Ponza: such a small island, such big history

The presence of prehistoric man in the Pontian Archipelago is evidenced by traces of the working of obsidian found in the early 20th century. The islands, thanks to the abundant presence of this dark volcanic glass, were part of a primordial trading network called “ancient obsidian road”. At that time, in fact, this glassy stone represented a kind of “black gold”, used for the realization of tools both for everyday use and for war use.

As for the pre-Roman time, the historical and archaeological signs are very limited. The Pontine islands were almost certainly used by the Phoenicians as intermediate bases for their travels in the Tyrrhenian Sea or as a refuge from the storms. Perhaps, later on, the archipelago was inhabited by the Etruscans. The Greeks, who probably gave the name of Eea to the island of Ponza (as shown in some passages of Homer’s Odyssey), made ​​it a base for their economic, political and cultural expansion in the Mediterranean around the 8th – 7th century BC. The Romans almost certainly passed by the islands for military purposes already during the 6th century. Presumably, in the same period, the island took the name of Pontia, as repeatedly mentioned by the writer and the Roman historian Tito Livio. This name derives, according to some opinions, from the Latin translation of the greek word Pontos (the land of the sea), but according to a recent study, it may also come from  the transliteration into Volscian-Peligno first and Latin then of the Greek word Pente – Nèsoi (five – islands) , referring to the number of islands that make up the archipelago. Even more relevant, however, is the assumption that the term Pontia derives from the bond that ancient visitors to the island (presumably of Greek origin) had with the goddess Aphrodite Pontia, protector of sailors and navigators.

In 313 B.C. the island of Ponza passed under the Roman rule. After a few decades, the island was declared a Latin colony and it remained one of the most important allies of Rome during the Second Punic War.

Being part of the Roman Empire, the island of Ponza enjoyed a long time of splendor, thanks to its tranquility guaranteed by the powerful military fleet and the development of maritime trades. With  Emperor Octavian Augustus these lands became a place of confinement, in an attempt to stem the growing immorality in the Roman world. Indeed it was mainly useful to eliminate the troublesome relatives of the sovereign and his political opponents. During the Roman domination the high life standards of the imperial people was moved to Ponza with the construction of sumptuous architectural works such as villas, aqueducts, ponds, reservoirs, tunnels, roads, and maybe even a dam that gave an important urban organization to the island. Among the monuments still visible, we mention the pool complex known as Grotte di Pilato, the rocky tanks around the Bourbon harbour, the aqueduct of Cala dell’AcquaSanta Maria, the tunnel of Chiaia di Luna, the Guarini and Bagno Vecchio necropolis and the dam of Giancos.

With the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent invasions of barbarians, also the archipelago of Ponza was involved in the chaos, entering the political influence of the Byzantine Empire in the 535/536 d. C.

After centuries of alternation of different dominations, including the Muslims, we arrive at the time of the Bourbons.

In 1542 Pope Paolo III (Farnese) granted the Pontian Archipelago in fief to Pier Luigi Farnese (Duke of Parma) . With the death of the last male heir of the parmense family, the Pontine Islands, in 1734, were sold to Charles III of Bourbon, king of Naples. With the Bourbons, the process of repopulation of the island finally began.

From 1771 to 1793 impressive public works were built with the supervision of  the Major of Civil Engineers Antonio Winspeare and the young architect Francesco Carpi (student of Luigi Vanvitelli) that lead to the birth of the actual shape of the port of Ponza and the nearby fortified tower. In 1786  Sir William Hamilton, a student of geology and British ambassador to Naples, came to the island and, thanks to the diffusion of his works, he pushed the greatest geologist of the period, Deodat de Dolomieu, in 1787 to make a trip to Ponza. It was in 1857 that patriot Carlo Pisacane, after having released about three hundred convicts confined in the prisons of the island, attempted a revolution against the Bourbons, which however, was stifled. In 1861, following the Unification of Italy, also Ponza and the rest of the archipelago became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.

After an initial depopulation of the island during World War I, Ponza rised again from the ashes like a phoenix, but unfortunately the start of the Second World War led to another long period of hardship for the whole island, also characterized by a continuous flow of prisoners, as a result of the war. Other events of the period are: the imprisonment of Benito Mussolini in Santa Maria and the drawing (in 1942) of the book “Manifesto for a free and united Europe” by the three confined men Spinelli, Rossi and Colorni that inspired the Treaty of Rome in 1954 and the subsequent birth of the European Economic Community. The After-War period is finally characterized by a great economic development based on the resources given by the sea, agricultural and mining sectors. From the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was tourism which “exploded” in the island up to the present days.

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