consisting of three verses, with part of the first verse missing, says: "This is Nestor's cup from which it is pleasant to drink. But the one who drinks from this cup, will suddenly fall in love with Aphrodite with her beautiful crown." 

The progressive decline of the prestige of Pithecusae, which was soon under authority of Cumae, began at the beginning of the 7th century B.C., and was due to the development of Cumae. The necropolis furnishings in Pithecusae were, from that time, poorer than before, though meagre funeral equipment does not always mean poverty, since it could demonstrate a change in funeral customs. In this period, they included Attic ceramics, which, from the beginning of 6th century onwards surpassed all other Greek ceramics in technical and artistic quality. Among the archaeological materials of this period, there are many fragments of architectural terracotta coating wooden structures in temples and other buildings. 

In 474 B.C., Hieron (Ierone), tyrant of Syracuse, entered into an alliance with Cumaeans during their war against the Etruscans. Having defeated them, he occupied Pithecusae in order to better control and prevent an attack by his defeated enemies. Between 450 and 420 B.C., Campania was occupied by the Sabellians (this was the name the Romans gave to the Italic osca-language peoples) coming from the Abruzzi-Molise Apennines. Around 420 B.C., Cumae also fell within their jurisdiction and became an osca town. Only Neapolis (present-day Naples) saved itself from invaders and occupied Pithecusae, which kept its Greek civilisation for another three centuries. Although the island depended on Naples, the ceramic industry preserved a remarkable importance. Table ceramics painted in black and known as "Campana A" type, characterised this period, as well as common ceramics and commercial "pointed" amphorae, used to import and export wine.

Aenaria: Roman domination from 1st century B.C. to 4 C A.D.

Around the end of 2nd century B.C., commercial activity on Ischia was suddenly interrupted. Historical sources mention one eruption in 91 B.C., but geological and archaeological research suggests that during the Imperial Roman period from Augustus to Diocletian, the island was struck by several (at least four) volcanic eruptions with accompanying landslides, mudflows and earthquakes.  Before these discoveries, it had been very difficult to understand why an island like Ischia, rich in hot springs, to which Romans were particularly partial, displayed no evidence of monumental buildings associated with Roman baths nor high class houses, which, in contrast, are present in great numbers in the region of Phlegraean Fields, in the area of Pozzuoli, Baia and Miseno. The high risk of earthquakes and eruptions can easily explain why members of the Roman nobility preferred not to establish their residences in Ischia. It can also explain why Augustus got rid of Ischia (which became a property of the Roman State and changed its name in Aenaria) by giving it back to Naples in exchange for Capri, which is only a fifth of Ischia in size and without hot springs. Capri, rich in Imperial houses and an important reference point in Roman Imperial history, took advantage of this situation. In Aenaria, on the contrary, there are everywhere humble remains (fragments of everyday pottery and poor tombs), traces of a stubborn peasant population that, heedless of the volcanic danger, carried on cultivating this perilous land.

Aenaria, the new toponym given to the island, has often and erroneously been associated with Aeneas, the mythical Trojan exile who landed on the Latium coast and is connected to the legend of the origin of Rome. In fact, the etymology of the name derives from the Latin aenum, meaning bronze or metal in general, and confirms the flourishing metallurgical activity of the new centre of Aenaria, risen on the ruins of Pithekoussai.

The end of 4th century is characterised by the decline of the Roman Empire in the face of continuous barbarian invasions. During one of them, the one whose protagonist was Alaric, the king of the Visigoths, Ischia (the last name given to the island coming from the long and slow evolution of the Latin "insula major", "island par excellence") also suffered the ravages of this passage, sharing the same fate of the other islands of the Gulf of Naples 

Ischia from the 5 C to the Angevin domination

From the end of 5th century A.D. onwards, domination by several Germanic populations followed at very short intervals (in particular Heruli and Ostrogothics). They were characterised by continuous and terrible ravages, which didn't spare Ischia, until Pope Hadrian I asked for the help of Charlemagne in Italy in order to drive Longobards out. In 813 Saracen incursions followed the Barbarians and lasted for more than 30 years, until a little fleet, coming from Sorrento, set Ischia free and attacked Saracen pirate ships which took shelter on the island they, themselves, had devastated. The dukes of Naples controlled Ischia for about two hundred years, and then followed the Norman period for a more than fifty years. The last Norman sovereign was Henry of Hohenstaufen. 

In 1228, a terrible earthquake ravaged Ischia, anticipating, perhaps, the disastrous volcanic eruption of 1300, during which more than 700 islanders died. In 1265, with the death of Manfredi and Corradino, the reigning house of Swabians came to an end and the domination of the Angevin family started. Ischia was, on the side of Swabians, related to the Aragonese royal family and took part to the revolt headed by Giovanni da Procida (the Sicilian Vespers). Once the Angevins were out of the island, King Peter III of Aragon, Manfredi's son-in-law, was elected by acclamation. Around the end of 1200, after a brief recapture of the island by the Angevins, defeated in Castellamare in 1285 thanks to the fleet of the Admiral Ruggiero di Lauria, king James II (the son of Peter III) came back on the Sicilian throne and gave his brother, Frederic II, the Ischia signory.

Until 1300, the island was politically and economically separate from the Angevins of Naples, but under the Aragonese of Sicily. Actually, in 1299 Frederic II of Aragon put Ischia and Procida under the control of Landolfo Galdo. The same year, the ravages committed by the Angevin troops were followed by a fearful volcanic eruption coming out from a crater opened on the east side of Monte Epomeo. Its activity lasted, with brief quiet periods, for two years. Only in 1305 did the survivors, who stayed for two years in Procida and on the Neapolitan coast, come back to Ischia where Cesare Sterlich, ex-ambassador of Charles II at the Pope's court, governed the country and undertook the rebuilding with humanity and energy. 

In 1313 Captain Giovanni Caracciolo Rossi succeeded Governor Sterlich. He was a follower of King Robert (Charles II of Anjou's third born), who, in 1328, preferred to die in the explosion of the powder-magazine of Ischia Castle, rather than surrender to the besiegers of the island. In 1382, King Robert died at the age of eighty and his niece Giovanna I followed him. Starting from that moment, the Angevins and Aragonese became the protagonists of the battle for the succession of the throne of Naples. Even the islanders participated, going through sacks and devastation until 1441 when Renato of Anjou was driven away from Naples by Alfonso d'Aragona and took refuge in Provence (France). The Aragonese dynasty succeeded the Angevin one with Alfonso I and ended in 1501 with Frederic.

Ischia under the dominion of Aragonese and the corsair raids

Eager for vengeance, Alfonso of Aragon came back to Naples in order to recapture it, but he first stopped in Ischia, sending away all those who sided with his rival, Renato of Anjou, and founded there a large colony of Spanish and Catalans on whom he conferred citizenship and from whom the Ischian nobility have subsequently descended. Later on, he promoted the construction of new protective fortifications such as a bridge connecting the island Castle to the harbour, and instituted a Customs Office to collect duty on salt, iron and fish. He organised an efficient public administration, helped by some expert officials of the Royal Curia, and set up game reserves, introducing hares, wild rabbits, pheasants, partridges and turtle-doves in Panza (Forio) and Testaccio (Barano). 

In 1458, Alfonso died and his son, Ferdinando I, succeeded him. As soon as he arrived, Ferdinando had to face the Barons of Naples' conspiracies. His rival, Giovanni of Anjou, supported them. At the same time, burdensome raids by Turkish corsairs began all around the Italian coast and islands. In addition to all this, Giovanni Toriglia, the Governor of Ischia, took advantage of the help he offered to Giovanni of Anjou and sacked Procida, the signory of which had been promised to him. Ferdinando I did not forgive his action and charged Captain Alessandro Sforza to expel him from Ischia. Once Toriglia was driven out of the island, he gave himself up to piracy and besieged Ischia Castle with his brother, compelling the Aragonese garrison of Ferdinando to stay there for several months. In 1465, after some years of uninterrupted fighting, Ferdinando I managed to throw out, once and for all, the Corsairs of Giovanni Toriglia and his brother and to stop Barons' conspiracy.

