This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
This is a very remarkable aerial phenomenon, which is sometimes observed from the harbour of Messina, and adjacent places, at a certain height in the atmosphere. The name, which signifies the Fairy Morgana is derived from an opinion of the superstitious Sicilians, that the whole spectacle is produced by fairies, or such like visionary invisible beings. The populace are delighted whenever it appears; and run about the streets shouting for joy, calling even body out to partake of the glorious sight. This singular meteor has been described by various authors; but the first who mentioned it with any degree of precision was Father Angelucci, whose account is thus quoted by Mr. Swinburne in his Tour through Sicily: "On the 15th of August, 1643„ as I stood at my window, I was surprised with a most wonderful delectable vision. The sea that washes the Sicilian shore swelled up, and became, for ten miles in length, like a chain of dark mountains; while the waters near our Calabrian coast grew quite smooth, and in an instant appeared as one clear polished mirror, reclining against the aforesaid ridge. On this glass was depicted, in chairo scuro, a string of several thousands of pilasters, all equal in altitude, distance, and degree of light and shade. In a moment they lost half their height, and bent into arcades, like Roman aqueducts. A long cornice was next formed on the top, and above it arose castles innumerable, all perfectly alike. These soon split into towers, which were shortly after lost in colonnades, then windows, and at last ended in pines, cypresses, and other trees, even and similar. This is the Fata Morgana, which for twenty-six years I had thought a mere fable." To produce this pleasing deception, many circumstances must concur, which are not known to exist in any other situation. The spectator must stand with his back to the east, in some elevated place behind the city, that he may command a view of the whole bay; beyond which the mountains of Messina rise like a wall, and darken the back ground of the picture. The winds must be hushed, the surface quite smoothed, the tide at its height, and the waters pressed up by currents to a great elevation in the middle of the channel. All these events coinciding, as soon as the sun surmounts the eastern hills behind Reggio, and rises high enough to form an angle of forty-five degrees on the water before the city, every object existing or moving at Reggio, will be repeated one thousand-fold upon this marine looking-glass, which, by its tremulous motion, is as it were cut into facets. Each image will pass rapidly off in succession, as the day advances, and the stream carries down the wave on which it appeared. Thus the parts of this moving picture will vanish in the twinkling of an eye. Sometimes the ai is at that moment so impregnated with vapours, and undisturbed by winds, as to reflect objects in a kind of aerial screen, rising about thirty feet above the level of the sea. In cloudy heavy weather, they are drawn on the suiface of the water, bordered with fine prismatical colours.
The Fata Morgana, As Observed In The Harbour Of Messina.
The Fata Morgana, As Observed At Reggio.
To the above account we shall add the following, given by M. Houel, whose judgment and veracity render his authority highly respectable.
"In fine summer days, when the weather is calm, there rises above the great current a vapour, which acquires a certain density, so as to form in the atmosphere horizontal prisms, whose sides are disposed in such a manner, that when they come to their proper degree of perfection, they reflect and represent successively, for some time, (like a moveable mirror,) the objects on the coast, or in the adjacent country. They exhibit by turns, the city and suburbs of Messina, trees, animals, men, and mountains. They are certainly beautiful aerial moving pictures. There are sometimes two or three prisms, equally perfect; and they continue in this state eight or ten minutes. After this, some shining inequalities are observed upon the surface of the prism, which render confused to the eye, the objects which had been before so accurately delineated, and the picture vanishes. The vapour forms other combinations, and is dispersed in the air. Different accounts have been given of this singular appearance; which for my part I attribute to a bitumen that issues from certain rocks at the bottom of the sea, and which is often seen to cover a part of its surface in the canal of Messina. The subtile parts of this bitumen being attenuated, combined, and exhaled with the aqueous globules that are raised by the air, and formed into bodies of vapour, give to this condensed vapour more consistence; and contribute, by their smooth and polished particles, to the formation of a kind of aerial crystal, which receives the light, reflects it to the eye, and transmits to it all the luminous points which colour the objects exhibited in this phenomenon, and render them visible."