Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Islands (whose archipelago also includes the islands of Gavi, Zannone, Palmarola, Ventotene and Santo Stefano) and is located in the Gulf of Gaeta (in the Tyrrhenian Sea), 21 nautical miles south of Cape Circeo. It belongs to the province of Latina, in Lazio.


Ponza has a surface area of ​​7.5 km² and is almost completely mountainous: dominated in the center by the Core (201 m), Tre Venti (177 m) and Pagliaro (177 m) mountains, it reaches its maximum altitude with Mount Guardia at 280 m , located at the southern end of the island. Its beaches are jagged and mostly rocky, composed of kaolin and tuff, demonstrating (together with the numerous extinct but still recognizable volcanic craters) the volcanic origin of the island. The presence of underwater caves and cliffs attract thousands of diving enthusiasts every year, as well as obviously swimmers, who prefer the famous Chiaia di Luna beach (to the south-west), surrounded by a high cliff overlooking the sea.
Also famous are Lucia Rosa’s Cliff and Faraglioni, which take their name from the protagonist of a tragedy that actually happened in the 19th century. Lucia Rosa was a young woman of nineteen, in love with a poor farmer but prevented from marrying him due to the opposition of her family: the girl, in desperation, committed suicide by throwing herself from the high cliff, which was renamed in her name by her local inhabitants.
The shape of the island is narrow and elongated, and extends from the Faraglione La Guardia, in the south, to Punta dell’Incenso, in the north-east, which overlooks the nearby island of Gavi; the latter is separated from Ponza by a stretch of sea of ​​just 120 metres.
The vegetation is typically Mediterranean, with a prevalence of agaves, prickly pears and brooms.


The island of Ponza has been populated since the Neolithic, but its main centers were born under the domination of the Volscians. Initially occupied by the Phoenicians, who used it as a commercial port, in the 8th century BC it was colonized by the Greeks, to whom a funerary hypogeum and, according to numerous historians, the Le Forna aqueduct can be attributed. The name also derives from the ancient Greek Pòntos, Πόντος or Pontia, Πόντια.
In 312 BC the Romans arrived and used Ponza mostly as a place of confinement, but also as a holiday destination. In fact, there remain ruins of Roman villas, the most famous of which is located on the Hill of the Madonna and dates back to the 1st century AD, as well as an aqueduct, basins (including Pilate’s Caves) and a cistern for collecting water rainwater, the so-called “Bath”. Furthermore, in the 1980s the wreck of an ancient Roman galley was discovered, probably shipwrecked in the 1st century AD, which transported pottery and food supplies. Tradition has it that in Roman times the name was given to it, in honor of the governor of Judea Pontius Pilate, but Strabo, who already called it Pontia, defining it as the island of the Volscians, died before Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.
In the Middle Ages it remained a flourishing religious center (in 537 Pope Silverius died in nearby Palmarola, who is still the patron saint of the Municipality of Ponza, celebrated on 20 June) and commercial, thanks to the work of the Benedictine monks, who built the abbey of Santa Maria. But the work of the friars was almost nullified when, starting from the 9th century, Ponza was the object of ferocious raids by Saracen pirates.
Only in 1202 did the island return to its former importance, thanks to the Bull with which Pope Innocent III re-entrusted the Abbey of Santa Maria to the Cistercian friars, which in 1233 was “incorporated” into the Basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino outside the walls From Rome. In 1300 the waters of Ponza were the scene of the naval battle in which Roger of Lauria, Duke of Calabria, defeated Admiral Corrado Doria, in the pay of the King of Sicily Frederick III of Aragon. A new battle took place in 1435, at the time of the siege of Gaeta that year, when the Genoese admiral Biagio Assereto, for the Angevin house, defeated the fleet of Alfonso I, king of Aragon, who was beginning to harbor ambitions of conquering the island.
In fact, Ponza, which in 1322 had passed under the abbey of Fossanova (with the bull of Pope Honorius III), in 1454 was occupied by the Aragonese, who expelled the Cistercian monks from the island: these, taking refuge in Formia, founded the church of Santa Maria di Ponza.
In 1542 Charles V, king of Spain and emperor, granted the island as a fief to Pier Luigi Farnese (relative of the Dukes of Parma, who would inherit the title of Ponza), with the obligation to defend it from pirate attacks, which never they had completely ceased. After the Saracen Khair-ad-Din (known as the “Pirate Barbarossa”) had laid waste to the island in 1534, in 1552 a new incursion, carried out by the corsair Dragut, brought death and destruction to Ponza. In 1655 there was a further ferocious raid carried out by the Turks, who also blew up the port tower.
After a short period of Austrian garrison, in 1734 Elisabetta Farnese, mother of Charles III of Spain, king of Naples, ceded the entire Ponziane archipelago to her son, who made the islands private property of the crown and began an intense colonization, sending settlers especially from Ischia. Among the main Bourbon objectives there was also the defense from pirate attacks: in 1757 a fleet of Neapolitan ships, which were also joined by Maltese and pontifical war galleys, defeated a handful of Turkish ships near the island of Palmarola, and since then the archipelago became safe.
In 1768 King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon began a phase of improvement of the economic conditions of the islanders. Technicians were sent to supervise the works, which lasted until 1793 and were carried out by several hundred convicts serving life sentences, who were then locked up in the new Ponza prison in 1795. In this second phase, the public works that still characterize the archipelago today were started and completed: under the guidance of Antonio Winspeare, Engineer Officer, and the engineer Francesco Carpi, the Port of Ponza was built with the characteristic curved houses on two street levels, the cemetery, the fortress, the Office building (now the seat of the Municipality) the church, the Forte Papa alle Forna, the town of Ventotene and its small port, called Pozzillo given that the steep semicircular wings (similar to those of the port of Ponza) grafted onto the ancient, well-protected Roman port, they recall the walls of a well. Regardless of the sensations induced by its use, the Life sentence of Santo Stefano, due to Carpi and Winspeare themselves, is also a work of notable importance: horseshoe plan and central chapel/observation point, inspired by the principles of the Panopticon of the British Jeremy Bentham.
In 1813 Ponza was occupied by the English led by Admiral Carlo Napier, who was appointed count of the island. But two years later the Treaty of Vienna returned the island to the Bourbons. In 1857 Ponza was reached by the expedition of the patriot Carlo Pisacane, who had seized the Cagliari, a steamship that shuttled between the Sardinian capital and Genoa. Arriving in Ponza on the afternoon of 27 June, Pisacane freed the prison inmates, went with them to Palazzo Tagliamonte where they destroyed the island’s archive, and then reconstituted his expedition against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The enterprise then ended tragically, after the Sapri landing on 28 June.
Only in 1861, after the defeat of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by Giuseppe Garibaldi, Ponza was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.
In 1928 the fascist regime designated Ponza as a place of confinement for political opponents. Mussolini himself was then a prisoner on the island from 27 July to 7 August 1943.
In 1935 the exploitation of the bentonite deposit in Le Forna was started (“Samip” mine – Società Azionaria Miniere Isole Pontine), which remained active until 1975. The construction of the Ponza mine cost the expropriation of some land, but it provided work for around 150 men, in addition to maritime traffic for the transport of the mineral to the continent. However, the island had to pay for the devastation of one of its most beautiful coves and quite a few cases of silicosis among the workers involved.
In the localities of Frontone and Capobianco there were also mines of perlite (a greyish matrix of ash and lapilli weakly cemented and incorporating blackish and glassy volcanic projectiles), currently abandoned.
From the Neolithic to the Greeks

