Sunday, 6 August 2017

ITALY: No Place Like Lampedusa, Bluer Than Blue Waters, No Bars, No Loud Music, No Henna Tattoos

Lampedusa or Lampidusa is the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

The comune of Lampedusa e Linosa is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento which also includes the smaller islands of Linosa and Lampione. It is the southernmost part of Italy and Italy's southernmost island. Tunisia, which is about 113 kilometres (70 miles) away, is the closest landfall to the islands. Sicily is farther at 205 kilometres (127 miles), whilst the island nation of Malta is 176 kilometres (109 miles) to the east.

Lampedusa has an area of 20.2 square kilometres (7.8 sq mi) and a population of about 6,000 people. Its main industries are fishing, agriculture, and tourism. A ferry service links the island with Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento, Sicily. There are also year-round flights from Lampedusa Airport to Palermo and Catania on the Sicilian mainland. In the summer, there are additional services to Rome and Milan, besides many other seasonal links with the Italian mainland.

Lampedusa is the southernmost point of the Republic of Italy. It is also Italy's southernmost island. Politically and administratively, Lampedusa is part of Italy, but geologically it belongs to Africa since the sea between the two is no deeper than 120 metres.

Lampedusa is a semi-arid island, dominated by a garigue landscape, with maquis shrubland in the west. It has no sources of water other than irregular rainfall. Overall the island has two slopes, from west to east, and from north to south of the island. The south-western side is dominated by deep gorges, while the southeastern part is dominated by shallow valleys and sandy beaches. The entire northern coast is dominated by cliffs: gently sloping cliffs on the east coast, and vertical sheer cliffs on the west coast.

Since the early 2000s, the island has become a primary European entry point for migrants, mainly coming from Africa. In 2013, Rabbit Beach, located in the southern part of the island, was voted the world's best beach by travel site TripAdvisor.Lampedusa has a historic claim to be part of Malta when Malta was a British colony.

The name Lampedusa derives from the ancient Greek name of the island, Lopado├║ssa or Lapado├║ssa. It has been suggested that the name derives from the word lepas, which means 'rock', due to the rocky landscape of the island; this word was also used by the Greeks for a kind of oyster and the island may have been called like this due to the abundance of this kind of oyster. Other scholars believe that the name derives from lampas, which means 'torch', because of the lights which were placed on the island for the sailors.

Politically, Lampedusa was also part of the Kingdom of Sicily. In the late 18th century, while Malta was still under the Knights, the Prince of Lampedusa had let the island to Salvatore Gatt, a Maltese entrepreneur, who settled on the island with a few Maltese workers.

The British considered taking over Lampedusa as a naval base instead of Malta, but the idea was dropped as the island did not have deep harbours and was not well developed. Despite this, the authorities in Malta and the British government still attempted to take over the island as they believed that it could have been used to supply Malta with food in case Sicily fell to Napoleon.

Since the early 2000s, Lampedusa, the European territory closest to Libya, has become a prime transit point for irregular immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia wanting to enter Europe. In 2004 the Libyan and Italian governments reached a secret agreement that obliged Libya to accept African immigrants deported from Italian territories. This resulted in the mass repatriation of many people from Lampedusa to Libya between 2004 and 2005, a move criticised by the European Parliament.

By 2006, many African immigrants were paying people smugglers in Libya to help get them to Lampedusa by boat.On arrival, most were then transferred by the Italian government to reception centres in mainland Italy. Many were then released because their deportation orders were not enforced.

In 2009, the overcrowded conditions at the island's temporary immigrant reception centre came under criticism by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The unit, which was originally built for a maximum capacity of 850 people, was reported to be housing nearly 2,000 boat people. A significant number of people were sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting.A fire that started during an inmate riot destroyed a large portion of the holding facility on 19 February 2009.

In 2011, many more immigrants moved to Lampedusa during the rebellions in Tunisia and Libya.By May 2011, more than 35,000 immigrants had arrived on the island from Tunisia and Libya.By the end of August, 48,000 had arrived. Most were young males in their 20s and 30s. The situation has caused division within the EU, the French government regarding most of the arrivals as economic migrants rather than refugees in fear of persecution. Italy has repeatedly requested aid from the EU in managing refugees, but has been turned down.

In July 2013, Pope Francis visited the island on his first official visit outside of Rome. He prayed for migrants, living and dead, and denounced their traffickers. In October 2013, the 2013 Lampedusa disaster occurred; a boat carrying over 500 migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, sank off the coast of Lampedusa with the deaths of at least 300 people.

