Pianosa: Circe's island is wild and fascinating

Pianosa is a lowland white island made of shells. In fact, when the coast meets the shore it seems invisible, and many sailors just sailed right past it without noticing it in the past!

When it was first surveyed by Napoleon in 1814, the island was uninhabited but for a few goats and wild horses. But like all the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, Pianosa (called "Planasia" by the Romans) is full of mysteries.

The ancient mysteries of Pianosa Island. Posthumus Agrippa, the Roman Emperor Augustus’ grandson, was exiled here in the year 6 AD. This was the desire of Livia, the Emperor’s wife. She had him assassinated a few years later, after the death of her husband, by sending a hit man to find him. Another Pianosan mystery is the extensive Christian catacombs from the Roman period, between the third and fourth century AD. These catacombs are an underground labyrinth that wind along the limestone belly of Pianosa. You will find the entrance to the catacombs just a few meters from the port. Will you have the courage to go in?

Pisa and Genoa fought over the island for centuries. In 1520, the Lords of Piombino took over the island. But it was soon invaded owners by relentless raids from the Turkish barbarians and the fearsome tyrant Barbarossa. In 1553, the Ottoman commander Dragut sent a fleet of 12 ships to destroy Pianosa. They razed all of the buildings and all of the 200 inhabitants were deported as slaves. After this trauma, seasonal farmers, fishermen and shepherds occasionally inhabited the island. Finally, the French claimed the island in 1806 and built several defense fortresses. In 1806, Pianusa was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy and in 1858 it became a "penal work farm.” This means that Italy sent prisoners there to work the fields.

How do you get there? The shortest route is from the city of Campo nell'Elba, the municipal community to which the island belongs. We recommend booking a few days beforehand. The boat sets sail at about 10 AM from the pier in Campo nell’Elba. In less than an hour of pleasant sailing, you will arrive at this fascinating island that never exceeds 29 meters in height. In fact, the name “Pianosa” comes from the Italian word for flat: “piano.”

Pianosa is a small but complicated island. It is immersed in a stunningly beautiful natural habitat that was inaccessible until recently. Upon arrival, you will be pleasantly surprised by the Gothic Revival architecture. This is the work of Ponticelli, who was one of the first directors of the "agricultural penal colony." Take a walk through the off limits prison area and the imposing new reinforced concrete wall that bisects the island will astound you. This wall is a legacy of the modern struggle against the Mafia. This contemporary archeological monument gives you the idea that the maximum-security prison was truly impenetrable.

A wild and fascinating island that you must discover for yourself. Pianosa is the ideal location for people who love sports. You can enjoy hiking, biking or even a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Enjoy a swim at Cala Giovanna, the only place where swimming is permitted. It is a long beach of fine white sand just below the gorgeous countryside and the Villa Agrippa. Do not forget your snorkeling mask, because the water near Pianosa is among the most vivid, clear and lush in the entire Tuscan Archipelago. This is due to the face that it has been protected from overfishing for over 150 years by the presence of the prison. With a little luck, you will even spot some dolphins playing on the horizon.

Certainly this island will not leave you lacking emotions, adventures, and deep thoughts. You will fall in love with this small, strategic island. While the urban development has been slightly disrupted by the history of prison life, the natural wonders like the coves, creeks, cliffs and sea have remained pristine and unpolluted.