It has been ascertained that the presence of man on the Pontine islands dates back to 5000 BC. Numerous prehistoric finds in the area of ​​Sabaudia and San Felice Circeo (Latina) have also demonstrated the island origin of obsidian, a rock used to make tools and weapons, which is different from other obsidians present in Italy.
The reason why they reached the archipelago creates some theoretical turbulence among historians and archaeologists. Over the years, the most accredited theories justifying the presence of obsidian from the archipelago as far as northern Italy; there are two. One places the current islands in the Neolithic as simple mountains and hills attached to the Circeo due to the “regression” of the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, while the second, made a few years ago, states that Ponza already in ancient times enjoyed commercial exchanges, even if sporadic, with dry land. These exchanges were carried out with small coasting boats or rafts. Whatever happened, some of these men settled in the area which today has the appearance of an archipelago, giving life to very small communities of which there is almost no trace left. Unfortunately, the prehistoric era of the island ends here, because even if Ponza has a history of colonization and evolution from a social point of view that dates back to very ancient times, unfortunately the destruction caused by subsequent colonizations precisely due to the small amount of territory available, which forced the new arrivals to build on the rubble of those who were expelled or simply replaced; it left very few traces of its passage. At the moment therefore, we do not know if the island was the result of actual prehistoric colonisations, but the presence of man is certain

Other more or less lasting colonizations affected the island.
The first colonizers of the post-prehistoric era of whom there is evidence are the Aurunci who settled there around 1500 BC but their traces have disappeared as have the Etruscans. There are no writings or anything else that allow us to know whether the Aurunci or the Etruscans found inhabitants when they arrived on the island, or took it away from colonizers who had arrived before them.

The second colonization occurred by the Phoenicians (12th-11th century BC). Excellent navigators and traders used the island as a point of support in the Tyrrhenian Sea, which with sources of water, fruit and wood trees as well as the sea full of fish allowed ships to refuel and stop away from the coasts which could still be part of small kingdoms more or less favorable to the arrival of Phoenician trade. Suitable for stocking up on water and food for long journeys back to Phoenician land, and for keeping ships sheltered in case of storms, the archipelago became a fixed stop.

An important colonization, however, was that of the Greeks (8th-7th century BC) who left important traces such as: necropolises in the Guarini area and Bagno Vecchio and a small aqueduct later enlarged by the Romans in the Forna area and all still in good condition. However, the remains of houses are almost unrecognizable. Still visible is the port of the old bath. The duration of the Greek presence on the island was closely linked to the splendor of their civilization.

With the decline of Greek civilization, interest in the archipelago gradually disappeared, leaving the island in the hands of the Volscians. With the arrival of the Volsci, a colonization that was more military than commercial began. The island was defined by historians as populous for the time, and even the Volscians found many difficulties in keeping at bay a population of Arabs and Greeks who had been settled on the island for decades. Transformed from farmers into expert navigators and warriors, the Volsci also had expansionist aims on the archipelago as an advanced point of defense in the central Tyrrhenian Sea, just think that for years they contested sovereignty with the small and then nascent Roman Empire, but unlike the latter of the There are very few traces of their centuries-old presence on the island. In fact, the only historical evidence is the cyclopean walls erected where the cemetery is currently located and visible from the sea.

Ponza under the Roman Empire – Ponza in Roman times

Ponza and the archipelago became a Roman colony in 312 BC. C. when the flourishing and powerful Roman Empire reached an agreement with the Volscians by creating an allied colony. Free and independent from Rome, being also populated by Roman magistrates and soldiers, the island also enjoyed a certain political autonomy defined by a treaty that established rights and duties. The Romans had understood not only the strategic but also the economic importance of the archipelago. In fact, the island in 209 BC. C. during the Second Punic War it was one of the 18 colonies out of 30 that it provided to support the empire in the conflict: ships, men and riches. All these privileges should not be confused with Optimo jure (Roman citizenship), but they still allowed tax relief to be obtained until 89 BC when following the internal war unleashed by the Italic peoples against Rome, who had now become slaves and no longer allies; Ponza also acquired Roman citizenship, to definitively make it a fundamental strategic point for the empire in the central Tyrrhenian Sea. Once it acquired Roman citizenship, Ponza developed enormously, becoming a thriving and populated town which was home to numerous sumptuous patrician villas. Despite the transformation into a place of exile for illustrious political figures by the emperor Augustus, the island also became a tourist destination for the Roman patricians and for the emperor himself, who built an enormous villa with an adjoining temple (The caves of Pilato) in the Punta Madonna area. Furthermore, the emperor had several aqueducts built (the largest reaches from the Forna to S. Maria), dams and numerous water reservoirs (Piscinae Limariae). The latter, of considerable size, together with some small sources of spring water, served the needs of the inhabitants of the island, the supply of merchant ships and the supply of the entire Roman fleet. The need for water gave rise to the need to build reservoirs and some of them were of considerable size. There was a great deal of research and study to choose the location where to build these tanks. Many of these are found in the southern area of ​​the island, above all due to the presence of the port then located in S. Maria, but probably also because the geomorphological conformation is particularly rich in gorges with more or less natural channels, suitable for collecting water, it would have made urban settlement easier. The port work that was created in the S. Maria area was also important, the mouth of the port was positioned where the beach currently is, and reached the interior up to the depression which is enclosed between the current via Pezza and via Staglio . Today the appearance of the area has completely changed, in fact the first monks present on the island found in that area a huge reservoir closed towards the sea by a huge shoreline which probably advanced over the years to close the bay. Today there are: houses, roads, reed beds, cultivated land and inserted into the urban landscape: archaeological finds. Shipbuilding activity also developed on the island, which enjoyed the ease of finding wood from the lush pine and oak forests present in the archipelago, unfortunately this led to the first major deforestation. A real maritime traffic also developed, in fact all kinds of merchandise were bought and sold on the island, and furthermore the population grew incredibly to almost 20,000 inhabitants. With the decline of the Roman Empire, interest in the islands also began to fade and the archipelago began to take on a life of its own. The last remnants of a now outdated era were manifested in the possession of Ventotene, maintained for a few more years by the eastern emperor; as an advanced logistics base and port to the West.

San Silverio Pope and Martyr in Ponza


In the year 480 in Lazio, in the city of Frosinone; he was born from Hormisda and Caria of Capua: Silverio. Pope Silverio’s family most likely lived in moderate comfort and above all his father Ormisda was a man of culture. Unfortunately, Ormisda lost his wife when Silverio was at a very young age. Probably disappointed by the bitterness that his life had given him, Ormisda went to live in Rome, joining the clergy of the Roman church, taking Silverius with him. In Rome, Silverio’s life had as its only point of reference his father, who by now had become very close to monastic life and also influenced little Silverio. In 514 when Silverio was 34 years old, his father Ormisdas was a deacon of Pope Symmachus and a person esteemed enough to be mentioned in some letters of the Vatican councils. Upon the death of Pope Symmachus, Hormisdas was elected pope. Favored by being the son of a Pope, Silverio, in addition to his Christian education, also had the opportunity to train himself in human and divine letters. The only document that remains of his literary abilities, written at a young age; it is the funeral inscription that Silverius composed for his father’s tomb. The letter, of very high historical value, was traced several years ago by the archaeologist Giovanbattista De Rossi in the poems of Alcuin and narrates, naturally in Latin, the deeds of his father Sant’Ormisda who died on 6 August 523 when Silverio was 43 years old.


Letter in Latin

Quanvis digna tuis non sint, pater, ista sepulcris Nec titulus egeat clarificata fides,Sume tamen laudes, quas Petri captus amore,Extremo veniens hospens ab orbe legat. Sanasti patriae laceratum shismate corpus,Restituens proprioins membra revulsa locis. Imperio devicta pio tibi Graecia cessit, Amissam laetatur multos captiva per annos,Pontifices precibus promeruisse tuis. Haec ego Silverius, quamvis mihi dura, note, Ut possent tumulis fixa manere diu.

