For more than two millennia, the thermal waters of Ischia have been known for their extraordinary healing properties. Here, waters issuing from more than a hundred springs are able to ameliorate ailments such as rheumatism, arthritis, osteoporosis, sciatica and a host of respiratory illnesses, allergies and skin conditions.
Ischia’s waters’ magical properties were first recognized by the ancient Greeks, who established atrading hub on the island in the VIII century B.C.
It seems like a veritable who’s who of Greek and Roman poets and commentators such as Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Statius and Lucan, to name a few, described Ischia as having been inhabited by giants.
One in particular, named Typhon was the monstrous son of Gaea, goddess of the Earth and Tartarus, god of the Underworld. He was the personification of volcanism since flames gushed from his mouth. In a presumptuous move, he challenged Zeus to a fight, which he lost. Seeking a suitable punishment for the hothead, Zeus buried him under the island of Ischia.
Unable to endure the humiliation, the angry giant struggled to free himself, spewing forth flames and boiling water and shaking the earth with his restless movement. Frustrated that he could not escape his fate, he began to cry so intensely thatAphrodite was moved to free him, turning his tears into waters with healing powers.
Not surprisingly, temples and shrines were erected around the springs dedicated not only to Aphrodite but to Apollo, a god with deep associations with health and healing. Apollo was known by a number of epithets, including Akesios, from the Greek work for “healing,” which may have in part inspired the island’s current name. Ischia’s healing waters attracted people seeking wellness, however, the island’s penchant for sudden seismic outbursts discouraged ambitious building programs and continuous settlement. Although long attributed to divine machinations, Ischia’s pharmacological bounty is a byproduct of the island’s violent birth and ongoing seismic activity.
Formed over a 150,000-year-period, this complex volcanic system began with an eruption that left a massive caldera, the perimeter of which roughly encircles the island. In time, eruption after eruption left its mark on the island in the form of craters and lava flows.
Geologically speaking, the 789-meter-high Mt. Epomeo, which covers some 35 percent of Ischia, is one of several side by side “horsts” or wedges of a once-contiguous seafloor that was uplifted, then split by tectonic activity. The horsts are separated by faults through which flow gases, vapors and the thermal waters for which the island is famous.
Emanating from underground reservoirs fed by rainwater, the waters are warmed by heat sources located deep within the Earth. The waters are transformed into steam, which rises to the surface, enriched along its journey by the minerals contained in the soil
As a result, the waters gushing out are alkaline or acidic and contain varying amounts of calcium, magnesium, hydrogen carbonate, sodium, sulfur, iodine, chlorine, iron, potassium and microelements of other active substances, including radon. It is the disparate chemical composition of the overlying sediments through which the steam and thermal waters make their way that dictates their healing properties.
Ischia’s water is rich in noble elements and mineral salts: sodium, one of the basic elements for the vital activity of living beings, potassium, essential for muscle dynamics, sulfur, essential for joint elasticity and calcium which has a sedative action on the nervous system. The radioactive nature of the waters was discovered in 1918, when Marie Curie came to Ischia with fellow scientist to study the thermal springs.
She determined that the waters bore various components of radium, radon, thorium, uranium and actinium. The most important therapeutic element is radon, a gas dissolved in the water originating from an alpha particle emanated by an atom of radium. The radioactivity is so low that it is not harmful, a sheet of paper is enough to stop it and it has a short half-life so it isn’t able to bio-accumulate.
by Ann. C. Pizzorusso