Jan 17

My family is from Lipari, a volcanic island in the Mediterranean. Lipari lies between Sicily and Southern Italy, and is part of the Aeolian Archipelago. It is perhaps best known  today from Classical reference in the Odyssey. It is here that Odysseus stops and obtains the Four Winds from the god Aeolus. Lipari is a small island, with a total surface area of only 14.3 square miles (37 km2) and a permanent modern population of eleven thousand. The primary crops are capers and wine grapes. The main industry is tourism.

The Turkish pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa attacked and ransacked Lipari in 1544. He kidnapped the entire population of the island, appropriating them as slaves forthe Ottoman Empire. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, incensed at this attack on his empire’s sovereignty, ordered soldiers from Aragon (a province in Northeastern Spain, near the Pyrenees mountains and the border with France) to re-settle the island. They built fortifications to repulse future attacks-the walls stand to this day. These men intermarried with the nearby local Sicilian population. These people were my ancestors.

There is a restaurant near where I work that I frequent. It’s called Antalya. I’ll go there and get kofteis, kebap, dolmasi. I’ll chat with the waiter/owner about things, sometimes world events, sometimes small-talk anecdotes. I always make sure to get the coffee-spiked with a little cardamom, it’s the best damn cup of joe you’ve ever had. The tea is good too. I’ll have to work my way to Ayran, though. Sometimes, after work, and with nothing pressing, I’ll sit back and watch some of the soccer on the big screen TV.

My Dad went to Turkey recently on business. During his visit he was fortunate enough to be shown the sights and sounds of Istanbul. Dad loved it, related to me all about the food, how good the people were, what a fascinating country Turkey is. I agreed. I told Dad that the tomb of Saint John is in Anatolia, as is the site where Mary ascended into Heaven. Of course, there is much more history than that, layers and layers of civilization all placed on each other like plates of gold, so much so that it is impossible to encompass it all in words.

No one in my family today recalled the events of 1544. Barbarossa was forgotten, a name that is only familiar to us because it was the code word of a Third Reich military operation. Always interested in history, I was the first one to read about it and tell the others. The fate of the former Liparians, and the fear our ancestors no doubt lived in afterwards, are, for us, anecdotes. They are interesting yes, but not a part of our living present. We do not  hate and fear the Turks; if anything, we like the food, the literature and find the culture fascinating. There is, I think, a lesson here.


  1. It has always fascinated me that the “Ancient” Roman Empire was essentially separated by only one degree from the present day since the Ottoman Empire did not fall till the 20th century.

  2. Nice piece of history that we can learn from. That stretch of Spain is on the Camino….

  3. I agree AAL. We can certainly look on Classical Arab civilization and the Ottoman Empire as the successors of the Byzantines/Romans in much the same way the Romans took over from the Classical Greeks. The sultan who took Contsantinople, for example, had himself crowned as “Kaiser-e-Rumi” or “Caesar of The Romans” (the Byzantines called themselves Romans, by the way, no Byzantines).

  4. Thanks Kim! Yes, history can teach us a lot. Perhaps one valuable lesson we can draw is that our knowledge of the past and its tragedies doesn’t necessarily mean we have to live inside of it.

  5. STEPHEN /

    It’s like Turkey is some sort of nexus. To the West, there are modern, Enlightenment-inspired countries and civilizations, while east (Middle East) there is an ancient tone to the societies.
    Continue on the silk road to the Orient, and there appears, again, a touch of the philosophy allied with Enlightenment and Reason.
    It has always amazed me that countries like JAPAN have become great friends and allies with the U.S., even after we brought down apocalypse on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    The Arab world needs an enlightenment, and unfortunately the powerful are empowered by the ancient codes of violence, grudge, and revenge. I hope that some day, a leader or group of leaders will some day arise in the Arab World and serve tasty helpings of Reason and Democracy to the peoples there. Spiced with Cardamom…

  6. Stephen, thanks for the comments, though I’m not sure I entirely agree. Classical Islamic civilization made many contributions to human advancement-so many, in fact, it would be difficult to enumerate them all. The condition of the Middle East and its surroundings is the result of complex events which are hard to summarize in the space reasonably allowed here. We could say the Middle East’s various polities are evolving into their natural lineaments after a significant period of colonization under various powers (Turk, English, French, what have you). With this evolution comes an amount of fear and uncertainty-which can lead to the conflict we are all too familiar with. However, I am very optimistic and this is for a simple reason: people are people, no matter where you go or who they are. People are inherently good-they don’t want to hurt each other. All a human being wants is food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, an opportunity for themselves, the ability to provide for their family-and a safe world to enjoy it all in. It’s that simple.
    At any rate, again, thanks for sharing your views.

  7. Yes Peter. The Islamic societies made the Enlightenment possible since the “civilized” west had destroyed alot of the old knowledge during the dark ages that followed the fall of Rome. It was the Moors that gave us modern medicine. We even use Arabic numerals, not Roman numerals.

  8. That’s right. The loss of knowledge was so complete that Western Europe didn’t have access to the teachings of Aristotle-these were re-transmitted to the West from the Arabs. That always struck me as particularly ironic, especially in light of the dramatic impact Aristotilean thought had on the Church via Thomas Aquinas…

  9. I read your essay. Thanks. One day, I will visit your island. I want to see the walls of your old fortress built by your ancestors. The same for all your architecture and your fellow island-residents. I live in South-Western Siberia, Russia.

  10. Thanks for reading Maxim and you are welcome. I’m sure you would love Lipari-it’s a very popular tourist destination these days. How is Southwestern Siberia?

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