Italian translation

Although, O Father, these words are not as lofty as your tomb, and the glorified faith does not need inscriptions, nevertheless accept the praises that the pilgrim, attracted here by the love of Peter, will be able to read, coming there from the extreme confines of Earth. You have healed the body of the homeland, already torn by disagreements, returning to their homes the members who had been separated. Greece surrendered to your paternal command, jubilant at having rediscovered her lost faith. Africa, a slave for many years, rejoices in having deserved the return of its bishops through your prayers. I myself, Silverio, although reluctantly, have noted these details, so that they may remain engraved on your tomb forever.

From the letter we can understand that Pope Hormisdas, whose papacy lasted nine years, was a wise and active pope for the era in which he lived, and obtained both religious and diplomatic recognition. It was almost a natural consequence that the son of such a holy and venerated Pope was also loved and esteemed by his environment. Silverio, however, did not have the desire to make a career at an ecclesiastical level, in fact after the death of his father, he only occupied a position as subdeacon of the church of Rome. The figure of the father influenced above all the spiritual formation of Silverio, in fact the latter was moved in religious work by great humility and by the rules that the apostolic school had inculcated in him.


On 8 June 536 Silverius was elected Pope and on 20 June of the same year he was proclaimed bishop of Rome. Unfortunately, the pontificate of Pope Silverius was short, tormented and impoverished by slander. The rise of the Byzantine rule in Europe personally affected Pope Silverius, who in order to defend the papal power over Rome was forced, for the common good, to accept the oath of loyalty and to negotiate an agreement favorable to the Gothic people, however not belligerent towards the Roman clergy. The agreement provided that the Romans, when the Byzantine army arrived in Italy, would oppose the Byzantine army waiting for a much more powerful Gothic army that was to descend into Italy from the north. The aim of Vitiges, emperor of the Goths, was only to slow down and weaken the rise of the Byzantine army, making it face battles and sieges along the way, whenever the Byzantine army arrived from the south. The agreement was evaluated by Pope Silverius for what it represented: extortion. Shortly afterwards the agreement made with Vitige was considered null and void. Also because the Gothic king knew that the citizens of Rome would have sacrificed themselves to defend the papal authority, if the latter had asked for it. But probably, he will not consider the diplomatic skills of Pope Silverius and his followers, and the influence that religion could have on the generals and the Byzantine emperor. When Belisarius entered Rome through the current Porta S. Giovanni, he was welcomed by Pope Silverius and some nobles with all honors. Belisario was fascinated by the person of Pope Silverius, a man of charity but of firm apostolic ideology and culture, so much so that from the conversation arose a relationship of esteem on the part of the Byzantine general towards the pontiff. The desire on the part of the pontiff not to recognize any other power other than that of God probably aroused many concerns in the Byzantine general, especially from a military point of view due to the damage that a long siege of Rome could produce, because the authority that the Pope represented could be used to incite the people of Rome against the Byzantine army by demanding all-out resistance. And the arrival of the Gothic army would have led the Byzantine army not only to have to face a long siege but also to fight on a second front with the Gothic army. From the conversation that Belisario had with Pope Silverius, the latter’s bitterness for the bloody events that followed the capture of Naples and the subsequent request to be as magnanimous as possible with the defeated emerged. Belisario then ordered the immediate reconstruction of Naples and the restoration of the destroyed churches, reassuring the Neapolitans who fled the city that no punitive reprisals would follow upon their return. The pontificate of Pope Silverius continued with a thousand difficulties, worsened above all by the Gothic army reorganizing itself and besieging Rome. Despite this, it was possible to appoint: 14 priests, 19 bishops and 5 deacons. Unfortunately, Pope Silverius soon attracted the antipathies of the political fringes closest to the empress of Byzantium: Theodora. The Pope was invited to go to Byzantium to sort out the ecclesiastical problems left pending by his predecessor Pope Agapito and which afflicted the country. This request was driven more by a political factor than a religious one, in fact the patriarch Menna, regent of the church of Byzantium, was disliked both by the empress and by politicians close to her, and wanted to replace the patriarch with another prelate who had already been kicked out previously for accusations of heresy. Pope Silverius responded to the empress with a letter where he expressed his deepest indignation, for such an absurd request, such as the resettlement of a heretic in the place reserved for the disciples of God. With this letter, Pope Silverius signed his death sentence. According to the writings of Procopius, historian of General Belisarius, Queen Theodora immediately wrote a letter to General Belisarius and his wife, in which she expressed her desire to depose Pope Silverius, by any means, even a simple pretext. The power conferred by the title of Patricius allowed the general not only to command military and civilians, but also gave him judicial power and in the absence of the emperor he could take his place. Belisario, a proud and principled man, was not very inclined to betray Pope Silverius, unlike his power-hungry wife Antonina, who soon began to move against the Pope with her court. A series of defamatory rumors were spread, which was followed by a false letter from Pope Silverius to the Goths. In this false letter, the pontiff’s desire to betray the Romans was expressed by favoring Vitiges’ entry into Rome at night, allowing access through the “Asinaria gate” near his palace in the Lateran. The letter was brought into the hands of Belisario, who however limited himself only to changing residence, given that he was a guest in the Papal Palace in the Lateran and also because it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the letter itself. But the problem was only postponed. and he wanted to put in the patriarch’s place another prelate who had already been expelled due to accusations of heresy. Pope Silverius responded to the empress with a letter where he expressed his deepest indignation, for such an absurd request, such as the resettlement of a heretic in the place reserved for the disciples of God. With this letter, Pope Silverius signed his death sentence. According to the writings of Procopius, historian of General Belisarius, Queen Theodora immediately wrote a letter to General Belisarius and his wife, in which she expressed her desire to depose Pope Silverius, by any means, even a simple pretext. The power conferred by the title of Patricius allowed the general not only to command military and civilians, but also gave him judicial power and in the absence of the emperor he could take his place. Belisario, a proud and principled man, was not very inclined to betray Pope Silverius, unlike his power-hungry wife Antonina, who soon began to move against the Pope with her court. A series of defamatory rumors were spread, which was followed by a false letter from Pope Silverius to the Goths. In this false letter, the pontiff’s desire to betray the Romans was expressed by favoring Vitiges’ entry into Rome at night, allowing access through the “Asinaria gate” near his palace in the Lateran. The letter was brought into the hands of Belisario, who however limited himself only to changing residence, given that he was a guest in the Papal Palace in the Lateran and also because it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the letter itself. But the problem was only postponed. and he wanted to put in the patriarch’s place another prelate who had already been expelled due to accusations of heresy. Pope Silverius responded to the empress with a letter where he expressed his deepest indignation, for such an absurd request, such as the resettlement of a heretic in the place reserved for the disciples of God. With this letter, Pope Silverius signed his death sentence. According to the writings of Procopius, historian of General Belisarius, Queen Theodora immediately wrote a letter to General Belisarius and his wife, in which she expressed her desire to depose Pope Silverius, by any means, even a simple pretext. The power conferred by the title of Patricius allowed the general not only to command military and civilians, but also gave him judicial power and in the absence of the emperor he could take his place. Belisario, a proud and principled man, was not very inclined to betray Pope Silverius, unlike his power-hungry wife Antonina, who soon began to move against the Pope with her court. A series of defamatory rumors were spread, which was followed by a false letter from Pope Silverius to the Goths. In this false letter, the pontiff’s desire to betray the Romans was expressed by favoring Vitiges’ entry into Rome at night, allowing access through the “Asinaria gate” near his palace in the Lateran. The letter was brought into the hands of Belisario, who however limited himself only to changing residence, given that he was a guest in the Papal Palace in the Lateran and also because it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the letter itself. But the problem was only postponed. allowing access to the “Asinaria gate” near his palace in the Lateran. The letter was brought into the hands of Belisario, who however limited himself only to changing residence, given that he was a guest in the Papal Palace in the Lateran and also because it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the letter itself. But the problem was only postponed. allowing access to the “Asinaria gate” near his palace in the Lateran. The letter was brought into the hands of Belisario, who however limited himself only to changing residence, given that he was a guest in the Papal Palace in the Lateran and also because it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the letter itself. But the problem was only postponed.


