puttanesca sauce

The island of Ischia: where the puttanesca sauce was invented

Documentary: A little background description of the Island of Ischia, likely home of the Puttanesca Sauce!

Ischia Island, Italy
The mysterious, yet lively, Ischia Island seen from nearby Procida Island...
photo by Romina and it:utente:Retaggio

Ah, the beautiful scenery this part of Italy gives to us! First seeing the Island of Ischia, from the Procida island is an open invitation... you feel the urge to go there and visit this inriguing island across the narrow sea channel. It is in a restaurant located on that Island that the now famous puttanesca sauce was possibly invented. It is about 95% certain that the Puttanesca recipe has originated in Campania; but wether or not the Puttanesca Sauce was invented here takes nothing away from the natural beauty and interest of this island, Ischia, and its fascinating heritage; so here is a brief documentary about it... Use this link to go back to puttanesca sauce main page.

A little history...

The Greeks called their colony on the Island Pithekoussai, named using an uncertain etymology. According Senagora the name derives from pithekos, monkey, and alludes to the myth of Cercopes, Islanders flegree transformed by Zeus into vervet monkeys. Pliny the Elder (Nat. Hist. 111, 6.82) says instead it has derived its name from pythos, or amphora, a theory supported by archaeological evidence that the production of ceramic greek-Italic (and particularly of wine amphorae) and island Gulf of Naples.

In Roman times the island became a center of commerce and manufacturing, which existed not only in ancient Greek Pithecousae (location Mazzola Lacco Ameno above), but also Carta Romana, near the island of the castle and the settlement took Aenaria name, derived from aenus, metal, but also associated with the personality of Aeneas, who was making a stopover here. Virgil called it Arima, the island mentioned in the Iliad (II, 783). The first occurence of the island's current name dates back to 812, in a letter from Pope Leo III informing the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne that some natural disaster had occurred in the area, calling the island Iscla maior 'inputs sunt ipsi nefandissimi Mauri [ ...] in insulam, quae dicitur Iscla maiore, non longe a Neapolitana urbe" Some scholars, finally, have associated the name of the island the term of Schra I-Semitic, "black island" which itself could also be an acceptable theory except that on the geological point of view the island is, because it all the volcanic ashes, mainly white! Moreover, the periodical visits from the Phoenician on the island are archaeologically documented in early antiquity. In the whole of Campania and southern Etruria, from the 8th century BC, Egyptian-made objects or objects generally not originating from the region were found; and they were certainly part of the Phoenician traders stock, as they had settled in Ischia on their way to the italian coast.

The Island's Hot Springs

The thermal waters of Ischia enjoy a worldwide reputation for their relaxing and medicinal properties since ancient times. Already the first Euboean settlers from Greece (eighth century BC), as evidenced by numerous archeological finds at the Pithecusa site and kept at the Archeological Museum at Villa Arbusto in Lacco Ameno, appreciated and used the waters of these hot springs on the island. The Greeks in fact used the thermal waters to restore the spirit and the body and as a remedy for healing the aftereffects of war wounds. People were attributing to the waters and vapors that flowed from the earth with supernatural powers, so it was no coincidence that all those temples erected over hot springs were dedicated to deities such as Apollo at Delphi. Strabo, the greek historian and geographer, mentions in his work the geographical location of the island of Ischia and the virtues of its hot springs. If the Greeks were the first people to benefit from the powers of the thermal waters, the Romans praised them as a way to relaxation and care through the use of Thermae, listing the numerous sources of the island (as proved by votive tablets found at Source of Nitrodi Barano of Ischia, where stood a temple dedicated to Apollo and the Nymphs Nitrodi, guardians of the water) without having a large settlement close-by. 

