Italy > Strait of Messina

Strait of Messina

Strait of Messina is the narrow passage between the eastern tip of Sicily and the western tip of Calabria in the south of Italy. It connects the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north with the Ionian Sea to the south, within the central Mediterranean. At its narrowest point, between Torre Faro and Villa San Giovanni, it is 3.1 km wide. At the town of Messina it is 5.1 km wide. The strait's maximum depth is about 250 m.

The strait has strong tidal currents that create a unique marine ecosystem. A natural whirlpool in the northern portion of the strait has been linked to the Greek legend of Scylla and Charybdis. In some circumstances, the mirage of Fata Morgana can be observed when looking at Sicily from Calabria. With its bottleneck shape, it is also a compulsory point of transit of the migration of many bird species.

In 1957, a 220 kV overhead power line was built across the Strait of Messina. Its pylons are among the highest in the world. This power line has since been replaced by a submarine power cable, but the pylons remain and are protected as historical monuments.

Bird migration

The Strait of Messina is a focal point of transit of the migrations of birds that every year use to cross it, mainly to breed in north Europe, driven for thousands of miles by their sense of orientation. Due to this form of bottleneck more than 300 species are recorded in the area that is a major European hot spot for raptors with a record of 35.000 in a spring. Between them the Honey Buzzard and the Marsh Harrier are the most frequent, species like Bonelli's Eagle and Egyptian Vulture are less frequent but regular. In the coastal salt lakes of the Strait of Messina species like Glossy Ibis, Flamingos and Black-winged Stilt use to stop to rest. The site is also favorable to observe the storks. The monte Dinnammare and the other Peloritani mountains overlooking the Strait are a natural theater for the birdwatching of these spectacular flights.

Marine life

Due to the peculiar hydrogeological conditions the Strait of Messina has high levels of biodiversity and multiple endemic species. In its waters there is a strong presence of deep sea fish like the Sloane's viperfish which, due to the particular and peculiar currents of the strait, are occasionally found stranded on the shore at sunrise. The strait is also an important point of migration of many species of fish in the Mediterranean Sea.


A ferry service connects Messina on Sicily with the mainland at Villa San Giovanni, which lies several kilometers north of the large city of Reggio Calabria; the ferries hold the cars (carriages) of the mainline train service between Palermo and Naples. There is also a hydrofoil service between Messina and Reggio Calabria.

Planned Messina Bridge

For decades, the possibility of building a bridge across the Messina Strait has been under discussion. In 2006, under Prime Minister Romano Prodi the project was cancelled. On 6 March 2009, however, as part of a massive new public works program, Silvio Berlusconi's government announced that plans to construct the Messina Bridge had been fully revived, pledging €1.3 billion as a contribution to its estimated cost of €6.1 billion Some 3.3 km long and 60 m wide, the bridge would be supported by two 382 m pillars, each higher than the Empire State Building, and accommodate six freeway lanes, a railway (for up to 200 trains a day), and two walkways.

Supporters perceive the bridge as a huge job-creation scheme and a boost for tourism to the island. Opponents see it as an ecological disaster, a structure at risk due to especially strong winds and earthquakes (the area having an intense seismic record), and a boon for Sicilian and Calabrian organized crime. Berlusconi claimed in 2009 that work would be completed by 2016 although in February 2013, the project was cancelled again.

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