For the island in the Isole Tremiti archipelago, off the Adriatic coast in the Apulia, see Isole Tremiti.

Coordinates: 42°35′N 10°05′E / 42.583°N 10.083°E / 42.583; 10.083

Pianosa Island
Native name: <span class="nickname" ">Isola di Pianosa

Forte Teglia, Isola di Pianosa
Pianosa Island
Location Tyrrhenian Sea
Archipelago Tuscan Archipelago
Area 10.25 km2 (3.96 sq mi)
Length 5.8 km (3.6 mi)
Width 4.8 km (2.98 mi)
Coastline 22 km (13.7 mi)
Highest elevation 29 m (95 ft)
Region Tuscany
Province Livorno
Commune Campo nell'Elba
Population 10 (2001)
Pop. density 1 /km2 (3 /sq mi)

The small island of Pianosa (Italian pronunciation: [pjaˈnoːza]), about 10.25 km2 (3.96 sq mi) in area, has a coastal perimeter of 26 km (16 mi) and forms part of Italy's Tuscan Archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea.


In Roman times the island was named Planasia (plain) because of its flatness - its highest point stands at 29 m (95 ft) above sea level. It is a triangular-shaped land mass 14 km (9 mi) south west of Elba, and is a frazione of the municipality of Campo nell'Elba. Pianosa is the fifth biggest island of the Tuscan Archipelago and the only one to be formed out of sedimentary rock of the Neogene and Quaternary; such fossils as echinoderms, mollusca and bryozoa of the Pliocene are frequently found. [1]


The vegetation consists mainly of Mediterranean species as lentisco, fennel, juniperus, rosemary and pinus halepensis, which was introduced on the island in the 1900s.


The animals living on the island are largely small mammals, such as hedgehog and hare, introduced in the 1800s, as well as the pheasant and the red-legged partridge; the magpie and the Audouin's gull nest along the coast and are protected by the National Park. The island is a stopping place for migrating birds in their seasonal passage from North to South. The sea around Pianosa is rich in fish because the coast was unapproachable for a long time, while today National Park regulations forbid fishing. grouper, dory, dentex, moray, crawfish and many other species of fish inhabit the seas around the island. [2]


The island was first inhabited in the Upper Palaeolithic, the Later Stone Age, but when in 5000 BC the sea level augmented and reached the current, the few inhabitants took refuge on the nearby Scola islet where traces of their stay were found. Fishing tools and ceramic of the Mesolithic were found as well as artefacts in quartz and flint probably coming from Elba.[3] The ancient Romans' Planasia had buildings and was extensively cultivated. It became noted in history when the princeps Augustus banished his grandson and former designated heir Agrippa Postumus there in 6 or 7 AD. [4] Postumus remained there until his murder by an assassin sent by Tiberius, around the death of Augustus in 14 AD. Postumus lived in Pianosa at Villa Agrippa which was discovered by abbot Gaetano Chierici in the second part of 1800s and included a theatre, a thermal bath (Bagni di Agrippa), and a Roman villa with black and white mosaic floors with marine mythological decorations.[5]

In the 4th century a small Christian community lived in Pianosa and left traces of their presence in since excavated catacombs. These are on two levels and are the largest north of Rome; 700 catacombs were discovered, indicating a fair number of residents.

Forte del Marchese

Pisa had the island in custody after the victory in a naval battle in those waters occurred in 874. In the Middle Ages the island's ownership was disputed by Pisa and Genoa because of its strategic position. In 1238 Genoa sent troops on the island supposing the inhabitants exercised the piracy; destroyed the village and the fortifications built by the Pisans and made prisoners the 150 inhabitants. Pianosa returned shortly after to Pisa, but Genoa had the supremacy of the Tyrrhenian Sea after the Battle of Meloria. The island returned to Pisan control under an agreement that required the Pisans leave it uncultivated and uninhabited, but the pact was not honoured. The Appiano family, who ruled Pisa, gave the island on rent to the family De Leis then to the Landi in 1344. The Appiano sold Pisa to Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1399 and established the small Principality of Piombino which included Suvereto, Scarlino, Vignale, Populonia and the islands of Elba, Montecristo and Pianosa. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain on August 15, 1552 consigned to Cosimo I de' Medici the Principality of Piombino in exchange of a loan of 200,000 scudi. [6]

Pianosa underwent numerous incursions by pirates but the worst of all was that took place in 1553 by a French Turkish fleet commanded by Dragut who wiped out the population, from then on the island changed several times of ownership and was populated only seasonally from farmers coming from Elba to cultivate. On 27 August 1802 Napoleon established that Elba, Capraia, Gorgona, Pianosa, Palmaiola and Montecristo were part of the French territory and in 1805 assigned to his sister Elisa Bonaparte the region of Piombino, Elba and Pianosa that was fortified. On April 9, 1809 the Archipelago returned to Tuscany, which was ruled by the French; on 10 May British marines and sailors from HMS Seahorse and HMS Halcyon landed on Pianosa and Gianuti. The landing parties destroyed the forts and captured about 100 prisoners during four hours of fighting. British losses were one marine killed and one wounded.[7] The landing party also sent the farmers back to Elba and left the island a desert. Napoleon went to Pianosa from Elba twice, rebuilt the tower, emplaced a garrison to defend the island, and built some houses to settle farmers. The Congress of Vienna assigned Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago to the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Although 18th century documents report that it was once densely wooded, humans and the animals they brought have destroyed the trees on the island, which is now largely grassland except some coastal area. [8]