In 1494, the sovereign died and his son, Alfonso II, came after him for a year. In his turn, he abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinando II. Even if Ferdinando II was a liberal and gave back all the lands his predecessors confiscated to the Neapolitan barons, was abandoned by his soldiers and officers becoming an easy prey for Charles VIII who conquered Naples and forced him to take refuge in the Castle of Ischia. After a month spent in Ischia, he moved to Messina with his family and his retinue, leaving the command and the government of the island to the trusted Captain Don Inaco d'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto. In 1500 Federico of Aragon (succeeded to Ferdinando II) was forced to the capitulation to the French admiral d'Aubigny and was exiled in Ischia. Afterwards, before leaving for France, the Aragonese sovereign granted ample privileges to the island and their rulers, giving the whole property of Ischia to the Marquis del Vasto Inaco d'Avalos and his sister Costanza. However, shortly after, in 1503, Frederic of Aragon reappeared with a letter to the Marquis del Vasto, inviting him to deliver Ischia, in a peaceful way, to the king of France Louis XII. The Marquis, faithful to the Spanish House, refused the order and organised the Castle resistance to the bitter end against the French assault. Nevertheless, French were able to land on the island, sacked it, put down and killed the few farmer islanders remaining. 

Corsair incursions went on for forty years, when the pirate of Greek origin and Christian religion, Khair ad-Bin Barbarossa, master of Algiers and pasha of the Ottoman fleet, after having ravaged several coasts and islands of the peninsula, reached Ischia in order to defeat the Marquis del Vasto, vainly attacking the Castle in different moments. Because of the broken relations between French and Turkish, Barbarossa decided to go back to Algeria, but he first invaded and devastated Ischia, landing in different areas of the island at the same time and attacking Forio, Serrara Fontana and Barano. In 1546, by an odd coincidence, both the pirate Barbarosssa and the Marquis del Vasto died. Dragut, a Barbarossa follower, continued his pirate activity. He was of Christian origin as well, came from Anatolia and was rais of Tunis, his headquarters. Until 1569 his terrible raids spread fast among the Italian seas. In Ischia, many defence towers and lookout positions were built along the coast to prevent pirates attacks.The besieged threw stones, hot water and household goods from the towers onto the invaders. Unfortunately, during the attack, some islanders died.

After the death of Francis I of France and the abdication of Charles V, many discharged soldiers became brigands. Some tyrannical governors joined them, provoking, in 1647, a popular revolt against the Spanish, headed by "Masaniello". Procida and Ischia also took sides against the family of the Marquis del Vasto. Moreover, together with the damage of a disorganised revolt there was the plague in 1655, which decimated the population of Ischia until "the miracle" of Saint Rocco where torrential rains during the summer swept the terrible disease away

Ischian lady

Ischian lady, 1757.

Ischia in the 18 C - between Austrians and Bourbons

In 1707, the Kingdom of Naples passed to Austria and consequently also Ischia had its Austrian governor, the Count of Martiniz. In 1734, Ischia and Naples became a Bourbon dominion and were administrated by royal governors living in the Aragonese Castle. Among them we remember Carlo de Marco, Vicaria's judge, promoter of several decrees aimed at controlling and driving out malefactors who infested the island. However only a few years later, in 1764, as a result of political ups and downs, Ischia was abandoned once again into the hands of criminals and suffered another terrible famine. 

