Architecture on Ischia Island
An Italian association of young architects, planners and conservationists, ANGIA, created an award called the "Ischia Prize". It aims to highlight the important role architecture plays in transforming the landscape and constructing political debate on development.
Ischia is an island known for its thermal springs, sea and mountains but perhaps less known for its architectural treasures.
While the Ischia Prize seeks to encourage new connections between design and development, Ischia's cultural history provides a solid architectural foundation from which to draw inspiration.
Houses cut out of stone, 'case di pietra', walls built without lime, 'parracine', and 'carusiello', flat dome shaped rooves built in cooperative style are rustic symbols of the cleverness and practicality of the island's inhabitants.
Houses carved out of stone are one of Ischia's particular architectural curiosities. This green stone comes from pieces of volcanic rock scattered by tectonic activity, circa two centuries after Christ.
It's believed people started building into the rock as a form of protection and a simple home-building technique sometime in the 1500s. Pirate raids forced people to build defensive homes and in some of the dwellings small windows were created at the top for added light but mainly used as signal points.
The need to expand agricultural production also encouraged greater use of rock homes and formations. Water reservoirs were dug out to feed animals and aesthetic touches were added to make the rock homes more friendly.
Some of these old structures have been left to their own, abandoned in the woods, to surprise the Ischia walker, especially around the areas of Mount Epomeo and the Falanga.
Down the ravine walk from Serrara to Cavascura, an old two-storey rock hermitage is hidden in the rocks and vegetation. Many of these rock houses, however, are still in use today.
Over the years they have been converted into a diverse range of applications – cool wine cellars, spacious farm storage, places of worship, a restaurant-pizzeria and a museum.
The restaurant-pizzeria is perhaps the most noticeable, perched high on an isolated rock column as you drive up the curly road from Forio to Ciglio. But the museum, on the road from Fontana to Barano, recalls days of yore with its house goats balanced on the precipice above the entrance.
The 'parracine' walls were constructed out of green tuff rock and without lime to cement them together. 'Dry' walls were used to hold up terrain and allowed water to pass through, avoiding the risk of flooding the soil or alternatively building up to a landslide.
They are most regularly seen on the borders of vineyards around the island. 'Carusiello' may recall the English word 'carousel' to mind.
The flat, dome-shaped roof, in the form 'a carusiello' has nothing to do with merry-go-rounds, but actually the process of constructing it, as it was a bit of a town fun fair or festival.
A team of men were accompanied in their construction work by live music from a clarinet and tambourine. Others sang hymns and recited stories while they worked.
A team of women, meanwhile, cooked up local specialties to keep spirits up, and on the day the roof was complete, to feast the work well done. From these rustic specialties, Ischia adds an interesting mix of influences.
Whether the made and remade complex of the Aragonese Castle, or the gothic, baroque and renaissance blend of the Soccorso Church, Ischia's architectural attractions appear modest yet incite surprise.
Recommended on Ischia:
- How to get here
- Living Ischia
- Art & Culture