Even if Belisario would hardly have believed the accusations made against Pope Silverius, he nevertheless had to proceed with the accusation of the Pontiff, driven above all by the continuous pressure exerted by the Empress Theodora and his wife Antonina. From some writings, it appears that when Pope Silverius was called to interview by the general, he was not immediately accused and faced with the infamous evidence that documented his betrayal. The general tried to mediate, in fact he asked first and in vain if the pope was willing to grant the requests already aired in the past by Empress Theodora. The attempt at mediation was useless, since the Pontiff’s response was the same, no one could put themselves before the will of God. The only defense put forward by the Pope to Belisarius’ accusations was the firm and decisive protest, as well as the commitment to move himself and his followers at the Church of S. Sabina on the Aventine, from which to arouse any type of concern to the Byzantine general, noting; that the latter was far from any access point to the city. All this was not enough to stop the trial now underway against the Pontiff. Hearings followed one another, with the assurance that no harm would ever be done to the Pontiff, but they were only a screen designed to give a legal aspect to the matter. In that period, nobles and senators were also summarily tried, who had only dared to give opinions adverse to the Byzantine power. The oath that Belisarius had with the Pope, unfortunately, was not enough to ensure his safety. Even in the second hearing the same accusations were thrown at him, but mediation was still sought, which would have been more satisfactory from a strictly legal point of view. The Pontiff’s firm opinion on how to conduct the affair was now clear even to his accusers. Probably right after this second meeting, Belisarius meditated on a drastic solution, also in order not to lose power and credibility with his followers. Called to the third audience, the Pontiff was questioned once again, but unfortunately the epilogue was different. Pope Silverius no longer left Belisarius’ palace as a free man. He was deposed on charges of treason, condemned to exile and a few days later replaced with the so-called “Antipope” Virgil, forced into public attention after having failed 3 times in his attempt to be elected Pope. Virgil was imposed, because what Belisarius had done was unthinkable. The Pope could be deposed from his spiritual power only by an apostolic conclave, with very serious reasons: manifest madness, heresy, etc. So the solution was to put a prelate with strong powers like Virgil in place of Pope Silverius, in order to justify the proclamation as pope by Belisarius and his court. While other prelates saw that Pope Silverius was still alive, he was considered diplomatically: vicar of the Pope,


The exile of Pope Silverius begins with boarding a ship at the mouth of the Tiber more or less near present-day Ostia. It will continue along the entire Tyrrhenian Sea, the Sicilian Sea and the Ionian Sea, to stop in Pàtara in Licia, the birthplace of Saint Nicholas of Bari. There he was welcomed by the bishop of the city, who took it upon himself, not without danger, to carry the word of the deposed Pontiff at the Byzantine court. Unfortunately the conversation with Justinian was fruitless, in fact from the documents that have survived to the present day, the Byzantine emperor denied knowing about the affair and having no involvement. The bishop’s constant insistence pushed Justinian to delve deeper into the matter. From the elements acquired, the emperor probably was not able to have a clear picture, because with a decree he signed he forced General Belisarius to review the trial. Furthermore, the decree specified that: the incriminating letters had to be re-examined and if they were found to be false, the Pontiff had to immediately return to his place. On the contrary, if they had proven true, Pope Silverius had to be deposed and appointed bishop of a curia of his choice, which naturally should not have been near Rome. After just over a month in the East, the Pontiff was embarked on a ship that was supposed to take him back to Rome from Patara, at least these were his orders. The ship parked in Naples was joined by a delegation sent by Pope Virgil with the permission of General Belisario. The delegation had the task of taking Pope Silverius into precautionary custody and taking him to the island of Ponza, where he would remain, awaiting the review of the trial. San Silverio arrived in Ponza in the first days of June 537 and having landed without anyone knowing who this man was, he found hospitality at the Benedictine convent dedicated to St. Mary. It should be considered that in that period, San Silverio must have been around 60 years old, which is quite a few for the time. Already most likely, suffering from various normal pathologies for the time, the humid climate and the Spartan life that was lived on the island, did not favor his stay. On 21 November 537, after a few months on the island, Pope Silverius died. The death of the Pontiff, as noted in some writings (Storia Arcana) by Procopius (War historian of General Belisarius), was violent and not due to environmental conditions. Pope Silverius was killed, because even if his physical condition with a prolonged stay on the island would have soon led to his death, it was better to hurry up. The reason for the free trial was probably that some bishops loyal to him were not only preparing their defense in the review of the trial, but were opposing Virgil’s authority with strong obstructionism. And they had also expressed several times in writing, the will once Pope Silverius returned; that the latter issued a decree of excommunication against the antipope Virgil. This measure could have had catastrophic consequences. The worry of a schism in the church and above all, the fear of insurrections within the walls of Rome; led to the clerical-Byzantine conspiracy which ended with the assassination of the Pope by (Always according to Procopius) a certain Eugene who was the material architect of the crime. According to precise historical references, the remains of San Silverio were buried in the Benedictine church of S. Maria, a solitary place for the time and unknown to many. All this, to avoid them being taken to the Vatican and examined, but above all that the location of his tomb was made public and therefore a place of pilgrimages and a possible symbol of schism of the Church and above all of the city of Rome.


Regardless of how the facts unfolded, and the veracity of the bibliographic sources discussed and the names exposed, which could be a source of endless discussion; from the picture of the situation it can be deduced that the then church of Rome was nothing more than a branch of the church of Byzantium. The church of Byzantium, totally subjected to temporal power, was more than anything a symbol of the power of the eastern empire and was treated and used as such. It is clear that the assassination of Pope Silverius was more or less intentional. In fact, just the idea of ​​sending a sick man to an island like Ponza was then, where living conditions were difficult for those who lived there in their youth, let alone for a man already at the end of his tether, is unthinkable. It is true that he was murdered, but the death would still have come due to hardship and the harshness of island life, the timing to support the hypothesis of state murder has only been hastened. That it was the Empress Theodora who plotted the whole thing is reported by ancient manuscripts, whose veracity, however, is confirmed only in broad terms by the succession of historical events and it is therefore impossible to define the veracity of the details, which even if written are not and said that they report the truth.


The location of the tomb of S. Silverio has been the subject of study for years, since the existing historical documentation is few and fragmentary. What is certain is that immediately after his death, the remains of the Saint were entrusted to the Benedictines who buried them in the monastery dedicated to St. Mary on the island. The reasonable doubt that the remains were never brought to the Vatican like all the other popes is supported by the fact that the name of Pope Silverius does not appear in the list of popes buried in St. Peter’s. There are not even documents that can confirm the translation took place, from the original tomb to the eventual one in St. Peter’s. According to some authors of the Acta Sanctorum (cyclopean work that lists the saints of the Catholic church), the saint’s tombstone was clearly visible at least until the early 1600s. In the writing, it is stated, in fact, that on the tombstone of the saint near, to whom the sick and infirm went, the following was read: “Romae supremus apex Silverium aedis osseo sub hoc retinet mortuus extraneo” – Supreme Pontiff of the Roman See, dead, holds the his bones under this foreign marble.

