Pianosa Island, paradise in the Tuscan Archipelago

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Trapped in a natural paradise. Why not!

Not that long ago, until 1998, there were prisoners living on Pianosa. But uncomfortable compatriots were banished here as early as Roman times. Agrippa Postums (12 BC - 14 AD) was probably one of the most famous exiles. He was the grandson of Emperor Augustus, thus his heir to the throne. But let's look back to the present:
Nowadays, divers, scientists and excursionists come to the fairly flat island of Pianosa, which averages an average height of ten meters and has a coastline of 26 kilometers. The highest mountain, the 'Monte Capanne' is 1018 meters high.

If you would like to visit the island of Pianosa, you must obtain a reservation confirmation either from the municipality of Campo on Elba or from the Tuscan Archipelago Park Institute, as the archipelago of the Tuscan Archipelago is protected. In 1996 it was declared Europe's largest marine national park.

Pianosa is one of the seven islands of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. All islands belong to thePelagos sanctuary for all marine mammals' and provide a home for dolphins and whales. The protected area covers 90 square kilometers and was established by the countries of Italy and France and the Principality of Monaco. The island of Pianosa can be reached from Marina di Campo and Marciana Marina and Porto Azzuro.


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Excursions on the island

The village of Pianosa is close to the Cape 'della Teglia', close to the old prison complex and also to the small island port. Teglia Castle, once built by Emperor Napolion, is enthroned here.

The islet may seem quite inconspicuous at first glance. Nevertheless, there is a lot to discover and admire; be it a guided tour in the park, a carriage ride across the island, a tour by bus or mountain bike. Be it fossils, rare plant species while hiking in nature, archaeological finds or the 'Grotta di Cala di Biagio' and the 'Cortini' cave with prehistoric evidence, on the beach of Cala Giovanna, very close to the village and the old port .

Fort Teglia
Fort Teglia

Cala Giovanni

This beach is also called the Elban beach, because the island of Pianosa belongs to the territory of the archipelago of the 'Campo nell'Elba'. Here you can swim in the crystal clear water and enjoy the marine life. It is the only place on the island where swimming is allowed. Shipping is forbidden here anyway, so no one is allowed to anchor. Two sea turtles were released here in 2000. Many endangered species live here in this beach bay.

Equally exciting is a tour on the water in a kayak or snorkeling in Cala Turchi. And for divers there are wonderful paradisiacal spots to dive into the depths of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Isola Pianosa Isola d'Elba in the background
Isola Pianosa Isola d'Elba in the background

Diving trips

The Tuscan Archipelago National Park protects the strip of sea around Pianosa. Diving trips off Pianosa were closed to the public for 150 years. Therefore the underwater world is still of immense beauty and purity. The waters off the island of Pianosa are wonderful experiences for divers. But they have to adhere to clear norms and structures, because the underwater world should continue to be protected and preserved.

Seven land buoys were anchored for divers in such a way that the protection of the seabed is still preserved, another four for authorized diving centers to coordinate underwater visits and another two for rescue and monitoring. Only small groups are allowed to undertake dives, these within the biological protection zone and accompanied by an authorized diving guide.

The Pianosa Island preserves their pristine underwater world. Impressive images of their excursions into the depths of the sea and their diverse life remain with divers for a long time.

The Villa Agrippa Postumo

From the beach of Cala Gioanna we go to the ruins of the 'Villa di Agrippa Postumo'. The grandson of Emperor Augustus lived here from 7 to 14 AD.

Although Emperor Augustus adopted his grandson together with his stepson Tiberius, he disinherited his grandson Prince Agrippa Postumo after two years and sent him into exile on the island of Pianosa, because Augustus' third wife and stepmother Agrippa Postomus accused her stepson, Prince Agrippa Postumo, of homosexuality and an extravagant lifestyle, but in order to secure the throne for her own son Tiberius.

After Augustus' death Agrippo Postumo was murdered, presumably by an officer, so that Tiberius could take over the throne.

In any case, Prince Agrippa Postumo now lived in this chic villa near the beach. The villa consists of an enormous complex. It was excavated in the second half of the 19th century. The villa includes a theatre, a thermal bath named after the prince, 'Bagni di Agrippa'. In the mansion, the floors are covered with black and white mosaic and the decorations are themed with marine mythology.

In Reggio Emilia, archaeological finds from that time are exhibited in the museum. These include fragments of clay containers and amphorae and bricks, as well as pieces of money from that time. Nowadays you can still see a part of the building thermal baths and marvel at the theater by the sea. So after about 2000 years we still marvel at the theater and the thermal baths and a peristyle, a courtyard with colonnades, a swimming pool, also a hall with an apse and the associated semicircular terrace, of course facing the sea, as well as two nymphs Sanctuaries.

Prison and wall

There was a penal colony on the island of Pianosa for 140 years. The prisoners worked in agriculture. And from 1968 to 1998 there was a maximum security prison. The island was not accessible to visitors, except for visitors to the prisoners who found shelter in the village in the only hotel.

There are two other prisons with a lower level of security for releasers. A few prisoners from the Porto Azzurro penitentiary on Elba run the only restaurant on Pianosa or work in vegetable gardens. There is little concern that a prisoner might escape, as the sea naturally isolates the prisoners. Arriving at the port, everyone immediately sees the security wall, the 'Muro dalla Chiesa', nowadays still a 'relic of the 70's'. to understand, since Pianosa was still a maximum security prison at that time.

The prisoners first had to pass the 'Muro dalla Chiesa' to get to the actual prison. The wall extends from the 'Cala di San Gionanni' in the south of the main town in a northerly direction to the mountain 'Monte Belvedere', where the Roman dominion of Prince Agippa is also located. Since 1998 it has been possible to enter Pianosa again.

Catacombs of Pianosa

There is a dense network of catacombs on the island of Pianosa. Nowadays the catacombs are being digged and researched. Papal archaeologists are rehabilitating them. The catacomb network dates back to the 4th century AD. At that time the catacombs had been carved into the rock. There are 500 burial niches and even 200 underground passages. This catacomb complex is considered to be the largest north of Rome.

Once you got into the catacombs through a small grotto by the sea. An antique sign carved into the rock indicates the catacombs. It is located near the port. It was only known to those who knew that Christians found refuge here. A cross is carved, above it a flame as a symbol for the Holy Spirit and another, which points to the entrance. Apart from the fact that some of the catacombs contain tombs, there is also a room in which services were probably once held. The graves were divided into three tiers. Exceptionally important personalities had a grave basin here. The bodies were buried in the fetal position, stone slabs cover the burial niches. The names of the deceased were carved in mirror writing. The deceased should be able to read their names.

Last updated: 25.01.2024

Image courtesy of H. Rambold - stock.adobe.com

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