On the island it has not been seen, unlike in Rome and other ancient centers benefitting from geothermal activity, majestic ruins of the Baths (or thermae) probably due to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, which frequently have violently shaken the cliffs. The decline of Rome coincided with the abandonment of the usage of the hot springs on the island: but there are indeed traces of water use in spas. People resumed actively talking about the geothermal springs around the Renaissance era and the concept of the modern Medical Spa was created by Giulio Iasolino, a Calabrian physician, professor at the University of Naples, who in late 1500, inspired first by the climate and second by the volcanic phenomena (fumaroles and hot springs), realized the therapeutic potential of the geothermal springs. He carried out a thorough census of the thermal sources of the island (for the first time is the geothermal wealth of the isle realized and recorded), we identified the composition of the water and he made detailed observations about their effects on several diseases that afflicted his contemporaries (in describing the source of Castiglione, one of the most famous of the time, Iasolino expresses all his enthusiasm towards the virtues of spa waters: "We see every day the benefits and virtues of this water, so wonderful and beautiful they really must believe this comes from heaven to help Men's Health "). With the publication of the book "Of the natural remedies that are in the Isle of Pithecusa" about said Ischia, Iasolino unleashed the thermal waters of Ischia magical powers that until then had remained dormant. After the experiences of Iasolino in the early seventeenth century, whereas many cures were obtained with the use of baths and treatments in Ischia, quite expensively so that only the nobles could afford them, a group of philanthropist Neapolitan nobles had built in Casamicciola the Pio Monte della Misericordia, Europe's largest spa at the time, to allow even those who had lesser financial capabilities to enjoy the therapeutic qualities of the local hot springs. Since the mid-seventeenth century several establishments and facilities were built near the most famous hot springs that made the island of Ischia a renowned international wonder and a tourism hotspot where people come to treat diseases and wounds. Since the sixties the island of Ischia and its hot waters are once again opened to large scale tourism and an intense scientific activity; but please do not worry, because still today tourism hasn't at all defaced the charms this wonderful Italian island has to offer and it remains something of a little secret...

Ischia Island's Viticulture

The practice of growing vines for wine on the island goes back very far in history. On the cup of Nestor, found in Monte Vico (Lacco Ameno) is inscribed the sentence praising the greatness of the local wine, and testifies that the ancients greek Eubei, which had colonized the island, had introduced the cultivation of the vine and then the production of wine, "nectar of the gods." The cultivation technique, in particular, was inspired by the Greek tradition, differs from the methods of the Etruscans in central Italy and other methods used in inland areas of Italy. The wine has been part of the island's economy for such a long time, it has changed the lives and customs of the inhabitants themselves. Crops on the island stretching from the coast early on steep slopes where Cellai and mountainous terraces, built with reinforced dry wall of tufa stone green, allowing the cultivation of the vine. Since 1500 the bulk white wine was exported by sea to the mainland to the main Italian and foreign markets up in Dalmatia, was placed in "carats" transported from the marc (sailboats).

From 1955 up until now the change in the island's economy has been dramatic. The rapid growth of tourism, which has become the main economic resource of the island, has weakened and partly destroyed the cultural past of a wine-making tradition that begs to be protected and saved.

Things to see while on Ischia island:

Aragonese Castle, Ischia Italy
The Aragonese Castle, and the rocky road leading up to it...
Photo by Rolf Cosar

The Aragonese Castle; this castle was built on a small and rocky Island close by, joined to the Island by a narrow rocky road. Many different empires have passed and occupied this fortress; they are gone and yet the fortress remains! This very old fortress has two main towers whose mission was to control and watch all sea activity nearby.

The Bay of Sorgeto, with its hot springs. You can find these many different activities and things to try related to the abundant hot springs located in this area of the Island. Try a relaxing natural hot bath, try the curative virtues of a volcanic mud facial mask...

Villa La Colombaia The Villa la Colombaia is the historic summer residence of the great Italian director Luchino Visconti. Built between the end of 1800 and early 1900, it was purchased by public property after years of legal battles and is now home to a foundation that rests on four institutional pillars: the municipality of Forio, the Province of Naples, the Campania Region and the University of Parma.

La Mortella gardens; "Giardini La Mortella" means the garden of myrtles. This garden was arranged and planned by William Walton, an English composer, and his wife Susana, an Argentinian woman. Walton cherished the isolation and felt more creative when composing far from others. He worked there for 35 years. His wife strongly believed there was a connection between music and gardening. Susana, or Lady Walton has passed away in march 2010; she was caring for this garden all the way until death.  You can now visit the absolutely beautiful gardens as planned by Susana... this is truely not to be missed!

and of course let's not forget the most important thing to do while in Ischia... have a nice plate of spaghetti alla Puttanesca Sauce, surrounded by good friends and a few nice bottles of Ischian wine!

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