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Pantelleria is a lovely island between Sicily and Tunisia whose profile is characterized by the Montagna Grande which reaches an altitude of 836 meters.

Its volcanic origin is recognized in the colour of the earth and building materials, in the steam heads and in the presence of thermal waters, such as those of the enchanting Mirror of Venus. The last eruption of Montagna Grande dates back to 1891.

Its isolation and its conformation have given rise to a particular intertwining between the beauty of nature and human settlements that has made it unique and a destination for many tourists.

The island has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, perhaps due to the presence of obsidian, and the remains of a village, cyclopean walls and a necropolis from the Bronze Age have been found. The fortification walls are particularly impressive with a stretch of about 300 meters with a width that reaches 10 meters and an equal height.

Even the necropolis of Sesi, from the name of the Sesioti people, has some peculiarities such as the circular buildings with a truncated cone roof, sometimes with steps.

The island’s position in the centre of the Mediterranean has made it one of the places of intense trade, fragments from Mycenae and Egypt have been found that testify to its international status.

The first real commercial settlement, however, dates back to the Phoenicians who founded the city of Cossyra on the hills of San Marco and Santa Teresa. The Phoenicians were the first to create infrastructures for the collection of water, the famous cisterns that are still scattered around the island, and led to the cultivation of the sapling vines (now a UNESCO heritage site).

The city was then conquered by nearby Carthage and then by Rome after the destruction of the Carthaginian kingdom in 217 BC. An interesting testimony of the Roman period are three heads of statues from the 1st century AD. found in 2003 representing Caesar, Titus and Antonia minor.

The Romans organized the island, the port and created several agricultural settlements and the Christian necropolises carved into the rock date back to the end of their empire.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Pantelleria entered the orbit of the Byzantine Empire and in 540 was conquered by the commander Belisario who used it as a place of punishment and exile.

The name Pantelleria appears for the first time in relation to a Byzantine monastery, and the remains of mosaics testify to it, but it could derive from the Arabic Bent-el-Rion, meaning “daughter of the wind”.

The island was then conquered by the Arabs during their expansion around 845 and we owe some of the peculiarities that still today make Pantelleria recognized in the world, such as the architectural forms and the cultivation of cotton which would represent one of the main sources of income of the island for many centuries.

The panorama is therefore characterized by dry stone walls, Pantelleria gardens to protect the citrus groves and the famous dammusi, cubic constructions in lava stone covered with lime with white roofs that end with the characteristic dome.

The Arabs remained until the arrival of the Normans of Roger II who annexed it to the Kingdom of Sicily and began the construction of the Barbican castle, perhaps on a previous Roman or Byzantine structure. On the tower the Normans placed a large cross to symbolize their role as paladins (knights) of the church.

However, the construction would never be a true defensive castle and the island was always vulnerable to pirate attacks.

In 1361 the island passed to the Genoese, who however governed in an authoritarian manner, causing street demonstrations and the killing of the feudal lord, and following them to the Aragonese.

In the 1400s, the island had been assigned to the Spanish baron Francesco de Belvis who did not have a good relationship with the population and stayed just long enough to consolidate his noble title.

On his death, Pantelleria was ruled with great cruelty by the De Nava family for a certain period until it was sacked by the Turks in 1488 and at court it was decided to assign the island to someone brave.

In 1492 the island was sold by Giovanna de Belvis for 1,800 florins to Louis of Requesens, a family of Catalan origins who had made a fortune helping the king in the conquest of Corsica.

Luigi Requesens had been a valiant commander and had defeated the fleet of the corsair Suleiman. In this century, the whole Mediterranean was the object of Turkish raids

In 1535, Charles V had a new watchtower built near the castle but this did not prevent the corsair Dragut, successor of Barbarossa, from destroying Pantelleria and taking 1000 prisoners. For this reason, Charles V decided to further strengthen the Barbican castle.

In 1620 Antonio Requesens obtained the title of Prince of Pantelleria from Philip III.

During this period a part of the castle was transformed into a residence while one wing continued to serve as a prison.

The arrival of the Bourbons to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1734 transformed Pantelleria into a penal colony and it remained so until the end of fascism. Some refurbishment works are due to Ferdinand IV and his name is engraved in a bell in the tower.

In 1860 it became part of the Kingdom of Italy and from 1863 it was used to imprison anti-unitary brigands who opposed the kingdom of the Savoy.

The island was heavily bombed by the allies during the Second World War in preparation for the landing in Sicily and the Battle of Mid-June of Pantelleria was fought in its waters in 1942.

Today the castle is home to the civic museum while part of the island is still used for military purposes thanks to the large underground hangar designed by the great Pierluigi Nervi.

In addition to tourism and its architecture, Pantelleria wines should be tasted and the sapling cultivation technique of the zibibbo grape is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is essential to taste the famous sweet wines such as Passito di Pantelleria, Moscato di Pantelleria and Moscato Passito di Pantelleria.

Do not forget the famous Pantelleria caper and the olive tree of the biancolilla variety.

Pantelleria is also loved by birdwatchers because it is a transit point for many species of birds on their migratory journey between Africa and Europe. The particular Pantelleria breed of donkeys uniquely of the island has recently been re-established, the Donkey of Pantelleria.

 

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