On the shores of Levanzo, just North West of the town itself sits the Grotta del Genovese. Around seventy years ago one of the most important archaeological sites was found there deep in this unassuming cave. Here you can find art that dates back around six, possibly ten thousand years.
The cave hosts some remarkable paintings and a series of engravings. These are the older of the two sets, dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic period around 9680 BC. This was in a time before the sea had engulfed the land that connected the Aegadian Islands to Sicily. A bull, a horse or donkey, a deer and what is possibly a cat are all carved into the stone. In the centre sits a large human, wearing what could be ceremonial clothing. On either side of this figure sits two smaller people, one with what appears to be a bird shaped head or mask and the other looking quite similar to the larger figure. It’s not known what this scene depicts, whether it’s a picture of a spiritual or religious ceremony, a message to others or perhaps simply a work of art. However we do know that animals would have been pivotal to a human’s survival and therefore a key figure in early man’s life.
By the late Neolithic era, around five to six thousand years ago, the sea had risen and the Aegadian Islands had formed. This is when most of the paintings in the cave date back to. They show large numbers of humans, some depicted like stick men and others in cylindrical forms with arms and legs. The idols are very similar to others found across the Mediterranean; this tells us the artists were likely part of a ‘Creatrix Mother’ cult, worshiping a female god. Around these people more animals are drawn but this time several marine dwelling creatures are added. Amongst those are a tuna fish and a Dolphin, both known to live in Europe around this time. The paintings are all in black except for one human figure drawn in red. This also looks very similar to the earlier figures engraved into the walls so it is thought that this was drawn around the same time, making it much older than the other drawings.
Though the cave has hosted these historic creations for thousands of years, it wasn’t until an artist named Francesca Minellono visited Levanzo for a holiday in 1949 that they were brought to light. She had heard rumours whilst there that the cave held mysterious “inscriptions” in a dark chamber. The legend tells of an explorer who found the cave long ago but didn’t realise the importance of the prehistoric messages. Driven by intrigue and curiosity, she visited the cave and found this wonderful piece of history. She informed the University of Florence and soon enough the first studies of the site began.
If you want to go there for yourself, you must book in advance. You can book a tour, access it by car or even walk from the port, hat would take about 1 ½ hours – each way hosting some spectacular scenic views along the way.