Geography and transports
The island of Pantelleria, named after the arab “Bent-el-Riah” meaning “Daughter of the wind”, is one of the most evocative of the Mediterranean Sea and it is situated in the Strait of Sicily between Europe and Africa, closer to the latter (70 km) than it is to Sicily (102 km). From May to October Pantelleria is served by weekly charter flights from Milan, Rome, Bologna and Venice and all year long by daily flights from Trapani (a Ryanair international base) and Palermo. There’s also a daily ferry from Trapani, and during summer also the fast hydrofoil. Although it is now relatively easy to get to the island from all over Europe in a few hours, Pantelleria is still off the main tourist routes, even if this involves considerable difficulties for the island’s economy, it has also ensured its preservation and authenticity, sparing the island from speculation and mass tourism.
Climate and geology
The climate is typically Mediterranean with hot summers and mild winters. The average annual temperature is 18°C. Rains are very rare, only 350 mm per year. Pantelleria shows obvious signs of its volcanic origin: many hot springs can be found along the coast and lake, geysers are present in different areas inland, creating also in one case a natural sauna in a cave.
History and archeology
Being a crossroads of peoples and merchants, Pantelleria has undergone the influence and domination of a long series of civilizations. The “Sesioti” were probably the first inhabitants of the island about 5,000 years ago, they took advantage of obsidian stone which they were using to realize tools and weapons to trade. Their presence is evidenced today by some majestic tombs called “sesi”, and by a fortified village surrounded by a high wall, the largest prehistoric wall discovered in the Mediterranean so far. The Sesioti were followed by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC, which gave a great boost to agriculture using every corner of the island and introducing the cultivation of the vine. Trades with neighboring Carthage were very intense and in this period Pantelleria was an indipendent city-state with its own coin, the harbor and the acropolis were also built. In 217 BC the island was occupied by the Romans after the punic wars with Carthage, it was them to increase the cultivation of Muscat of Alexandria imported from Egypt. The vestiges of the Punic-Roman era are still visible today all around the island and in particular at the acropolis, where recently archaeologists have found three unvaluable murble statues representing the heads of Caesar, Titus and Agrippina. At the fall of the Roman Empire, the tribe of the Vandals started a period of darkness, devastation and plunder that lasted until 551 AD, when the Byzantines landed trying to rebuild the roman empire: the Byzantines made Pantelleria an important military base and built the Castle Barbacane, still visible in the main town. Agriculture and handicrafts florished again, and scattered here and there around the island, tombs of Byzantine origin can still be seen. From the year 835 to 1087 the island was colonized by the Arabs: the traces of their passage are clearly tangible in aspects such as place names, type of crops (like capers), cuisine, gardens and in the architecture of the typical rural houses called “dammusi “: the characteristic buildings with domed white roofs and thick dry stone walls are a unique heritage of the island. Agriculture became the main resource and grape growing continued no more to produce wine (forbidden by the Koran) but to produce raisins instead. The Arabs were then beaten by the Normans, who accomplished the conquest and “liberation” of the whole Sicily. Through marriages and blood lines Pantelleria and Sicily were then handed to the Swabians, the Angevins, the Aragonese and the Bourbons until, in 1860 , was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. Each of these peoples has left monuments, ruins, heritage in the language, architecture and popular culture.
The peculiarity of the agricultural landscape doesn’t go unnoticed: the territory is in fact marked since ancient times by more than 12000 km of dry stone walls terraces, that had the function of containing the ground and create some plots to grow vines. The Arabic gardens and “dammusi” complete the anthropic landscape. And what about the natural one? By visiting the island, you will pass from coastal “lunar” landscapes, black, fierce, scary and violent, to sweet hills and green valleys, dotted with vineyards and colorful wild flowers. On the coast, marine gashes where the incredible clarity of the water and its many reflections, often surrounded by towering black lava rocks forming natural sculptures, cause real feelings of euphoria. Inland, we can find dolomitic landscapes such as those ones on the big central mountain (about 800m), where surrounded by fresh pine trees, mosses and ferns, it’s easy to forget to be so close to Sahara desert, and to lose track of time and space. At last, hidden in a bowl of mountains, the island keeps jealously her most beautiful jewel, the Lake of Venus: sudden, unexpected and unbelievable with its Caribbean landscape. The charm of Pantelleria is right here, in the many contrasts present in an area of just 83 square kilometers!