The unhappy year 1799 brought the French revolution to the Gulf of Naples. On the islands, some "trees of freedom" were set up around the end of January and the new tricolour yellow-red-blue waved in the wind. In March 1799, the inhabitants of Ischia put up "the tree of freedom", following the example of Procida: a tree with a three-coloured revolutionary cockarde, red, yellow and blue. A month later, the English commodore Towbridge, by command of Nelson, re-established order and the royal government, after having hung several patriots, among whom was Francesco Bonocore. During the early years of 19th century, Mary Caroline of Austria, the dictatorial and strong-willed wife of Ferdinando IV, who encouraged the repression of the patriots, was expelled by Napoleon's troops and forced to leave Naples. Later on, Joseph Bonaparte occupied her vacant throne, first as viceroy and after as sovereign. In Ischia, a French military sector was installed and new fortifications and cannon housings were built in S. Angelo, Forio, Monte di Vico, S. Montano, Lacco Ameno, Castiglione, in order to face the raids of English and Bourbons coming from Sicily. On 21st and 22nd of June 1809, the whole Anglo-Bourbon fleet drew up for the attack on Ischia and Procida. On the 24th June, they first assaulted Procida, which immediately surrendered, and then Ischia, which vainly attempted a short resistance. But the English stayed on the island for a short time ony. As matter of fact, on 26th of July, as a consequence of the battle of Wagram (Vienna), they went back to Sicily and Malta.

Ischia in the 19 C

In 1815 Joachim Murat, who had succeeded Joseph Bonaparte to the throne of Naples seven years before, was obliged to abdicate. He left Naples and took refuge on Ischia. He stayed there two nights and one day in a lodging-house called "La grande sentinella" (The big sentry), in Casamicciola and then he weighed anchor for France. The following month, in October, he left from France again, in order to reconquer the kingdom, but he was captured and shot by the Bourbons. That was the end of ten years of French domination. 

From 1817 to 1828, Ischia did not have an independent history because of its annexation to the district of Pozzuoli following the Bourbon restoration. In February 1825, a terrible catastrophe hit Ischia irremediably: a dreadful earthquake made the island shaking and transformed Casamicciola into a heap of debris. Ten years after this tragedy, a cholera epidemic followed, spreading death and fear.

In 1848, during the revolt of the Risorgimento, Ischia Castle opened the gates of its prisons to receive the patriots of the Unity of Italy. Among them there were Baron Carlo Poerio, who stayed there for ten years, before being sent to England in exile, Nicola Nisco, Michele Pironti, Vito Porcaro, Sticco, De Gennaro, Caruso and so on. In the meantime, King Ferdinando II visited Ischia and approved the construction of the harbour, which began on 25th of July. Other public works such as the waterworks of Monte Buceto, a good road system, the church of S. Maria di Porto Salvo, confirm a royal special favour for this island. But in 1858 King Ferdinando and his family visited the island for the last time: a short time later he died and his son, Francis II, succeeded him. The latter would have be the last king of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. 

Place to stay in Ischia

In 1860, Ischia engraved its name in the Risorgimento. Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Naples and founded the dictatorial government in the name of Vittorio Emanuele II. In order to smooth out the fights between the Bishop's Curia and the anticlerical patriots in Ischia, Garibaldi sent the Franciscan friar Giovanni Pantaleo to the island, followed by the Garibaldian major Alberto Mario di Lendinara, a writer and politician who was governor of the town. A year later, Francis II fled from Gaeta with his wife, a few followers and many prisoners of the defeated Bourbon army. They moved to Ischia where most of them died in a typhus epidemic. In 1862 Ischia was, once and for all, annexed to the province of Naples (by then a possession of the kingdom of Italy), its public administration was re-organised on a new basis and new public schools, for both boys and girls, were founded. In 1863 His Royal Highness, Prince Oddone of Savoy, Duke of Monferrato, landed in Ischia to experience the famous thermal waters, and where he also had the chance to gain islanders' favour. During his long stay, many country dances and other festivities were held in his honour by the population and the prince also opened the gardens of the royal residence to the public. Since then, Ischia and Procida have followed the political, economical, administrative and military destiny of the mainland city of Naples, to which the two islands were inevitably linked. 

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