These statements and this sentence, despite the source being reliable, never had any real confirmation, due to the fact that no one had been able to describe where the tomb was located. If this were the case, the hypothesis of Daniel Papebroch, who was also part of the authors of the Acta Sanctorum, would also be supported. In fact, Papebroch states that the saint’s relics were never moved from the island. If these hypotheses prove correct, the remains of the Saint could have been definitively lost. The massacre, committed first by Syrian pirates in 813, then by the colonists and ultimately by modern building aggression, may have caused irreparable damage. The remains of the Saint may have been taken by pirates and then burned or thrown into the sea, since some historical documents show that the churches on the island were razed to the ground. However, they could, a very probable hypothesis, and even more chilling for the time in which the events occurred; having been submerged by concrete or thrown who knows where, as remains of excavation works, by the more or less modern settlers of the island, not too attentive to archaeological heritage.

Another interesting hypothesis is that provided by some scholars of the Saint. Many say that the remains of San Silverio could also have been taken away by fleeing monks. If the hypothesis proves to be well founded, the saint’s remains could be found in one of the many monasteries founded by fugitive monks, buried in a tomb under a generic name to protect them from possible profanations. The problem is, where to look? And even if it were possible to trace the movements of all the monks, the problem remains, because many of them settled along the coast, and were still subject to attacks and depredations by pirates, and nothing would have prevented them from making havoc of the remains of the Saint.

Historical research revealed that in the year 817, Pope Paschal I almost completely renovated the Basilica of S. Prassede in Rome, where he placed the remains of numerous martyrs. From further and more in-depth studies, it was discovered that those tombs were used to house the remains of those martyrs whose tombs had been looted or who were in any case in a state of complete abandonment. Studying the writings on the tombstones, it was discovered that the names of some martyrs buried here came from the Ponziani cemetery. Among them the name “Candidae” was found, that is, the current candid patron saint of Ventotene. This discovery proved that Pope Paschal extended the work of transferring the saints to the Pontine islands as well. Unfortunately, the search at San Prassede led to nothing else, also because in all likelihood S. Silverio had been buried among the saints who held important ecclesiastical positions during his lifetime. The search continued, because nothing was known about the remains of the patron saint of Ventotene. Unfortunately, the only encouraging news is limited to the fact that the remains of 12 popes are buried in the same basilica. However, there is no name on these tombstones, and this suggests that they were reserved for those who did not yet have a clear position in apostolic history. San Silverio, in the ancient archives kept in S. Maria Maggiore, is even considered as Antipope. Only in the years preceding the institution of the festival, that is, more than 10 centuries after his death, was his position definitively clarified, so his burial in those nameless tombs cannot be ruled out.

Only in 2006 after research commissioned by the Ponzese writer Ernesto Prudente to a friend who collaborated with him, in finding material for them via the internet; news has come out that needs to be checked out. Precisely for the writing of the book “Silverio, a name for the world” some alleged relics were released in a shrine kept in Spain in a small town called Villavaido but everything still remains to be verified, and after the writer’s death probably no one will ever verify it .


The reason is not clear, but for years in the collective imagination, the exile of San Silverio had been identified as the island of Palmarola. The doubt has been created over the years, above all by the ignorance of many who considered Palmarola and the neighboring rocks as palm islands and by the presence of the ruins of a small monastery, which are now visible only if you know where to find them because they have been completely razed to the ground. . In historical documents that have survived to the present day, the exile of San Silverio is referred to as the largest of the “palmari islands” and not Palmarola. The Palmaria islands were represented by the entire archipelago and not just the island of Palmarola, and the largest of the islands is Ponza. Furthermore, the convent dedicated to Santa Maria where the saint was hosted was located in Ponza, and to be precise in the hamlet that today is called Santa Maria where the convent of the same name was located. To this day, it can be said with certainty that the saint never set foot on the island of Palmarola, and his Pontian exile was limited to the largest of the islands, that is, Ponza.


Monasticism on the island of Ponza is not positioned in a specific historical period but embraces a history span of approximately 800 years. The interest of the monks in the archipelago and in particular in the island of Ponza began in 503, when a council composed of 119 bishops took place on the island << to judge Pope Symmachus out of influence against the accusation of heresy> >, as the historian Tricoli from Ponza mentions in one of his books, who also recalls that the pontiff was acquitted. A sad page for the islands is represented by the exile a few years earlier and death of Pope Silverius in 537, who was later named saint and martyr and also became the patron saint of the island. In 538 on the island of Ponza, the Benedictine abbey of S. Maria was founded. The creation of this abbey was the inspiration for the island to become a destination for refugees. Since 572, due to the descent of the Lombards who had reached the threshold of Campania, many people found refuge on the islands.

It was above all the religious who sought refuge and quiet, driven by strong sentimental motivations, in fact on the island of Ponza there were specific references to faith. In fact, during the years of Roman rule, the island not only hosted libertine and dissolute Roman patricians, but also the enemies of the empire who were exiled and enslaved. A large part of these were Christians who preferred exile rather than recognize the power of Rome. As the years passed, the names of future Saints and Martyrs who died on the island or who stayed there gradually grew.

Some of these are: San Silverio, Santa Domitilla, Sant’Anastasio, San Montano and the saints Nereo and Achilleo, while the martyrs were Eutico, Vittorino, Marono, Sulpizio and Serviliano, and the virgins: Irene, Agape, Chiona and Euphrosina.

With the presence of these religious references, it was not difficult for the monks to find peace of soul in addition to physical safety, and Christianity on the island became the fulcrum of island life itself. The presence of hermits and monks favored the birth of various abbeys, monasteries and churches, of which today unfortunately there is almost no trace. With these premises the island soon became a flourishing center of monasticism, and the Benedictines were its promoters. Already builders of the first convent of Santa Maria. The latter dedicated themselves to the construction of almost all the convents that were on the island and on the nearby islands (Zannone, Ventotene, Palmarola, S. Stefano). Precisely on one of these islands: Zannone, the remains of the Benedictine convent which, in 1223, through the work of Onofrio III, passed under the care of the Cistercians are admirable, still well preserved. Onofrio III entrusted the supervision of all the island convents to the religious of the Fossanova Abbey, which had been built by the Citeaux monks (Cistercium – hence Cistercensi). The advent of the Cistercians coincided with the progressive abandonment of the islands, since the raids of the pirates, now undisputed rulers of the Mediterranean, became increasingly frequent and bloody, so much so that the reasons of survival prevailed over those of spirituality. The signs of the migratory exodus are still there today on the continent. The fugitive monks built two convents: one is the monastery of Santo Spirito di Zennone built in Gaeta in 1295 and dedicated to the abandoned convent in Zannone, and another is the church of Santa Maria di Ponza and S. Anastasio, founded in Formia to remember the homonymous monastery of Ponza. With these two transfers the officially organized monastic presence ended.

The church almost always combined the spiritual domain with the temporal one, and being unequivocally interested in the Pontine islands, after almost 200 years and precisely on 23 June 1479 by Pope Sixtus IV it decided to offer those who settled on the island conditions of favor.

