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Fata Morgana: the optical illusion on the Strait of Messina

Fata Morgana is the protagonist of an ancient legend in Sicily. It is to a particular optical illusion on the Strait of Messina which only a few lucky people have been fortunate enough to see. It is an optical effect due to the presence of rarefied water molecules suspended in the air, which exploiting some particular weather conditions and the reverberation of the sea can cause a “reflection” in the sky along the coast of Messina. Therefore when the Fata Morgana phenomenon occurs it is possible, from Reggio Calabria, to see buildings, cars and even unaware passers-by on the streets of Messina, clearly reflected in the sky, near the sea.

Fata Morgana is the name given to a very special but actually very rare optical illusion on the Strait of Messina. The effect is so special that it leaves its audience breathless. When its origin was still unknown, it sparkled a series of popular legends. It is not really anything “magical” or metaphysical, but the legends are so beautiful and rich in tradition that it is impossible to ignore them. The Fata Morgan effect can be observed especially at certain times of the day, such as dawn or twilight, or on days when it is not too sunny, perhaps with a slightly cloudy sky, but never in stormy weather conditions.

The Fata Morgana effect: the origin of the legend

optical illusion on the Strait of Messina -italiantraditions
Source: Building Cue

Why does this optical illusion have the name of a fairy? According to the ancient legend about Fata Morgana, one day, at the time of the conquest of Calabria, one of the kings saw a large island with a mountain spitting lava and smoke in the distance, from the coast of Reggio Calabria. He did not recognize it, but it was actually the Etna volcano. He wished with all his heart to own it, and in that moment the vision of a splendid woman appeared before him. It was Morgan le Fay, who promised to give it to him. The king, naively, accepted the proposal and, thanks to the optical illusion on the Strait of Messina, he was able to see Sicily up close, as if it was one step away from him. He threw himself into the water and, without realizing the actual distance, he soon found himself drowning in the sea, under the amused gaze of the fairy.

When does the Fata Morgana occur?

This optical illusion on the Strait of Messina occurs when, following particular favorable weather conditions, tiny droplets of rarefied water present in the air act as a “magnifying glass”, mirroring the Sicilian landscape in the sky or in the Calabrian sea. Thanks to this spectacular optical effect, observing the horizon you can distinguish buildings and houses, or even cars and passers-by, roaming unaware on the streets of nearby Messina. The figures are enlarged to such an extent as to be surreal and, with a bit of luck, the event lasts long enough to be immortalized with the help of a good camera.

What to see on the Strait of Messina

The Strait of Messina is the only place in the world where you can assist, with a huge dose of luck, the enchanting optical illusion Fata Morgana. Of course, the rarefaction of the air that is at the base of the optical effect is common to other parts of the world, but the proximity between Sicily and Calabria and the presence of the sea between the two lands means that the event, in this area, is really unique.

If you are looking for places to visit with the hope of seeing the Fata Morgana phenomenon, you can book a seaside holiday in Reggio Calabria. The city, very beautiful from an the point of view of its architecture and landscape, with its seafront that D’Annunzio defined as “the most beautiful kilometer of Italy” has a beautiful sea but is not an elite seaside resort. It is possible to use it, however, as a starting point to reach the beautiful beaches of the Costa Viola, such as those of Scilla and Bagnara.

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