The Pontine Islands are an archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the coast of the Gulf of Gaeta, about 12 km ², with a population of about 4000 inhabitants (Ponziani), which in summer becomes a lot more due to an intense tourist movement.
The archipelago comprises six islands divided into two main groups:
group of north-west: Island of Ponza, Palmarola Island, Isle of Zannone, an island of Gavi.
group of south-east: Ventotene Island, Island of Santo Stefano.
The islands are accessible by ferry or hydrofoil from Formia, Anzio, Terracina, San Felice Circeo and, in summer, also from Ischia, Naples and Pozzuoli.
Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Islands and is situated in the Gulf of Gaeta (Tyrrhenian Sea), 21 nautical miles south of Cape Circeo, has an area of 7.5 km ² and is almost entirely mountainous, dominated by mountains in the center Core (201 m), Twenty Three (177 m) and Pagliaro (177 m), reaches its maximum altitude of 280 m at Monte Guardia, located at the southern end of the island.
Its beaches are mostly rocky and jagged, composed of kaolin and tufa, proving (along with the many extinct volcanic craters but still recognizable) of the volcanic origin of the island. The presence of underwater caves and cliffs annually attract thousands of enthusiastic divers, swimmers and of course, you prefer the famous beach of Chiaia di Luna (south-west), surrounded by high cliffs overlooking the sea.
The island of Palmarola is located about 10 km west of Ponza and is the third largest island of the Pontine Islands, after Ponza and Ventotene. Also called the “hairpin” because of its shape, actually takes its name from the dwarf palm, the only palm native to Europe, which grows wild on its surface.
The island is a nature reserve and, thanks to its pristine appearance, and the variety of its coastline is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Inhabited only in summer, becomes a place of retreat for the ponzesi that, escaping the chaotic Ponza, take refuge in the cave houses, typical dwellings carved into the rock of Palmarola. In addition to the cave houses the only buildings on the island meet in Cala del Porto, the only landing Palmarola, here we find two small restaurants and the house of Fendi sisters, kept during the year from what can be defined as the only true inhabitant of the island. A Palmarola was exiled and died pope Silverio, the patron saint of the town of Ponza is celebrated on June 20. The “rock of San Silverio” includes on its top a small chapel that the popular tradition is built on the remains of forced residence of the saint.
The island of Zannone is the most northerly of the Pontine Islands, and by extension (0.9 km ²), the third to last of the archipelago (the smaller Santo Stefano and Gavi). It is located north-east of Ponza in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The site of a Cistercian monastery ruins of which remain important (Arianna Viola, The Monastery of the Holy Spirit of Zannone, Journal Cistercian, XX, 2003, p. 67-84), is now inhabited only in summer by the two lighthouse keepers, located on the northern tip of the island (Cape Negro). Since 1979 the island has been in the National Park of Circeo, given its naturalistic importance. In fact, given the very low human presence throughout history to Zannone (only traces have been found dating back to prehistoric man-made), the island is home to some interesting endemic flora and fauna.
The island of Gavi is a small island in the archipelago including the Pontine (or Pontian). Located just 120 meters from Ponza, has a length of approximately 700 meters and a width of about 350 meters, the highest point is about 101 meters above sea level.
Ventotene has an elongated shape, measuring about 3 km and a maximum altitude of 139 meters. The island of Santo Stefano is located about 2 kilometers to the east, while the island of Ponza is 40 kilometers north-west.
Ventotene was known and inhabited at the time of the Greeks and Romans, who used to call Pandataria or Pandateria (Παντατηρια in ancient greek).
It became famous because it was the first place where Augustus banished his daughter Julia (ruins of Villa Giulia in Punta Eolo), then the Emperor Tiberius banished his niece Agrippina in 29 AD and later the Emperor Nero banished his wife Octavia, after having repudiated. Agrippina the Elder died of hunger on the island (probably by order of Emperor Tiberius himself) in 33 AD
Of the Roman period in Ventotene were several ruins of villas and aqueducts, the ancient port and the fish ponds modeled in the volcanic rocks of tuff.
During the Fascist period, namely from 1941 to 1943, on the island were confined anti-Fascists of all the trends, and people do not like to be considered by the regime. among others :Sandro Pertini, Luigi Longo, Umberto Terracini, Pietro Secchia, Eugenio Colorni, Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi. It was these last two anti-fascists to write on the island, in the spring of 1941, the most important document for a free and united. Draft Manifesto became known as Ventotene Manifesto. In the document, the federation of European states, the U.S. model is shown as the only solution for the salvation of European civilization: from then on the ‘United States of Europe’ cease to be an object of philosophical interest or cultural but they become real political objective.
Santo Stefano is geographically part of the Pontine Islands. Like the rest of the archipelago, the island has a volcanic origin and has a circular shape less than 500 meters in diameter, with an area of about 27 hectares. In Roman times the island had different names, including Partenope, Palmosa, Dommo Stephane and Borca and was sparsely inhabited. Steep cliffs, in fact, have always made the landing difficult, only possible in 4 points to choose from depending on the winds.
At present, the island is uninhabited and privately owned. It is located about 2 km east of Ventotene. The only building on it this is a prison (circular building) with 99 cells built in the Bourbon period (about 1794-95) by Ferdinand IV and in use until 1965.