Island of Ponza

The Island of Ponza is a beautiful island, located 33 km south of Cape Circeo in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Ponza is also the name of the commune of the island, a part of the province of Latina in the Lazio region.


The long shape of Ponza extends in an 8 km-long arch from north-east to south and the coastline is about 25 km long. Its outline is varied and broken, with an exceptional series of bays and inlets; the rock formation shows great variety of shapes and colours, seen in the volcanic layers which are predominantly limestone and trachyte. The main coves are the creeks of Ponza, Core, Inferno and Gaetana on the east coast and those of Chiaia di Luna and Lucia Rosa on the west. The originally volcanic island is made up of the remains of a large central cone with two craters on either side in the creeks of Ponza and Inferno. The rock consists of tuffaceous substances whose fragility has contributed to the erosion of the coastline by the sea, making it jagged and craggy with many cliffs.
The highest point on the island is 283 metres. The prominent “Monte della Guardia” rises in the south. The main town on the island is Ponza, laid out like an amphitheatre on the high ground around the port in the east. The other villages are Giancos, S.Maria, I Conti, Campo Inglese and Le Forna.

There are many impressive Roman ruins. A grand villa dating back to the Augustan age has been discovered, with terracing on different levels, a small theatre and a pool dug out of the rock.
A vast necropolis, from between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. has revealed interesting hypogeum graves in a rectangular space with niches.
Also of particular historical and archaeological interest are the famous Grotte di Pilato (Pilate’s Caves) with their ancient adjoining tunnel that leads to the beach of Chiaia di Luna and the grotta del Serpente (Snake’s Cave).

The sea, its beaches and bays

The island has 41 kilometers (25 miles) of rugged coastline, its volcanic rocks forming numerous inlets, bays and jagged outcrops. Leaving the port to the right hand side you will find the Grotte di Pilato (Pilate’s Caves) which date from Roman times. Straight afterwards you come to the Faraglioni della Madonna (Madonna’s Rocks) and at the southernmost tip of the island is the Faro della Guardia (Guard’s Lighthouse). A bit further on is the famous Chaia di Luna Beach. Continuing along the coast you will come to Capo Bianco (White Cape) which is famous for its tunnel. Further still is the splendid beach Lucia Rosa, well known for its sunsets. Right next to this is Cala Feola bay with its natural swimming pools which can be reached on foot. Another place not to be missed is the Cala Fonte in the north of the island and at the northernmost point can be seen the islet by the name of Gavi. Turning back towards the Port and you will come to one of the most beautiful of the island’s beaches: Arco Naturale (Natural Archway) and then straight after that is Cala Inferno and next to it Core Beach famous for the heart shape formed by the rocks. Before getting back to the Port there is Frontone Beach, fully equipped with sunshades and deckchairs. The beach can easily be reached by taking the ferry.

History

The island was inhabited from neolithic through Roman times. According to local legends, Ponza was named after Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea who tried Jesus of Nazareth for heresy. This legend has recently come into dispute amongst historians, because the name “Pontia” appears in Strabo’s Geography. It is not known if this is the same name as Ponza or a similar name.In ancient times the island was called Tyrrhenia. Legend says that Ponza is what is left of the lost island of Tyrrhenia. Ponza is said to have been connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, which sank into the sea with most of the island below the water, with the parts remaining above sea level. The same exact phenomena happened at Capri. According to legend, there was a large city on the ancient island. There has been significant archaeological progress recently that shows this may be true. For example, it was discovered that the harbor floor of Pozzuoli had sunk and risen several times in the last 5,000 years, revealing sunken Roman temples.
Ponza was first colonised by Etruscans. The island was heavily forested with giant trees in ancient times, but the forest is gone and the trees are extinct and the hills are covered with man-made terraces. The tallest hill on the island, called Monte Guardia, still has the rotting stumps of the extinct giant trees over eight feet wide. Crops are grown on these terraces like grapes for wine and cactus pears and fig trees.

Ponza is also suspected to be the island of Aeaea in Homer’s Odyssey, as the island of the Circe the sorceress, where her cave or grotto was. Today it is known as Grotta della Maga Circe on the west side of the island, between Capo Bianco and Chaia di Luna beach. She was said to have lived in this cave in the Winter months. Spending the Summer atop nearby Mount Circe on the Mainland of Italy. This is where the Circe turned Odysseus men into animals and cast her spell on and seduced him and lived with him for a over a year. On the west side of Ponza is the Grotta di Ulisse o Del Sangue, which means Cave of Ulysses of the Blood.

The Grotto or cave is almost directly underneath the hill/peninsula called Il Belvedere, which has the Giardino Botanico Ponziano a botanical garden with a villa and the remains of a castle. These caves or grottos are popular destinations to visit by boat only. Archaeologists are now investigating Ponza in search of evidence of Homer’s Odyssey.

During Roman times, Nero Caesar, eldest brother of Caligula, was deported to Ponza in AD 29, where in 30 he was put to death. Two of his sisters, Agrippina the Younger (mother of the emperor Nero) and Julia Livilla were exiled to Ponza in AD 39 for their complicity in a plot to overthrow Caligula. They were recalled to Rome in AD 41. Julia Livilla had a mansion named Palazzo Giulia (Julia’s Palace) built specially for her on Ponza. The ruins are still visible there. A similar mansion with the same name was also built on nearby Ventotene for Emperor Augustus’ exiled daughter, Julia the Elder.

Ponza was abandoned during the Middle Ages due to constant raids by Saracens and pirates. In 1552 the Ottoman fleet under the command of Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West) defeated the Emperor Charles V under the command of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria near Ponza. During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Naples re-colonized the island. Today the island is a tourist attraction with big sandy beaches like Chiaia di Luna or Half Moon Beach.

Ponza has suffered many invasions, just like nearby Sicily and had been captured at one time or another by the English, Spanish, Greeks, French, Moors, Carthaginians, Libyans, Egyptians, and Phoenicians. Even a place on central Ponza is called “Campo Inglese” which means “English Camp” for where the troops were garrisoned. Several Fortresses can still be seen around the island.
The island became part of the Kingdom of Italy in the mid-19th century and it is now part of the Republic of Italy. The island’s isolation destined it to serve as a penal colony by various regimes. During the two decades of fascism, Ponza and the nearby Ventotene, served as a prison for political opponents of Benito Mussolini’s regime. The Ethiopian leader Ras Immiru, who was captured by the Italian Army in 1936, was imprisoned in a house in Santa Maria. Mussolini himself was imprisoned on the island for several weeks after being overthrown and arrested in 1943.

The island is well known for the tragic story of Lucia Rosa who threw herself into the Tyrrhenian Sea rather than being forced to marry a man against her wishes. She is viewed by many women around the world as a martyr for women’s rights and symbol for human rights.
A few years ago engineers working on an ancient Roman tunnel that connected the harbour part of Ponza to the neighborhood of Santa Maria, used explosives to dig a conduit nearby — they were supposed to use a chisel. The explosive shock shattered and destroyed this 2,100 year old Roman Gallery Tunnel.

In the late Summer/early Fall of 2007, Six “Aquanauts” spent two weeks living underwater off the coast of Ponza, breaking all other records.

Gastronomy

The most typical dishes of Ponza are obviously of fish: langouste, cernia and morey, but not to forget also the “cicerchie”, a kind of legumes cultivated on the island used to prepare delicious soup. Some of Ponza specialties are: Cuttlefish with herbs, Anchovies, Spaghetti with Mullet Roe, Spicy Mullet, Lobster, Penne with Ricciola.


For more details on the Island and its beauties, and for tourist information, please see: