Pianosa Island

Pianosa Island


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Nicknamed Alcatraz del Tirreno, or the Alcatraz of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Pianosa sits between the island of Corsica and the mainland and from 1856 until the prison closed for good in 1998, it served as a prison farm, a sanatorium and as home to some of Italy’s most notorious mafiosi.

A penal colony was established on the island by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II who decreed it was an ideal place to isolate, segregate and oversee prisoners and over the next 100 years or so, the numbers of prisoners increased, as did the size of the facilities and it is even home to the largest early Christian catacombs north of Rome.

In fact the island has been inhabited since the Upper Palaeolithic age (between 10,000 and 50,000 years ago) and one of the most famous events in antiquity was when the princeps Augustus banished his grandson Agrippa Postumus there until his death by execution in 14 AD.

In 1872, the inmates were divided up and assigned to small farming communities who cultivated cereals, produced oil and wine as well as tending to pigs, chickens and cattle. From 1884 and due to the island’s healthy climate, Pianosa also played host to convicts with tuberculosis with the jail being divided into the self-explanatory Preventorio, the Sanatorio and the Convalescenzario. After the Germans left post-occupation after WWII, the island returned to its former role as a prison.

The sanatorium that looked after the TB sufferers was transformed into an impenetrable maximum security jail for high-ranking mafiosi such as Pippo Calò, Nitto Santapaola, Michele Greco and Giovanni Brusca and Red Brigade terrorists including Giovanni Senzani, Renato Curcio, Alberto Franceschini and Bruno Seghetti. By 1997, the last of the prisoners was shipped out and the prison closed for good.

The island and it’s quaint port is surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and schools of fish and although you’re not allowed to go there on your own, local tour operators run excursions from Piombino and Elba (limited to 200 people per day). There is also a hotel on the island – Hotel Milena – run by the last of the convicts serving long sentences and you can take a guided tours by bike, horse or on foot.

Tourists come to Pianosa as much for the wildlife sanctuary it has become as the prison and you’ll find some hardcore fans of Joseph Heller’s absurd wartime novel Catch 22 as it’s the fictional setting for the book’s WWII squadron.


Pianosa in tuscan Archipelago

Protected from the prison for 142 years , first penal settlement, and high security prison up today. The island is flat but also a unique resource: meadows of Poseidonia, a real &ldquo nursery&rdquo of the ichthyic fauna of the high Tyrrhenian sea , the most important catacombs to the north of Rome, the roman villa of Agrippa, the sanatorium of Punta Marchese where also Sandro Pertini was banished, a rich fauna and flora with many rarities due also to the isolated evolution and to an extraordinary migratory flow. The prison moreover, with its potentials, is a modern monument of the history of our land which goes from the robbers of the Maremma to the Austrian prisoners and includes the years of the terrorism and the slaughters of the Mafia. The wall which splits the island , was built in the 1978 and it is a historic proof too.
Unfortunately in the closed area there are the bays and the most beautiful cliffs of the all Tuscan archipelago. Pianosa is the only tuscan island composed of sedimentary rocks. Thanks to its calcareous nature and to its level ground it has been cultivated since the ancient times.

It belonged to the Romans and Augustus banished there his nephew Postumio Marco Giulio Agrippa who was killed . In the cave of S. Giovanni you can see still today the ruins of Agrippa&rsquos villa . All the island gives hospitality to the goal and therefore it is a closed place where you can get ashore only with the permission of the Ministry of the Interior or for well grounded reasons due to the navigations as damage to ship or rough sea.

Its population is only made of convicts and guards.
The island in spite of its rough and rugged coastline changes gradually its landscape into a quite and flat ground: cactus, olive-trees, agave, mild climate, corn and barleyfields. The depths of Pianosa are shallow and deepen gently , the bathymetry of minus 50 is reached on average at about 1500m .from the coast .

The island is included in the national park of the Tuscan archipelago . the navigation and the fishing are not allowed within the radius of 1 mile. The admission is referred to a permission issued by the direction of the park.


What you can do in Pianosa

There is a wide choice of ways to go round the Island of Pianosa. There are also excursions both at dawn and at dusk that are carried out with the Park Guides for those who wish to spend the night on the island. Access to both the actual village and Cala Giovanna beach is free

Walking through the village of Pianosa

A visit amidst the suggestive buildings of the old village of Pianosa to get to know its history, life and customs of the people who once lived there, from the Stone Age to the XIX century.

Every Tuesday a Toremar ferry takes passengers across and the day concludes with a visit to the archaeological site of Bagni di Agrippa.

Nature trek

An easy excursion that anyone can do, across the hinterland of the Island of Pianosa where you can still see drystone walls, the cultivations of the past and the various buildings that made up the ex prison. The Park Guides will accompany you on a geological tour, and as you stop along the way surrounded by Mediterranean bush you can admire the view of the coastline while you learn about the formation of the fossils and the endemisms of Pianosa.

Archaeology trek

The Park Guides will also take you to the new archaeology sites that have brought to light important remains from the XIX century about which beforehand little was known up till now. Next stop is the Belvedere, the highest part of the island from where the view all around is beautiful, then on to the remains of the Villa di Agrippo Postumo on Cala Giovanna beach where, if you wish, you can go for a swim.

Paleontology trek

Southwards excursion in the inland of Pianosa heading for the Inlet facing the tiny Scola Rock, and as you cross the pinewood in the direction of the coast you get to the Cala di Biagio Grotto here, thanks to recent excavation work, in the XIX century many lithic prehistoric remains were brought to the light, as well as the bones of deers and cows, proof of a constantly growing connection with the mainland. You will be able to see the resin casts of these remains.

Snorkelling in Cala dei Turchi

This excursion enables you to admire a totally pristine sea bed that only a protected environment like Pianosa can offer you. Only small groups at a time, with flippers, mask and snorkel may take part, and they will have the joy of seeing a marine flora and fauna along the coast chosen by the Park Authorities specifically for its unique beauty.

Mountain bike

Pedalling along sloping roads and paths you get to the junction at Marchese on the far northern part of the island, and here you can admire the breathtaking view of the bay of Porto Romano keep going along the rocks on the western side of the coast, and on your way back you will go past what used to be the buildings that made up the penal colony.

Kayak

If you go on one of these excursions that start off at Cala Giovanna beach and go along the eastern coast of Pianosa - these too are only for small groups at a time - you will have the rare and unique chance of sailing in a protected sea area and admiring the breathtaking coastline and suggestive cliffs of the island.

Horse and carriage guided tour

A slow, relaxing way to discover the almost magical and truly fascinating beauty and nature of the island. On this excursion you will see the buildings of the ex prison and the Gardens of Pianosa, and you will stop along the way to admire the wonderful panorama.

Guided tour by bus

You can relax and sit comfortably on a bus as you travel along the solitary grit roads of Pianosa and admire both its nature as well as the agricultural and prison history that goes back thousands of years.

Info &bookings

You can take part in any of these excursions that are organized by the Park Authorities and are carried out only with Park Guides but you may do so only if you book beforehand they can only be be booked through the Info Park number 0565 908231 or through the Pianosa Park Offices.You may stay at the tiny Hotel Milena, run by the Arnera Social Cooperative, where you will be given a bedroom and also restaurant service (Brunello restaurant-bar).

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The Ottoman Empire (دولت عليه عثمانیه,, literally The Exalted Ottoman State Modern Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu or Osmanlı Devleti), also historically known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire"The Ottoman Empire-also known in Europe as the Turkish Empire" or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries.

The Ottoman Navy (Osmanlı Donanması or Donanma-yı Humâyûn), also known as the Ottoman Fleet, was established in the early 14th century after the Ottoman Empire first expanded to reach the sea in 1323 by capturing Karamürsel, the site of the first Ottoman naval shipyard and the nucleus of the future Navy.


Pianosa Island - History

Pianosa, the closest island to Elba, is only 7 miles off Fetovaia’s point and can be reached from Marina di Campo harbour in about 1 hour of navigation.

It is also the warmest and brightest island of the Tuscan Archipelago, plus, as its name implies, it is indeed totally flat.

The island bears a surreal resemblance of a huge raft made out of white shells and with a perimeter of 19 Km and an average height of about 20 m.a.s.l., can be defined geologically, as a platform of marine sediments a few meters above the sea level. It is actually so flat that the sea can only be seen when looking out from the coast or from its 2 “elevations” standing a whole 28/29 mt. above sea level

Its quietness, colours, crystal clear sea, walls, rocks covered in fossils, the old prisons and spontaneous blooms are all elements characterizing Pianosa, but most of all, an “African” brightness is what really identifies this island. An place where thanks to its morphology, clouds rarely stop while the sun shines in every corner, from dawn to dusk.

From an historical and especially archaeological point of view this island has a lot to offer. Inhabited by man in the Paleolithic Age already, it holds prehistoric traces and important Roman ruins. The last 150 years of Pianosa history are related to the history of its prisons.

Pianosa has been uninhabited since its old jail was shut down in 1998: then, along the detainees, all guards and their families left the island together with the few civilians who lived there.

Pianosa holds a distressing charm related to the intriguing history of its imprisonment buildings It has got a surreal look of a densely populated place that was suddenly abandoned It has the peculiarity of a geological formation arisen from millions of marine fossils along magnificent Mediterranean blooms, and finally, it features a strong wild nature that seems to be taking over the island with its white and impervious cliffs, together with an absolutely clear sea that like a glass sheet, covers and enhances a wonderful seabed.

The island is under environmental protection by the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, visits are only allowed through guided excursions by foot, mountain bike, sea kayak or snorkeling.

Location: North Lat 42 ° 34 ‘- Long East 10 ° 05’

Highest peak: 29 meters above sea level

Distance from Elba: 7 nautical miles

Distance from Montecristo: 17.5 nm

Distance from Corsica: 21.5 nm

Distance from the mainland: 31.8 nm

With an average height of about 20 meters and two small 29-meter elevations, this island is as flat as its name hints it is also vaguely triangular in shape, with a narrower side facing North, that makes it reminiscent of a “steak”.

Pianosa is made up entirely of sedimentary rocks, as it is essentially an outcropping of a large shallow-seafloor formed by an overlapping of limestone, marl, sandstone, conglomerates and shell-sand calcarenite.

The lack of elevation means raining is rare while sunshine is intense average temperatures are higher than Elba in all seasons.

The light colour seabed makes the sea look extraordinarily limpid. A large shallow water platform surrounding the island, makes this spot one of the richest in marine life of the Mediterranean, this thanks also to a lack of exploitation by man both during its past prison days and today under the Park Authority protection.

Countryside:

Its morphology together with an abundance of fresh water from Pianosa’ s subsoil, have facilitated an agricultural utilization of the countryside which over its agricultural colony period used to cover three quarters of the island. Some traces of it can be still be found today along few cultivated plants.

Vegetation in Pianosa is particularly lush due to the fertility of its land, abundance of water and an intense sunshine. The island is characterized mainly by Mediterranean scrub, whose grown has been conditioned over centuries by deforestation and plantations.

Nowadays, however, spontaneous plants are taking back their original land, giving rise to a new form of Mediterranean scrub complemented by plants introduced by man.

Along the coast, junipers and lentisks are common, some of them are old ones which used to be employed as a barrier to protect crops.

Rosemary is very common, so are myrtle and cistus.

The plants that most characterize such spectacular spring blooms on Pianosa are helichrysum, lavender, sea-birdsfoot trefoil, wallflowers and wild chrysanthemum.

Pianosa’ s fauna is distinguished by a wide quantity and variety of birds, both sedentary as well as migratory. The most likely encounters are with red partridges and pheasants, also very common are crows and turtledoves. There are numerous birds of prey, both diurnal and nocturnal. Along the coast, in addition to seagulls (Herring and Corsican), pretty common are European shags and shearwaters of both Yelkouan and Scopoli’s species, both nesting on the local Scola rock. During the warm season bee eaters and hoopoes are present.

Mammals are limited to hares, a few abandonment pet cats that survived and are now living as wild predators, and some rodents.

Among the reptiles, lizards are quite common, together with geckos and snakes.

But the real prosperity within Pianosa’ s fauna is actually in the sea, where plenty of fish live undisturbed: sea basses, snappers and sea breams of amazing sizes … Pianosa sea is also frequently visited by pods of dolphins.


Pianosa Island - History

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Immersed in the blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Tuscan coast and Corsica, Pianosa, with its maximum altitude of 29 metres, rests on the water like a leaf. Just like in other cases of former prison islands, Pianosa has also conserved its nature intact after its prisons closed down thanks to the Arcipelago Toscano National Park. Still today, access to the island is reserved to a limited number of people. Visits and hikes on the island are only possible accompanied by a guide and must adhere to strict rules in order to protect the environment. With the support of the guides, visitors can hike through nature both on the coast and inland.

Visitors walk in the shade of the characteristic dry stone walls, immersed in the Mediterranean scrub, between the ex-prison outposts, or discover the island’s geological origins and the history of the formation of its fossils, admiring the little cliffs that descend into the crystal-clear sea. Toward the south of the island, visitors can embark upon a hike that explores the ancient paleontological history of Pianosa, visiting the grotto in the Bay of Biagio where pre-historic tools were discovered and reconstructed models of artefacts can be found. For lovers of archeology-related hiking, it’s possible to reach the ruins of the villa of Agrippa Postumus, around Giovanna Bay, where, after a good walk in the summer season, visitors can dive into the blue waters of the bay.


