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The tasty island

isola saporita

by Isabella Marino

"This morning we want to have a belly of figs!" King Ferdinand IV had not yet tasted them that year, although they were far from rare in the countryside of his vast estates. Therefore he had welcomed with particular pleasure the gift that the Chosen of the City of Ischia had wanted to give him for his first visit to the island in that summer of 1783. As a delegation, they had climbed on purpose on the royal pacbotto, at anchor in front of the Castle, to pay homage to the sovereign and the courtiers who accompanied him with those green delicacies, together with the other seasonal fruits to which the fertile volcanic earth of the island gave special aromas and flavors.

Although the king had left without too much notice for Ischia, where he intended to meet the Russian ambassador André Razoumowskij who had moved there for thermal treatments, the anticipation of his arrival had arrived on the eve of the representatives of the City, who had taken care to organize a welcome worthy of the royal guest.
And so they began to find prized fish and seafood, letting the farmers collect the most beautiful fruits of their land. And provision was made for stocking up on meat, bread and the best wine. Since it was very hot, the "snowmen" of Epomeo were mobilized to provide plenty of snow to keep the food and the water distributed by the dippers cool. Everything was prepared to perfection and when at dawn the following day, the inhabitants of the Castle and the village at its feet woke up, seeing the royal ship and the four half galleys that had accompanied it in front of the coast, they were not unprepared. . The sovereign was greeted by numerous welcome salvoes fired from the beach and by the small sailing ships that crossed below the coast, while the people gathered in the square open to the sea cheered him.


Meanwhile, the Elect of the City together with the Bishop had embarked on a launch, putting the bow towards the pacbotto. When they reached it, they got on board and were admitted to the presence of the king to whom they presented the gifts of the island. The detailed chronicle of the event, written by the parish priest Moraldi, lists precisely the good things that were placed before the sovereign: sole, mullet, lobster and sea urchins. All very much appreciated by the recipient, who was pleased with the welcome, announcing the desire to go ashore. As happened that same evening, in the crowd that cheered him all the way up to the villa where the Russian ambassador resided. King Ferdinand's first visit to Ischia was brief, just two days. Enough, however, to make him passionate about the island. With particular fondness for the beautiful residence where he met the ambassador Razoumowskij, built fifty years earlier on the Lago de 'Bagni by Francesco Buonocore, the then court doctor of his father Carlo. It was the lake that struck him, arousing in him the desire to return to have a good catch. As then happened, already a year later, so as to convince him to acquire the magnificent property of Buonocore to the patrimony of the Royal Delights. Thanks also to the warm welcome reserved for him by the Ischitans, who had continued throughout their stay to deliver baskets of freshly picked fruit and tasty fish to the royal vessel. Including some magnificent amberjacks caught in the Lacco trap.


Of course, to make a good impression on the king, the Elect and the Bishop had gone to great lengths. And with their eating gifts they had easily broken into the sovereign. But while making the best they had available on the special occasion and taking into due consideration the importance of the guest, the treatment that had been reserved for him had not diverged too much, in substance, from that regularly enjoyed by travelers who they landed in Ischia. Already very numerous in those eighties of the eighteenth century, when Italy was the favorite and obligatory destination of the Grand Tour of European nobles. Who in their itinerary along the Peninsula did not fail to make a stop in Naples and to explore its fascinating surroundings, including the islands. Without forgetting that the main motivation for reaching Ischia was the thermal treatments, which attracted guests to the largest of the Parthenopean Islands since the 17th century. During the necessarily long spa stays, foreigners used to stock up on food regularly in Naples. Beef, in particular, came from outside and was very rarely consumed by Ischitans. And it is no coincidence that in the stories of travelers only a few rabbits are mentioned and reference is made to the sheep and goats that produce the milk offered to foreigners for breakfast immediately after being milked, as well as being used for the production of fresh cheeses. Rather, we often talk about fish, fruit and vegetables: the local products donated to the king were also the most appreciated by foreigners, entranced by the beauty of the island countryside as well as the woods and still wild areas, which they encountered on their excursions.



The simple and genuine foods, produced close to the inns, at zero kilometer as we would say today, were among the pleasures of the restorative holiday that Ischia gave thanks to the direct contact with nature. The vineyards on the hillsides, the carefully cultivated fields and gardens near the houses, the trees with ripe fruits are an important part of the descriptions dedicated to the exuberant nature of the Mediterranean island, with such different views compared to the Nordic countries of origin. Where there is no wine as good as the one drunk in Ischia and praised by the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Already established as a musician and composer, Felix Mendelssohnn arrived in Ischia at the age of twenty-two in 1831 and took up residence in the Pannella, near Lacco, in the house of priest Tommaso De Siano, which can be considered the first active hotel on the island. And there, to attract his gaze are the vines and fig trees that at night attract clouds of fireflies, while he receives as a welcome some tasty cherries. And in the cherry season, even more amazing is to find a large tree already full of ripe oranges near the chicken coop. With what pleasure other guests say that they have finished their meals outdoors, serving directly from the ripe grape and fig trees! A fertile and hospitable land, generous with beauty and health. The Garden of the Hesperides, for the Swiss landscape painter Pierre Louis De la Rive. With those oranges, loaded with golden fruits, which already brought the greens to eat the following year...


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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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