Italy revives ancient dream of building Messina Strait bridge

The Italian government on Thursday relaunched a contentious plan to build a multibillion-euro bridge linking Sicily to the mainland - despite concerns about cost and earthquake risk.

A view of the Strait of Messina between Calabria and Sicily in southern Italy
The Strait of Messina. The only way to reach mainland Italy from Sicily today is via ferry or plane, but could that soon change? Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s cabinet passed a decree on Thursday evening relaunching the controversial Strait Bridge project, which the government sees as key to reviving the economy in the country’s poorer south, despite doubts over its structural viability, environmental impact and cost.

At 3.2 kilometres (two miles) long, the bridge “will represent the flagship of Italian engineering,” said Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, who has long been a proponent of the plan.

READ ALSO: Costly flights, few trains: What’s travel like between Sicily and mainland Italy? 

The idea of the bridge can be traced back to the ancient Romans, but modern attempts to launch the project have repeatedly failed due to the great expense and the challenges of erecting a structure linking Messina to Reggio Calabria in an area prone to earthquakes.

The last blueprint, which dates back to 2011, would be “adapted to new technical, safety and environmental standards,” Salvini said.

Former premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose government had strongly backed a plan for the bridge in the 2000s, on Thursday said the engineering feat would “connect Sicily not just to Calabria, but to Italy and the whole of Europe”.

Construction could begin in mid-2024, said Berlusconi, whose party belongs to the coalition.

Parliament will now have 60 days to convert the decree into law.

A view of the Strait of Messina separating Sicily from Calabria

The first plans for a bridge linking Sicily to mainland Italy date back to 252 BC. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Currently, the only way to get from the island to the mainland is via ferry or plane.

Supporters of the bridge – which would carry trains as well – claim it could cut pollution and save time for both people and cargo.

Cargo ships coming through the Suez Canal from Asia could dock in Sicily, with goods put on high-speed trains to the rest of Europe.

But critics say the money would be much better spent on improving pitiful train and road services within Sicily and Reggio Calabria.

Italian environmentalists have also always opposed the project in the Strait of Messina.

READ ALSO: Trains and planes: Italy’s new international travel routes in 2023

The Legambiente environmental group said Thursday the money should instead be used to meet climate change objectives, and urged Meloni’s government to invest in railway electrification and “modern, frequent and punctual trains” in the “transport desert”.

A maritime transport union also warned in February that the bridge would have to be higher than the 65 metres envisaged in previous plans, or some cruise ships or cargo vessels would not be able to pass underneath.

Dreams of a bridge across the Strait date back to 252 BC, when Roman Consul Metellus transported war elephants from Carthage to the mainland on barrels lashed together to make rafts, according to Pliny the Elder.

By AFP’s Ella Ide

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Flights to Italy from Libya resume after nearly 10 years

A Rome-bound aircraft departed on Saturday from Libya's capital, restarting flights to Italy after a nearly decade-long suspension due to an EU ban, authorities in Tripoli said.

Flights to Italy from Libya resume after nearly 10 years

The European Union in 2014 halted flights operated by Libyan airlines and banned them from entering member states’ airspace, as the war-torn North African country was mired in intense fighting.

Saturday’s flight took off from Tripoli’s Mitiga airport. It was operated by Libya-based Medsky Airways, which offers a twice-weekly direct connection to the Italian capital.

Restarting flights is “part of intensive government efforts to lift the European ban on Libyan civil aviation”, said Libya’s UN-recognised government on Facebook.

Medsky Airways was launched in 2022, the year after EU member Malta announced it would allow flights to and from Libya.

It was unclear how the airline was able to circumvent the EU ban, which remains in place.

The Europan ban was imposed after a coalition of mostly Islamist militias called “Fajr Libya” seized Tripoli following weeks of fighting that caused massive damage to the city’s international airport.

Successive Libyan governments have since pushed for the ban to be lifted.

Abdelhamid Dbeibah, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based government, said in early July that “the Italian government has informed us of its decision to lift the air embargo imposed on Libyan civil aviation for 10 years”.

Italy, Libya’s former colonial power, and the Mediterranean island nation of Malta are now the only European countries to have resumed flights with Libya.

Rome has not officially commented on the move.

For much of the past decade, Libyans had to transit through Tunis, Istanbul or Cairo to reach Europe by air.

Oil-rich Libya plunged into years of chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed strongman Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country remains divided between two rival administrations, one in Tripoli and the other in Libya’s east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.