Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strait of Messina, Italy: myth, magic & a much-needed bridge

Hello, Sicily.
When Odysseus sailed the Strait of Messina he had a tough decision to make.  Sailing too close to Calabria would mean passing Scylla, a sailor-snatching sea-nymph with a body composed of ravening dogs.  Too close to Sicily and the huge whirlpool mouth of Charybdis could suck down the entire ship.

Navigating the water between mainland Italy and Sicily has always meant being caught between a rock and a hard place.  The water is turbulent here where the Ionian Sea (to the south) meets the Tyrrhenian Sea (to the north).  Also making trouble for mariners of old, a rare atmospheric phenomenon called the Fata Morgana after Morgan Le Fay of Arthurian legend (you know, Camelot).  The sorceress was said to lure sailors to their death here by producing a mirage of land, castles and all. Though no longer attributed to witchcraft, the optical illusion is still occasionally observed today.

Waiting for the ferry.
Causing much more trouble for travellers these days is 21st-century traffic.  Cars jockey for position to get onto the ferry that crosses the Strait, then pour off like racing pigs at a state fair.  On the Messina side this year, frustration reigned as we found all ferry signage on the highways approaching Messina had been removed.
In Calabria, the A3 highway - a major route at high elevation through the mountains - was reduced at points to one narrow lane clogged by heavy equipment, hurtling trucks and construction preparing for the new bridge across the Strait.  For Pat and I, a familiar route had become nerve wracking and confusing.  Drivers who've never been down this way could find current conditions paralyzing and dangerous.

The idea of a bridge over the Strait of Messina has been around since Roman times and revived many times since.  Under Silvio Berlusconi, completion was projected for 2016.  Now that he's resigned?  Who knows.
Personally, I'm not happy to see an ancient vista altered forever but look forward to a new wonder of the world.  Until the bridge is built, I'll be approaching the Strait in a train, not a rental car.


  1. Fascinating tale you tell my friend...especially the Fata Morgana. I never heard of that before now thanks to your wonderful article. I hear there's a train that crosses by ferry. Is that true?

  2. A really gorgeous view of Sicily from the water...I never really love ferry line-ups but the leisurely views are always worthwhile.

  3. Yes, there's a train from Lamezia, Calabria. I've done it before, very relaxing. The train goes right onto the ferry and along the north coast of Sicily to Palermo.

  4. Lesley, you might like my "Mysteries of MEssina" post on blog "50yearsinItaly"...

    1. Love your blog, Mary Jane! Let's stay in touch...