The Aeolian Islands provide an outstanding record of volcanic island-building and destruction, and ongoing volcanic phenomena. Studied since at least the 18th century, the islands have provided the science of vulcanology with examples of two types of eruption (Vulcanian and Strombolian) and thus have featured prominently in the education of geologists for more than 200 years. The site continues to enrich the field of vulcanology.
The Isole Eolie (Aeolian Islands) are located off the northern coast of Sicily. The group consists of seven islands (Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea) and five small islets (Basiluzzo, Dattilo, Lisca Nera, Bottaro and Lisca Bianca) in the vicinity of Panarea. The total area of the Aeolian Islands is 1,216 km2. The islands range in size from Panarea which is 34 km2 to Lipari which is 376 km2. The Aeolian are all of volcanic origin, separated from the Sicilian coast by waters of 200m deep. It seems that they have never been in contact with the Sicilian Island. The islands have provided two of the types of eruptions (Vulcanian and Strombolian) to vulcanology and geology.
In terms of size, Vulcano is the third largest island and the most southerly of the Aeolian group. In the past, the island was frequently evacuated due to volcanic activity that periodically takes place in the Great Crater. Nowadays, activity is limited to fumaroles that can be found just about anywhere on the island but tend to be concentrated in the area around the Fossa and on the isthmus between Faraglione and Vulcanello. Panarea is the smallest of the islands. It has a remarkable variety of differing environments in comparison with the other islands, especially in terms of flora and is a fascinating site for naturalists. Stromboli is the only island in the archipelago that has permanent volcanic activity. Eruptions are somewhat fragmented and this type of phenomenon has been labelled 'Strombolian Activity'. The island is the most northerly of the group and its economy is based almost solely on tourism. Despite difficult access, the plains areas were at one time highly fertile and cultivated and Stromboli was renowned for the production of malvasia grapes. Filicudi: recent studies have dated the lava at the centre of the Zucco Grande as being more than 1 million years old, thus making it the oldest product yet known from the whole archipelago. Despite its appearance of having been created at the dawn of time and the initial visual impact it has on visitors, Alicudi is the youngest of the islands. The eastern slopes of the island are almost completely covered with terraces that indicate past agricultural activities. The wild western slopes remain uninhabited due to their steepness and inaccessibility.Salina rises from the sea capped by the volcanoes Monte dei Porri to the west and Monte Rivi and Monte Fossa delle Felci to the east. Salina, like the other islands making up the archipelago, emerged from the seas during the Quaternary period.
The vegetation of the Aeolian Islands is mainly dominated by species typical of the Mediterranean region. A total of 900 plant species have been recorded in Aeolian Islands, including four endemic species. Most areas are dominated by a man-modified landscape characterized by a steppe vegetation and abandoned olive and vines.
The interesting characteristic of Aeolian archipelago fauna is the presence of continental Europe species reaching the southern limit of their distribution. About 40 bird species have been recorded including 10 under the Sicilian Red List of threatened bird species. The islands are also important for migrant bird species, and are an Important Bird Area for congregatory species identified by Birdlife International. Mammals include one endemic subspecies, Eliomys quercinus leparensis, and seven species of bat have been reported. Seven species of reptile are present in the archipelago, including the newly described Lezard Podarcis raffonei. Other reptiles include four subspecies of Podarcis raffonei and two subspecies of Podarcis siculus. Invertebrate fauna seems relatively well known, with over 15 endemic species described.
The archaeological importance is shown by the presence of life from the Neolithic age. Different layers showing prehistoric, protohistoric and ancient history of the Mediterranean Sea have been preserved.