The undersea microcosm of the Strait of Messina is the only one of its kind. Its mysterious fascination derives from the fact that, at a depth of just fifty metres, you get a tangible idea of the conjunction between the island and the mainland. From the sandy slope of the Messina side, we pass over to the rocky depths on the Scylla side, along the Costa Viola.
Among the undersea reefs dreamlike scenarios open up before you filled with phantasmagorical organisms such as astroides and gorgoniidae. Wide expanses of Posidonia (seagrass) on the sandy bottom of the Strait alternate with algae of every kind and colour.
Pinne nobilis, anemones, sponges, crabs, jellyfish, groupers and starfish populate the underwater microcosm of the Strait. It is a charmed world, the ancient home to Neptunian divinities, according to classical mythology, later to become the hiding-place for monsters and mermaids, according to seafarers’ tradition.
In a castle in the depths of the Strait lives Fata Morgana, who gives her name to the optical illusion of the same name. This is where you will find the “wild fig-tree”, as described by Homer, transliteration of the Greek word ‘fukos’, which means seaweed. In the era of Ulysses there really was a type of giant surface seaweed, which has is very rarely found in the Strait nowadays. Ancient seafarers believed that this enormous green mass was the food eaten by the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. The huge tangles of seaweed, which can reach a length of fifteen metres at times, could also be mistaken for the long flowing hair of mermaids.
The waters of the Strait also hide archaeological treasures that have only partially been brought to light. Shipwrecks, pieces of amphorae and other artefacts of various ages have now become part of the undersea environment, often acting as convenient hiding places for fish.
The so-called “Philosopher of Porticello”, one of the oldest Greek bronze sculptures, is the most sensational discovery in the waters of the Strait. It was found in 1969, in the wreck of a Greek ship, near the Calabrian coast, just off the beach of Porticello, near Villa San Giovanni. The severe face of an old man is one of the biggest attractions in the Magna Grecia Museum in Reggio Calabria, together with the two famous Riace Bronzes.
These superb statues of warriors, found in the sandy shallows of the Ionian coast of Calabria, outside of the Strait, are undisputed masterpieces of Greek art from the 5th century BC, which can be attributed to Phidias or perhaps to the sculptor Pythagoras of Reggio.