Pope Sixtus IV, in addition to giving the island in emphyteusis to some Neapolitan knights, signed an edict which granted the islanders: << To be able to go to and from the papal states with all security, to be treated as good people, to trade there, enter and extract any kind of it for use on the island with exemption from any municipal gabelle or customs duty, imposing excommunication on all those who tried to thwart compliance>>. As one can imagine, the numerous advantages offered to the islanders and the severe punishment for those who violated the agreements, demonstrated the pontiff’s firm will to maintain a stable population on the island. This edict was a truly exceptional event for the time in which it was issued, and for almost 350 years it was an example of generosity and liberality, unfortunately the experiment was a failure, since until the early 1800s; the monks and inhabitants were often captured by pirates and sold as slaves, and the island failed to populate.

the Pirates in Ponza

With the end of the Roman Empire the island fell into golden oblivion for almost 300 years. When the Saracens appeared in the Mediterranean towards the beginning of the 9th century, Italy was in difficult conditions, to say the least. The descent of the Lombards, Goths, Visigoths, vandals and attackers of all kinds had led to the almost total destruction of the coast of lower Lazio. Only Gaeta and Terracina still resisted the attacks and poverty, Formia was completely destroyed and even disappeared from the maps. Only in 1861 did it regain its nominal and city identity. The islands, however, enjoyed a certain freedom and carefreeness due to the fact that the attacking peoples were not equipped with naval fleets, the sea full of fish, the wealth of fruit trees and fruit and vegetable crops, transformed the island into a small oasis.

Unfortunately, soon the small but rapid and very fierce fleets coming from the Middle East also began to ply the waters of the central Tyrrhenian Sea. The flag with the half moon soon became a source of terror for the people of Ponza. In fact, some autonomous nuclei endowed with a spirit of adventure soon began to plunder the Tyrrhenian coast, reaching the coasts of the island.

The Pontine islands suffered their first attack in 813. About forty Saracen ships reached Ponza, attacked the town center and the monastery of Santa Maria, taking all the monks and many inhabitants of the island prisoner. Not satisfied, they plundered and massacred many people, the attack was so ruthless that even today no equally bloody massacres are remembered, aided by the inoffensiveness of the authorities who governed the island they retreated undisturbed.

This first attack on Ponza was the prelude to a dark period that culminated with the settlement of the Arabs in Sicily in 877. In fact, the pirate raids became so frequent and unscrupulous that in addition to the continuous attacks on the islands they also began to attack all the towns on the Tyrrhenian coast. With their extremely daring guerrilla tactics they reached as far as Rome and in 846 they attacked the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The Pontine archipelago underwent a real exile, since the presence of the Saracen pirates now settled at the mouth of the Garigliano and near the town of Scauri on Monte Argento, made Ponza a perfect advanced base for conducting raids on the coastal towns that went from Formia in Anzio. Despite a defeat inflicted on the Arab fleet by the papal ships of John VIII in 877, the hoped-for results were not obtained, and the pirates continued to use the island as a landing and supply point for years to come. Only in 915 did a league led by Pope John After a bloody three-month war the invaders were driven out. The islands, like all of Lazio, enjoyed a newfound tranquility under the influence of a new monasticism, and the peace lasted for almost 500 years.

In the early 1400s, pirates returned to be seen in the waters of the central Tyrrhenian Sea, returning to lord it over the Tyrrhenian coasts and the Mediterranean. To guarantee their protection, in 1477 the islands were granted in emphyteusis to three Neapolitan knights: Alberico Cafara, Antonio Petrucci and Aniello Arcamone; and subsequently to the Farnese family. unfortunately the initiative did not have the desired effects from a protectionist point of view, in fact between 1534 and 1552 in the central Tyrrhenian Sea there was a real dominion of free and undisturbed pirates in their raids and massacres. The island of Ponza returned to being a fixed destination for pirates and in particular for two: Khayr-ad-Dìn known as Barbarossa and Dragut, who used the island as a starting point for their attacks in the central Tyrrhenian Sea and to supply ships with food and water.

In fact, to respond to the attack suffered in 1550 by the Christians, who aimed to free the Mediterranean Sea from Saracen pirates; Dragut stopped in Ponza on 15 July 1552, sure of finding a completely abandoned island, and remained there until 21 July 1552, before setting sail towards the Lazio coast and attacking and plundering Minturno and Castellonorato. Already a visitor to the island, Dragut knew that there he could find not only sturdy wood for repairing ships, but also game from the woods and produce from the fields which, even if abandoned, were still thriving and offered enough to replenish the holds. Ponza suffered another attack by pirates in 1655. The latter blew up, with various barrels of powder, the tower called “La lampana” which had been raised over the port with both a defensive and lighthouse function.

In the history of Ponza there were not only defeats, attacks and defeats, in fact in 1757 twelve galleys belonging to Naples, Rome, Malta and Ponza took by surprise some pirate ships that were at anchor in the waters of Palmarola, and sank them with a powerful crossfire. This victory, much less the authorization to carry arms freely granted to the people of Ponza, did not however stop the initiative of the pirates, in fact the more or less bloody attacks continued, and in 1805 eight citizens of Ponza were captured and taken to Algiers as slaves.

This new attack forced radical changes in the island’s defense. In addition to the advantages already granted, the people of Ponza were granted “the racing licence” or privateers’ licence. The difference between a pirate and a privateer is that the latter is authorized by the king to attack enemy ships on the authority of the king himself. Many ships used for trade were transformed into privateers, and consequently Ponza privateers were also born. Many of these corsairs were good people driven to this line, more by necessity and the desire to put an end to the terror in Ponza, than by an actual desire to become corsairs and for this reason they were not only feared, but also respected. As time passed, the pirate attacks became less and less frequent and the battle of the Ponza corsairs was directed towards the opponents of the lords of the day who dominated the island.

From 1500 from the Farnese to the Bourbons

In 1524 Alberto Cafara, the last of the Neapolitan knights who had the island under emphyteusis, renounced his position, and the Farnese family took advantage of this. In 1542 Pope Paul III (Farnese Family) appointed his nephew, Cardinal Alessandro (Farnese), as owner of the Abbey of Santa Maria di Ponza. The Cardinal had the power, being the owner, to grant the archipelago in emphyteusis or in fiefdom to third parties. The concession of the archipelago as a fief was carried out by the cardinal in favor of his father Pier Luigi Farnese, already appointed by his son: Captain General of the Papal Troops, in charge of guarding the coast, Confalonier of the Holy Roman Church, Duke of Castro and in 1545 by succession Duke of Parma.

Under the Farnesian management, the privileges granted a few hundred years earlier by Sixtus IV, during the period of fervent monasticism in the Pontine Islands, were also continued by Pope Charles V. In addition to the already known privileges, the people of Ponza were also assured the privilege of not being able to be tried and arrested unless they confessed, and that all those who had sought asylum on the island benefited from pardon for any crime they had committed. All these privileges were called “Farnesian Privileges”, and had as their characteristic the absolute lack of scruples on the part of the authorities in order to keep the island populated. Unfortunately, the privileges given to the islanders were a double-edged sword. The lack of a legal authority, of a guarantor of legality, and the continuous raids of pirates, were the reason why the island never managed to take off economically, being unfortunately only populated by criminals, more accustomed to cheating and stealing than to producing and work.

The management of the island began with objectives that were difficult to achieve. The greatest undertaking was represented by the pirates (See the section “The era of pirates”) and then by the low league of which the inhabitants of the island were made, who made the island unmanageable. The unfavorable historical period and the unfortunate choices of the Farnese family leave only the “Farnese privileges” as a memory on the island.

The Farnesian domination lasted until the first half of the 18th century. The Farnese lineage was heading towards an interruption of the male lineage and the unstable international political situation led the small duchy of Parma to have to agree on the succession. With the Treaty of London of 1718: England, France, Holland and the Austrian Empire established that, in the event of interruption of the male lineage, the succession belonged to the descendant of Elizabeth Farnese, second wife of Philip V of Spain, namely Charles of Bourbon.

On 20 January 1731 Charles of Bourbon became king of Naples and three years later, on 15 June 1734 he acquired all rights over the Farnese properties, including the Pontine Islands; which passed entirely to the Bourbons. The Bourbon period marked the transition from a Farnesian fiefdom to a private Bourbon heritage.