Pianosa Island

An Island that truly stemmed from the intertwining of history, nature and human labor, expressing different canons of beauty. An experience perceived in all of the Islands of “Our Sea”, the Tyrrhenian Sea, although here perhaps more strongly. The small village, now uninhabited, is vaguely reminiscent of mining centers once filled with life its architecture exalts human fantasy with its crenellated towers, its rounded domes, the ancient pier, the ’most beautiful in the world’.

Pianosa is the Island of ’confinement’ a large platform of white calcareous origin that mirrors into a turquoise blue sea, where the early Christians sought refuge from persecution and excavated about two miles of catacombs. Marcus Agrippa, one of the successors to the Roman Empire, was confined here by Augustus a ’golden’ exile, in truth, spent in his sumptuous oceanfront villa, where he was later assassinated. Here the opponents to the fascist regime were imprisoned. The rhythms of the jail marked the life of the small resident community until 1996.

It is possible to visit the Island on guided tours and excursions organized by the National Park. It is at dusk, though, when the small ferry leaves the flat island, that darkness and silence take the helm, offering thrilling and contrasting emotions. Riding on a bike along the unpaved roads, you reach the old prison and the farm annexed to it where the convicts worked. You smell the ’perfume of the ocean’ a mix of the fascination of Sardinia, the transparencies of Greek islands, the atolls of the Pacific.

This is the distinct perfume of Pianosa it is the sea that wants to wet you with its blue water, the silence that wants to cradle you under a starry sky, nature that you breathe with every step. It’s the history of man that tells of ancient joys and sorrows.


Visit The Ghost Island Of Pianosa In Tuscany

The island was first inhabited in the late Stone Age. Roman ruins remain of a villa, theatre and catacombs. Between the 12th and 13th centuries. Pisa and Genoa fought over rights to the island due to its strategic position off the coast. Visitors to the island have included pirates and Napoleon — who declared it the most interesting of the Tuscan islands.

Inhabitants have included small fishing colonies, military officers set up in strongholds on the island and the prisoners, particularly dangerous Mafia criminals, kept in the penitentiary there between 1868 and 1998. Now the island is no longer inhabited by so many and for only part of the year.

The only residents are a few policemen, the family of a guard and two or three convicts on probation. All that stands are the prison and prison museum, a few houses, a restaurant and the Roman ruins. As a result, the whole island gives off the feeling of a ghost town and can be quite spooky but, as with many abandoned places, there is also something rather eerily beautiful about its vacant nature.

Tourists may visit the island with special permits and take tours but preservation remains an important concern. The island in its entirety, is part of the The National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago.

It is protected from alteration and environmental damage. Only sustainable development is allowed and care for the environment, historic and artistic heritage is closely monitored. Shipping and fishing are not allowed within a mile of the coast.

These factors make Pianosa an extremely peaceful place of unfettered natural beauty. The landscape is uniquely unspoiled and the man-made structures are fascinating remnants of history. The ocean beds offer a varied marine environment with water plants such as the Posidonia oceanica and fish like great pipefishes, salemas, common dentexes, striped mullets, seabreams, morays, lobsters, amberjacks and groupers clearly visible.

The only way to visit is by contacting a special guided tour operator. You cannot visit without one. Boats leave from Piombino and Elba Island and a maximum of 400 people can visit per day. Overnight stays are not possible. If you are on the Tuscan Coast, try and join one of the tours as this would make for a once-in-a-lifetime trip!


7. Villa d’Este

Villa d’Este is what you might call the pièce de résistance of the beautiful town of Tivoli, just on the outskirts of Rome. What was once a Franciscan monastery was turned into a spectacular example of Renaissance architecture and lifestyle by the town governor during the 16 th century. It is presently run as a museum and holds a well-deserved spot on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.

While the Villa’s interiors are gorgeously adorned with frescoes on its walls and ceilings, nothing beats its view of the gardens below. Villa Este’s gardens are absolutely breath-taking, with its many sculptures and over 500 fountains. One of these had a water organ installed in 1571 that still plays today. And as if this architectural masterpiece wasn’t enough, the gardens are also complemented by their own waterfall.


The Tuscan Islands: Escape to Pianosa Prison

The engine rumbled as the ship backed away from the dock slowly, as if trying to quietly escape. It aimed its bow away from Marina di Campo bay and toward a still invisible line on the horizon.

I was going to Pianosa Island, an isolated island just 14 km from Isola d’Elba, the largest and most popular of the Tuscan islands.