From January to April 2015, about 1600 migrants died on the route from Libya to Lampedusa, making it the deadliest migrant route in the world.

The 2017 Oscar-nominated Italian documentary film, Fire at Sea, documented a part of this migrant crisis and was filmed entirely on the island in 2014 and 2015. The film also won the 66th Berlin Film Festival.

The fauna and flora of Lampedusa are similar to those of North Africa, with a few pelagic endemic species. The Isola dei Conigli or Rabbit Island, close to the south coast of Lampedusa, is one of the last remaining egg-laying sites in Italy for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, which is endangered throughout the Mediterranean. The beach and the neighbouring island are part of a nature reserve: here the singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno spent his vacations, and died in 1994.

Next to Parise Cape is a small beach accessible only by sea, through a low grotto. Other species living along the island's coast include mantas and smaller cetaceans such as dolphins and Risso's dolphins. Waters nearby Lampedusa is the only area in the Mediterranean with sightings of great white sharks of pregnant and newly born individuals.

Recent studies revealed that the waters of Lampedusa are a wintering feeding ground for the Mediterranean group of fin whales.Humpback whale, a species used to be considered as a vagrant species in to the Mediterranean basin, has been seen around the island in recent years.

Along with Linosa, Lampedusa once was a stronghold for critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals until 1950s and they are likely to be regional extinct today.

Lampedusa has a semi-arid climate. It has very mild winters with moderate rainfall and hot, dry summers.

The sea surrounding the island is relatively shallow. The waters are warm most of the year, the highest temperatures recorded in August, typically 27 to 28 °C (81 to 82 °F). The water stays warm until November, when temperatures range from 20 to 23 °C (68 to 73 °F). It is coolest in February and March, when it averages around 16 °C (61 °F). The average annual temperature is 19.2 °C, the average winter is between +15 °C and +17 °C, the summer between +28 °C and +30 °C.

Floating on such bright, clear turquoise waters, shimmering under the radiant sun, you’d swear you’re in the Caribbean. But this tiny island is in the south of Sicily, and it’s home to some of the world’s most spectacular beaches.

Lampedusa’s main attraction is everywhere you look: the sea. The island has dozens of gorgeous beaches, but its most famous, Rabbit Beach, looks like a Pirates of the Caribbean set with its spectacular cliffs and mysterious caves. Each summer thousands of sea-loving Italians flock to the 7.8-square-mile island to enjoy its friendly hospitality and stunning landscape.

Unlike other popular beach locations like Ibiza or Cannes, there is nothing else to detract from the experience of pale sandy shores and bluer-than-blue waters: no bars, no loud music, no henna tattoos. Just the sound of the lazy waves and the excited squeals of seagulls. And from those waters comes a seafood smorgasbord. Head down to L’Angolo del Mare — Lampedusa’s famed seaside trattoria — for some mouth-watering skid fry, spaghetti ai frutti di mare and grilled fish, fresh from one of the island’s 150 small fishing boats.

Its complete isolation makes it the perfect pit stop for tired sea turtles and roaming whales, as well as for tourists seeking calm.

Granted, getting to this unspoiled corner of the Mediterranean is neither easy nor cheap. The international traveler will need to first fly to Rome, then head down to Palermo (Sicily) and finally, board a small, toy-looking airplane to Lampedusa. And don’t plan a trip in July and August when the beaches often look like human carpets.

Go in May, June or September instead. The waters are still warm but you won’t have to fight for a towel spot or an “arancini” — a yummy Sicilian stuffed rice ball coated with breadcrumbs — for lunch. It will also be way cheaper. Off-season, you can rent a small apartment for as little as $30 a night.

If you like quiet solitude, you can take a two-hour boat trip to Linosa, Lampedusa’s little sister island, a patch of cacti and volcanic rock with a handful of tiny colorful houses and sketchy Internet access. That’s just another one of the charms of this remote archipelago: Its complete isolation makes it the perfect pit stop for tired sea turtles and roaming whales, as well as for tourists seeking calm.

But when poorer local business owners start suddenly making money off tourists, that can easily corrupt the spirit of a place. Indeed, the islanders may be more stressed these days, but for newcomers, the place still feels wonderfully laid-back and unspoiled.

Of course, you can’t talk about Lampedusa without acknowledging the staggering number of asylum seekers who’ve perished off the coast of this tiny island trying to reach Europe by boat from Africa.

But tourism may actually help save lives. The island’s mayor, Giusi Nicolini, says the nonstop humanitarian efforts require a strong economy, so if Northern European countries really want to help us deal with immigration, they should send their tourists.

Tourism Observer
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