With the Bourbons, the islands, after centuries of poverty, violence and depopulation, experienced a peaceful and economically more profitable social period. The reasons for the development were: the Bourbon policy that carried out works on the islands, the development of shipbuilding activity aided by the presence of woods on the hills, and not unimportant; the decrease in pirate activity in the surroundings of the island which allowed fishing and coral harvesting to develop.

The reign of Charles III lasted 24 years, and when on 6 October 1759 he became king of Spain he ceded the throne to his son Ferdinand IV of Naples, who also had the titles “III of Sicily and I of the two Sicilies”. The new king’s goal was to continue making the Pontine islands into thriving colonies. A plan of public interventions was planned to be entrusted to Major Antonio Winspeare with the collaboration of the architect Francesco Carpi, thus allowing the repopulation policy to be completed, further supporting economic growth to make the islands almost self-sufficient.

To encourage the repopulation of the island, the Bourbons granted the land to the farmers in perpetual emphyteusis, the number of the latter was very small, and as a further incentive, the new settlers were allowed to build small homes at the expense of the royal coffers. Furthermore, the tools for working were purchased by the government and then sold to farmers who would pay for them in convenient installments. Which was certainly exceptional for the time.
The first settlers of the 1700s

The first colonization of the “modern” era towards the Pontine Islands took place on 30 October 1734, exactly when Elisabetta Farnese handed over the rights to the islands to her son Carlo. Migrations towards the archipelago lasted almost the entire 1700s and the last area to be colonized was the “Le Forna” area. Like the current center resulting from a slow but previous colonization, Le Forna also had to be equipped. The undertaking was a little more difficult than expected, since in the area of ​​the current port there were works built in ancient times which however made the work easier.


From Ischia towards Ponza port


Migliaccio – Tagliamonte – Mazzella – Conte – D’Atri Coppa – Scotti

From Torre del Greco towards “Le Forna”


Vitiello – Rivieccio – Romano – Aprea – Balzano-Sandolo Feola

Naturally there are also other families who came not only from Ischia and Torre del Greco but also from within the Campania region of which there is no documented trace.

The first work that was carried out in the oven was “Forte Papa”, a small fort as a lookout and defensive post on the northern head of the island. The second work was the construction of the current road that connects: Le Forna to Ponza Center with the start of the works dated around 1772. Naturally this second work must be evaluated with the necessary proportions compared to the current road.

Another work was the excavation of a 350-step staircase overlooking the sea, which leads from the area of ​​the current church of Le Forna to the small bay of “Cala d’inferno”. The function of this scale was to allow the people of Forni to have supplies also by sea, since the unloading of the goods took place in the port of Ponza and the delivery on the other side of the island by land had to challenge excessive and unusual gradients even for small carts.

In 1758 Ferdinand of Bourbon also granted Palmarola in emphyteusis to the first 31 settlers who had arrived in Ponza. The colonization of Palmarola, however, was not so simple, especially due to the prohibitive conditions of the island, in fact it remained only a partially completed project. In 1779 the last masonry works of the port were completed which continue to this day.

From this last privilege we can see how the first settlers had considerable advantages over the others. The former were able to choose the best and most fertile land, with excellent exposure to the sun and easily accessible. As a result they all became farmers with considerable tracts of land to exploit. The latter, however, experienced much less and less favorable conditions and became fishermen. The effect of these choices continued until the advent of tourism in the early 1970s.
1800 saw the birth of Ponza as a municipality

The Bourbon plan for the renewal of the islands brought very positive results in 1800. The only flaw was the notable increase in the strategic importance of the island, which also affected the life of the islanders. In fact, from the early 1800s life on the island was closely linked to the political events of the continent.

During the 1806 siege of Gaeta by the French, Ponza became a hospital island with the wounded and sick being sent to the island for treatment. After the fall of Gaeta, Ponza came under French rule with the settlement first of Giuseppe Bonaparte and then of Gioacchino Murat. The island underwent notable changes from a legal perspective, above all thanks to the latter. On 26 February 1810 the island of Ponza became a municipality and on 10 March 1810, Murat assigned the island to state property, removing it from the private heritage of the Bourbons following the abolition of feudalism.

The state ownership of the island and its nomination as a municipality freed it from the Bourbon family heritage and the heritage of the rulers of Naples, but at the same time made it lose all those privileges that it had maintained for 350 years.

Ponza, due to its strategic position, also suffered aggression from the English who saw it as an important point of reference in the Mediterranean. On 26 February 1813, Commander Napier with the ships “Furiosa” and “Tamigi” appeared in the waters of the island to bring Ponza under English rule. The first attacks were repelled thanks to the defensive line which included a small installation of cannons in the pediment area in the area currently called the “Fortino”, and by the cannons deployed in the current “Tower of the Bourbons”. The English then decided to take the port defenses from behind, disembarking at Cala d’Inferno (where the current passage already existed), around 300 men came up from the sea to conquer the fort of Punta Papa which was left almost completely undefended. Once the “Punta Papa” fort was taken, the pediment installation was touched upon and with the arrival of the men from Forna, also loaded with weapons and ammunition looted in the Punta Papa fort, they found themselves surrounded and had to declare their surrender. A few hours later the barrage from the tower alone was too little for the English ships, which landed another 300 men at S. Maria, who once joined the others coming from Forna and aimed at the “Tower of the Bourbons”. Commander Dumont was clearly surrounded, to avoid a carnage that would have led inexorably to French defeat; after a brief negotiation, he obtained the surrender with the honors of arms and the island was left under the protection of the English.

Shortly after the capture of the island, Lord Bentinck, commander of the English forces in the Mediterranean, fortified Ponza. In addition to a further supply of cannons on the Frontone fort, the Bourbon tower and the Ravia tower were also subjected to massive armament. Other cannon batteries were placed on the core cliff and on Forte Papa. The English camp which still gives its name to the area was positioned in one of the highest areas of the island and allows you to have an excellent view of the landings both from the east and the west, naturally all accompanied by numerous long-range cannons. All these fortifications were of little use since in 1815, following the Treaty of Vienna, the islands returned to the Bourbons who, however, did not change the legal status, maintaining the islands as municipalities and remaining in state ownership, thus confirming the status of the islands as municipalities.

In this century, the island of Ponza was also the protagonist of the unfortunate expedition that the patriot Carlo Pisacane organized to liberate Italy. On 22 June 1857, Carlo Pisacane, Giovanni Nicotera, Giovanni Falcone and 25 emigrants, after having diverted the “Cagliari” ship on which they were traveling to Ponza, with a rapid intervention managed to take prisoner the small garrison stationed on the island, forcing the authorities to free 323 convicts.

Pisacane’s idea was to lead the peasants of the south to revolt, who instead, fearful of the arrival of bandits and assassins, together with the local military forces, attacked and exterminated them.

Following this experience, the Bourbon government decided in the same year as Pisacane’s expedition to modify the relationship that the island had with the mainland. The telegraphic connection was activated between: Ponza, Circeo and the island of Ischia, and a postal connection was also activated with a ship called the “Messaggiera” which operated fortnightly. All this to avoid delays in connections and in the dissemination of news and information useful for countering any attacks.

This century also marks the end of the era of communes and small kingdoms. With the definitive surrender of Gaeta on 13 February 1861 to the Piedmontese army, which was about to unify Italy, Ponza became a municipality of the new Kingdom of Italy and on 2 June 1861 the first unitary elections took place.
1900 and emigration

The arrival of 1900 marks a turning point for the island in terms of connections, made more stable by a regular transport service with the mainland. On 20 June 1904 the ship “Lampo” of the SPAN company began to travel the line: Anzio – Ponza – Naples. The connection helped reduce the isolation. However, Ponza also remained involved in the crisis that afflicted southern Italy, and the journey on the “Lampo” ship was the first that the people of Ponza had to face to emigrate to places considered more liveable. Ponza had already experienced migratory flows in the past which can be recorded in small quantities starting from 1880 with people heading to Sardinia and the Americas, both from the south and the north. But as connections improved, the flow of information also improved, especially via post, which described life in those places, although difficult, full of opportunities.