As the ship churned closer, the thin line of land grew more visible, if not much higher. Pianosa is the lowest island of the Tuscan archipelago, rising just 29 meters above sea level. In fact, it’s the extreme flatness of the island that gives it its name – piano meaning flat in Italian.

From a distance the island is barely visible over the water!

The water changed from the dark blue of the deep sea to a turquoise so transparent it could have been the Caribbean. I watched fish flitting under the surface of the water, examined large swatches of rocks and sea grass on the sea floor while the boat pulled into the dock.

The only visible beach had just a scattering of bodies tanning, snorkeling or playing in the shallow rock pools. Shockingly calm compared to the crowded beaches of Elba. Beyond the beach the coastline was made up of rock cliffs topped with different brush and shrubs, tanned brown in every direction.

Pianosa is often overlooked in favor of its bigger sisters Elba or Giglio. While boatloads of tourists from the mainland fill the beaches of the islands, Pianosa sits largely untouched. One of the seven pearls that makes up the Tuscan Archipelago, Pianosa is the one of the most private: It was inaccessible until the island’s long-time prison closed in 1998.

Originally, Pianosa Island was used as an agricultural penal colony. The criminals sent to the island were forced to work in the fields. In the ‘70s it was upgraded to a maximum-security prison and held mafiosi and other criminals until it was finally closed. The mafiosi had to work in the fields as well.

It’s a strange contrast, the sadness and depression of a prison, of a complete lack of freedom, against the paradisiacal backdrop of Pianosa.

one entrance to the prison

Using islands as prisons is nothing new. Many of the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago served at one time or another as a place of exile, a “home” for people who had to or wanted to be away.

Montecristo, the island made famous by the popular book, The Count of Monte Cristo, housed a thriving community of monks until the sixteenth century. Though a voluntary exile is undoubtedly more enjoyable, the monks still lived in nearly complete seclusion for decades.

Then, of course, there’s Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile on Elba Island in 1814, though it doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect. During his time on the island he served as ruler of its roughly 12,000 inhabitants, initiating reforms that greatly improved island infrastructure and society. He also built two impressive villas, Villa dei Mulini and Villa Napoleonica di San Martino, splitting his time between each. Though his banishment to the island was plush as far as expulsions go, nevertheless he had no desire to stay.

Still, the island is more of a heaven-on-earth setting than an imposing maximum-security prison setting.

In fact, Pianosa is perhaps the only prison where the prisoners actually want to return. A program started in 2000 allows a handful of convicted criminals to work on the island as baristas, cooks, cleaners or even gift shop salesmen during their sentence.

In the tiny beach diner a convict named Giuseppe sold me a bottle of water as our guide stood in front of him to cheerfully explain to us the prison-worker system. The crimes of each criminal are undisclosed and at night they stay in special rooms near the small 12-room hotel on the island, a far cry from the days of prison barracks and forced labor in the dusty fields.

Today Pianosa is under the protection of the Parco Nazionale Arcipelago Toscano for its environmental value and only 250 visitors are allowed daily.

It seems that just as with any paradise, only few are allowed entrance.

The Park protects the land and waters of all seven islands, each unique for its climate, history and flora and fauna. It protects and safeguards the territory, both the nature and culture, and works to educate visitors and local populations alike to raise environmental sensitiveness. In fact, it was the first great marine park in Italy and remains the largest protected marine area in Europe.

Under the regulations of the Parco Nazionale people can only visit the island through guided environmental excursions such as snorkeling, a nature walk or a tour by bike or bus. The price ranges from 15 euro to about 30 depending on the tour and each is, by rule, one guide for 25 people. Those who wish to simply sunbathe and swim are allowed only at the Cala Giovanna beach, immediately to the right of the port.

We enjoyed a snorkeling tour in a nearby cove and a bike tour through fields of yellow Limonium, a wild yellow sea lavender that grows nearly exclusively on the island. When the brush along the cliff opened up we stopped for pictures, our guide explaining each medicinal and alimentary purpose of the plants, the history of the island as we looked out across the sea, Montecristo in that direction, Elba in the other.


Pianosa is no longer known for its suffering, but for its beauty and history. It’s perhaps the only prison you’d want to escape to and not from, yet it’s precisely because of the prison that this is true. All the years of relative isolation protected the island’s fragile ecosystem from the damaging effects of people and infrastructure.

Now, with no agricultural activity and even less people, the flora of the island has recolonized the island to its pre-prison state, back into a paradise on earth.


Watch the video: The Pianosa Island