Photo essay – the mysterious towers of Forio and its streets

Sometimes when I get a bit of homesickness for life in the city, I’ll go for a walk to the center of Forio and throw myself into one of the side streets and wander until I get lost and can’t tell where I am anymore. I love the buildings squashed one next to the other, the smells and sounds coming from the windows, the cats darting into garden doors, and the strange and meandering streets that seem like they lead to a dead end, but will then have a passage way that will take you to another curving street. I love the architecture, the windows that are shaped like portholes or flowers, the secret churches that are built into a corner, the little archways that will take you out onto a path that has a spectacular view of the sea, and the sudden opening up onto a cliff with terraces of lemon and orange trees. The most surprising thing are these mysterious watch towers. The streets curl and stretch around these towers at the base and if you look at Forio up from the hills above the town you can see that the town is studded with these phallic beings.

Why are there so many towers all around the town?

The British poet and editor Alan Ross said about Forio in 1948, ‘It’s not hard to imagine the steep alleyways winding out of the harbour as a casbah, the lanes part of a souk. Houses, behind huge wooden doors, open into courtyards, sometimes with a palm tree in the middle.’ And walking around town, you do notice that there does seem to be a Turkish Arabic influence in the town layout and architecture.

the towers of forio

This is because Napoli and the towns and islands in the bay of Naples and along the Amalfi coast were frequently attacked by the Saraceni, a blanket term for the sea invaders that came from the East. The 1500s was an especially violent period as the Naples kingdom was considerably weak with the French and Spanish fighting each other for control of the region. Put on top of that the sea wars between Catholic Christendom and the Islamic empires that were trying as hard as they could for control of the Mediterranean. Ischia, being an island, suffered many attacks, and there were watch towers all over the island that had views of the sea on three sides so they could see who was coming. Some of these towers still exist today with the majority of them in the town of Forio, as the the street plan of the town was integrated into the architecture of these towers. Most of these Forian towers are privately owned, but you can visit the Museo del Torrione just off of the main road at the port which is a main cultural center in town, presenting concerts, exhibitions, and events about the history, culture and art of Ischia.

 This layout of the town that exists today came about after the mid-1500s, when the infamous Ottoman Corsar Dragut, who was a violent menace to Naples and the surrounding coastline, nearly destroyed Forio by killing the inhabitants and pillaging the village. Forio’s response was to rebuild the town and create a complex street system that surrounded the towers. This way when the invaders next landed and made their way into the village to attack, the Foriani had enough time to escape from their homes and run into the towers. From there, they would throw down boulders, boiling water, and anything else to fend off the attackers and stop their town from being completely obliterated by the invaders.

Thank god they succeeded because Forio still exists today. Foriani are fiercely loyal to their dialect, traditions, celebrations and faith and maybe its because they came so close to disappearing and they don’t want it to happen again. The history of Forio and the rest of the island is so rich and there’s so much to discover.

If you’re curious about another town in Ischia, you can check out my post about Ischia Ponte, the town where we lived when we first moved to Ischia.

There are towers all over the island of Ischia with the most of them concentrated in the historic town center of Forio. What were they for?

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  • The views from the west side of the island make me anxious, too exposed to the open sea. Back during the 1500s , Forio was continuallly ransacked by pirate invaders and they rebuilt the village around a tower system and series of winding streets that gave the natives time to go to and hide in the towers. Maybe I’m picking up on those memories of terror. Anyway, while I was preparing my move to Ischia, the idea of being surrounded by the sea scared me. But still I moved here.
  • I’m not an habitual coffee drinker, I’ve been a tea drinker for most of my life. But having a coffee feels like a special moment. Like walking to town and stopping at my favourite bar for an espresso at the counter and chatting to the barista while I shake the sugar packet and stir in a spoonful. And maybe at home after lunch with the neighbourhood so quiet, I’ll put a moka on the stove and get my favourite cup ready. At home, I drink the coffee amaro, without sugar. I don’t have a palate for coffee and can’t tell when it’s good or bad, but I’d like to know more about it. Coffee is mysterious. #filmm
  • The past few days have been windy with stormy seas, but it’s not enough to stop the vitamin D walks that burn away the winter blues.
  • My heart keeps expanding to let more and more cats into my life.
  • I went for a drive on my own to Sant’ Angelo and it was the first time since I’ve gotten my Italian license that it felt like I was driving rather than just concentrating really hard on making a car move. In order to learn to drive stick, I had to forget everything I knew about driving and start over. It was really really really difficult and surprisingly quite emotional. But I think I’m getting the hang of it now and yesterday was such a beautiful day to go for a drive. I stopped to take a photo of this and couldn’t believe that I could take myself here. I think my parents would have been proud of me. #iloveischia

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