Penal colony

Palazzo della Specola

In 1856, Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany established a penal colony in Pianosa because it was considered a perfect place to isolate, segregate, and oversee detainees; at the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, there were 149 prisoners on the island. In 1864 a structure able to contain 350 prisoners was built, but in 1872 the island was divided into numerous farms organizing the inmates as small communities; in 1880 there were 960 detainees. The captives cultivated cereals, produced oil and wine as Sangiovese and Procanico, there were poultry, pigs, and cattle farms. From 1884 until 1965 Pianosa, because of its dry climate, hosted convicts, coming from all over Italy, affected by tuberculosis. At the beginning of the 1900s, the population on the island was 21 civilians, 80 prison guards, 40 soldiers, and 800 prisoners. The former President of the Republic of Italy Sandro Pertini became an inmate in 1932 for political reasons. During World war II, on 17 September 1943, Germans troops invaded Pianosa and occupied it; on 19 March 1944 French commandos landed on the island, and after a short firefight left again, taking away 40 prison guards as hostages; the following month an allied bomber attacked the island, killing six people. [9]

In the post war period the colony returned to its original role. A Carabinieri station was established, as was a detachment of Guardia di Finanza, and houses were built to accommodate the families of the soldiers. In the 1970s, on order of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the former sanatorium named Agrippa Branch, was transformed into a maximum security prison to confine Mafia bosses and terrorists of the Red Brigades, such as Giovanni Senzani, Renato Curcio, Alberto Franceschini, and Bruno Seghetti. Under the article 41-bis prison regime, in May 1977 aircraft and helicopters transferred 600 convicts from all over Italy to Pianosa in only two days .[10] A reinforced concrete wall, six meters high and 3 km (2 mi) long, was built in 1979 to separate the village from the penitentiary. The killing of the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992 led to the reopening of the Agrippa Branch under the 41-bis regime and during the night of July 20, fifty five Mafia bosses incarcerated at Palermo Ucciardone prison, among them Michele Greco, were transferred by military transport aircraft to Pisa Airport and then to Pianosa by helicopter. [11]

The island became an impenetrable and inapproachable fortress until 17 July 1997, when Gaetano Murana, the last 41-bis prison regime detainee, was transferred to another prison; up to this date Pianosa had hosted Mafia bosses such as Pippo Calò, Nitto Santapaola and Giovanni Brusca and had become well known for the brutality inflicted on the prisoners. [12] The Prodi government decided to close the penitentiary permanently on 28 June 1998. Pianosa was evacuated in a single day by the remaining detainees and residents, and only a few guards remained on the island for surveillance. [13][14]

Marine protected area

West coast

Pianosa is part of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, which has been a marine protected area since 1996 in order to preserve its archaeological and environmental heritage, until now saved because of its inaccessibility to tourism. The island may be visited daily by 250 tourists but fishing, diving, or anchoring are not allowed without a special authorization. During the summer season Pianosa is connected once a week by Toremar from Rio Marina and Piombino,[15] from San Vincenzo by Aquavision twice a week and daily from Marina di Campo.[16] It is possible visit the island only with organized excursions or trekking by bicycle escorted by Park guides.


Pianosa lighthouse

Pianosa lighthouse
Location Pianosa Island
Coordinates 42°35′08.7″N 10°05′46.1″E / 42.585750°N 10.096139°E / 42.585750; 10.096139
Year first constructed 1864
Year first lit October 1, 1865
Construction brick tower
Tower shape cylindrical tower with lantern and gallery on two-story keeper’s house
Markings / pattern white building and tower
Height 62 feet (19 m)
Focal height 138 feet (42 m)
Light source mains power
Range main: 16 nautical miles (30 km; 18 mi)
reserve: 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi)
Characteristic FI (2) W 10s.
Fog signal no
Admiralty number E1448
NGA number 8968
ARLHS number ITA-212
Italy number 2088 E.F
Managing agent Marina Militare

Pianosa lighthouse is placed on the east side of the island nearby the village; it entered in service on October 1, 1865, is still active and operated by Marina Militare identified by the number 2088 E.F. The lighthouse is a two story building surmounted by a white cylindrical tower 19 metres high with balcony and lantern positioned at 42 metres above sea level; it emits two white flashes in a 10 seconds period visible at 18 nautical miles of distance.[17][18]

Geographical landmarks

  • Bagni di Agrippa
  • Cala dell’Alga
  • Cala Giovanna
  • Cala dei Turchi
  • Cala San Giovanni
  • Cala di Biagio
  • Cala del Bruciato
  • Cala della Ruta
  • Golfo della Botte

  • Porto Romano
  • Punta del Marchese
  • Punta del Grottone
  • Punta Secca
  • Punta Brigantina
  • Punta del Segnale
  • Punta del Libeccio
  • Punta del Pulpito

Joseph Heller's absurdist anti-war novel Catch-22 is set on a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber squadron base on Pianosa during World War II. Heller notes in the introduction that Pianosa is obviously too small to "accommodate all the actions described." Heller's Pianosa has a small community of Italian villagers, unlike the real island. "From early May 1944 until December 1944 [Heller] was stationed on the island of Corsica where he flew sixty combat missions in B-25 'Mitchell' bombers with the 488th Bombardment Squadron, 340th Bombardment Group, 57th Bombardment Wing, 12th Air Force."[19]

See also


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