Political events such as the First World War, the advent of fascism before and the Second World War after, created many problems of coexistence, especially due to the poor quality of life. And these factors contributed strongly to the migratory push off the island. Most of the migrations headed towards the American continent, especially towards: USA, Argentina and Canada. A non-negligible community, it settled at the beginning of the century in Sardinia where it contributed strongly to the growth of the mining town of Arbatax now made up almost entirely of immigrants from Ponza and their descendants.

A positive fact in the years of emigration and immediately following emigration was the birth and growth of the island’s merchant and fishing fleet. The Ponza fleet reached notable dimensions, so much so that in the naval registers of the time they led to the registration of 130 fishing and trading boats for a total of 10 thousand tons in 1930.

The connections that linked Ponza to the mainland were often punctuated by mournful events. On March 21, 1918, the 150-ton ship of the shipowner Erasmo Vitiello sank “Il Corriere di Ponza”, hit by a torpedo launched by a German submarine about 6 miles east of Zannone. On 24 July 1943, two miles west of Ventotene, a 452-ton SPAN ferry, the “Santa Lucia”, was sunk by English planes. This event was the bloodiest that the Pontine islands can remember, and it was nothing other than a gratuitous act of cruelty on the part of those English pilots who killed around seventy people, including crew and passengers.

In the first years of the century around 1910 they were sent into exile on the island, coinciding with the war in Africa, Libyans captured during the conflict also arrived. With the arrival of the First World War, political prisoners suspected of having ideas close to Germany and Austria were also confined. Between 1921 and 1928 a disciplinary garrison for soldiers under punishment was established on the island. In 1928 the fascist regime created “The political confinement colony” there, a very particular way to exile the regime’s enemies from public attention, with some becoming illustrious figures in Italian politics. Among the most important we remember the late President Pertini, head of state twice from 1978 to 1988 and other names of prominent anti-fascists such as Nenni and Luigi Settembrini. During the Second World War, Slavic, Greek and Albanian political figures were also exiled. From 27 July to 7 August 1943 Benito Mussolini was relegated to Ponza.

Confinement in the fascist period

The institution of confinement in Ponza by the fascist regime dates back to 1928. The first prisoners arrived in the same year and were housed in the Bourbon penal prison, in which Pisacane had “recruited” the majority of the participants in his historic and unfortunate undertaking in Know. Ponza welcomed the future president Sandro Pertini (he arrived on 10 September 1935) and characters such as: Giorgio Amendola, Lelio Basso, Pietro Nenni, Mauro Scoccimarro, Giuseppe Romita, Pietro Secchia, Umberto Terracini, Zaniboni and many others, together with Slavic and Greek exponents , Ethiopian ras, Libyan independence activists. Many of the exiles were found in the buildings behind the town hall, and the church between Via Roma and Via Parata, although just as many were found in other buildings and in many private homes, which also welcomed the exiles. Almost all the inmates were allowed to move in a restricted space, which ran between the Sant’ Antonio tunnel adjacent to Via Dante, the Guarini district and the Dragonara district.

The hygienic situation on the island in those years was truly disastrous. As attested by the letter of protest written by an inmate, Giuseppe Isola, on 12 October 1929 and sent to the Ministry of the Interior: “For about twenty days all the political inmates, with very few exceptions, who are staying in private homes, following superior provisions and despite the serious damage to their health, they sleep in the building called ‘Bathroom’ despite the fact that it does not correspond at all, not even approximately, to the most basic standards of hygiene. The rooms, in addition to being damp, are poorly ventilated and house around two hundred and seventy people, of which eighty in two corridors. The space reserved for each inmate is so limited that not everyone can keep their personal belongings with them. The latrines are very close to the dormitories and give off an unbearable stench.”

The environment of Ponza is described to us by the confined Alfredo Misuri, a former liberal and former fascist deputy, who later fell into disgrace for his criticisms of the dictatorship, who arrived on the island in 1930: “The true master of the island was the centurion Memmi, still in vogue, despite the failure of the Ustica procession, but not yet old. For me Memmi had nothing but smiles, but, of course, he was the bête noire of the confined, and, if intentions could kill, he would have died a thousand times a day… The town is pretty and panoramic; life is more comfortable there than in Ustica, in all respects, but a leaden pall weighs on us in what is truly an open-air prison… Border life takes on a completely different aspect than what it had in Ustica. No more school of ‘philosophy’, no more ‘oil society’, no more conversations in the border barbershop that ended with a generous splash of ‘cologne water’. The single walk by automatons on the circular arc of the main street, traveled from one end to the other fifty times a day, where we met fifty times the same people who were doing as we were. The canteens of the various groups themselves served only to satisfy the needs of the physical life of those who frequented them, but they were no longer those lively political circles that I had observed in Ustica”.

The confined arrived in Ponza in small groups, chained together. The impact of the new life was devastating. In addition to the promiscuity in the dormitories, they had to adapt to the precariousness of supplies, the harassment of the soldiers, the lack of communications, hunger and boredom. Despite the deprivations, the prisoners organized libraries, self-managed canteens, craft activities and study courses.

Only the humanity of the people of Ponza made the exile less harsh – overcrowded barracks, disastrous hygiene, very little food and water, a few hundred meters for walking, continuous monitoring of even brief conversations. Upon arrival, the confined received a red booklet in which the 26 rules of confinement were indicated. And the prisoners often reciprocated by bringing to the island the culture that was missing in those years. This line, in the long run, could not fail to encounter the hostility of the regime which intervened with the aim of breaking the spirit of solidarity that animated these social and partly commercial activities. Pretexts were therefore sought, sometimes completely invented, in order to take away from the prisoners the control of certain initiatives and above all of the commercial establishments. The Ponza shop was expropriated by the management of the colony with the unfounded excuse of some complaints made by the suppliers. On this specific episode, here is the protest letter from the drug dealer, Ferdinando Gadda, sent to the Ministry of the Interior:
“On 11 April this year by registered mail with return receipt, the undersigned administrator of the drug dealer for political prisoners in Ponza, sent the complaint attached to this ministry to inform it of the colony’s taking possession and direct management of the aforementioned outlet and to request the return of the outlet to the legitimate beneficiaries and on their behalf to the undersigned administrator enjoying the trust and consent of the mass of the confined. Since he has reason to believe that this complaint did not reach this ministry also due to the fact that one month from the date of dispatch the receipt document has not yet been delivered to him (as I said the complaint was sent registered with return receipt ) the undersigned takes advantage of the presence in Ponza of a PS inspector general to deliver to him, and in the hope that this time the complaint in question will reach its destination”. On paper, they were prohibited not only from discussing politics and making propaganda, but also from attending public meetings, having affairs with women, or getting drunk. But at least in the early days there was a certain elasticity, which hardened after the defeat of Carlo Rosselli, Emilio Lussu and Francesco Nitti’s escape from Lipari in 1929. Therefore the regime implemented measures aimed at preventing any possibility of escape and communication with the outside, instructing not only the police forces and the Carabinieri, but also the fascist militia, to enforce them. The prisoners considered the most dangerous were followed night and day without interruption and life on the island became more harsh.

In 1939 the mass confinement was transferred to Ventotene.

In 1942 Greek, Albanian and Slavic prisoners were sent to Ponza.

In 1943, after the fall of fascism, ironically Mussolini was taken prisoner to Ponza, where he remained from 27 July to 7 August