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Pianosa Island
Native name: Isola di Pianosa
Forte Teglia, Isola di Pianosa
Pianosa and the Tuscan archipelago, Italy
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 (as of 2001)
Density 1 /km2 (3 /sq mi)

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


  • Geography 1
  • Flora 2
  • Fauna 3
  • History 4
    • Penal colony 4.1
  • Marine protected area 5
  • Pianosa lighthouse 6
  • Geographical landmarks 7
  • Namesake in Apulia 8
  • In popular culture 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Once named Planasia (plain) because it is flat, its highest point stands at 29 m (95 ft) above sea level. It has a triangular shape, it is placed at 14 km (9 mi) south west of Elba and is frazione of the municipality of Campo nell'Elba. Pianosa is the fifth island of the Tuscan Archipelago for extension and the only to be formed by sedimentary rock of the Neogene and Quaternary; frequent are the fossils as echinoderms, mollusca and bryozoa of the Pliocene. [1]


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


The animals living on the island are largely small mammals as hedgehog, hare introduced in the 1800s as the phesant and the red-legged partridge; along the coast nest the magpie and the Audouin's gull which are protected by the National Park. The island is a place where the bird migration take a stop along their seasonal movement from North to South. The sea around Pianosa is rich in fish because once the coast was unapproachable while today is not allowed to fish by the National Park regulations. The fish species in the area are: grouper, dory, dentex, moray, crawfish and many others. [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 execution, made by a murderer 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 was composed by a theatre, a thermal and marine environments (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 since excavated the catacombs which are on two levels and are the largest north of Rome; 700 catacombs were discovered which indicates a fair numbers 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 came back once under the control of Pisa by an agreement with which had to left 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 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 the Tuscany which was ruled by the French; a month later Pianosa was attacked by 150 British soldiers arrived aboard of three vessels, they destroyed the tower, captured the French soldiers, sent back to Elba the farmers and left the island desert. Napoleon went to Pianosa from Elba twice, made rebuilt the tower, placed a garrison to defend the island and built some houses to settle the farmers. The Congress of Vienna assigned the 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. [7]

Penal colony

Palazzo della Specola

In 1856, Sangiovese and Procanico, there were poultry, pigs and cattle farms. From 1884 until 1965 Pianosa hosted convicts, coming from all over Italy, affected by tuberculosis because of its healthy climate. 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 September 17, 1943, Germans troops invaded Pianosa and occupied it; on March 19, 1944 a French commando 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. [8]

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, 600 convicts from all over Italy were transferred to Pianosa in May 1977 in only two days by aircraft and helicopters.[9] A reinforced concrete wall, 6 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 the Palermo Ucciardone prison, among them Michele Greco, were transferred by military transport aircraft to Pisa Airport and then to Pianosa by helicopters. [10]

The island became an impenetrable and inapproachable fortress until July 17, 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 like Pippo Calò, Nitto Santapaola and Giovanni Brusca and had become well known for the brutality inflicted on the prisoners. [11] The Prodi government decided to close the penitentiary definitely on June 28, 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. [12][13]

Marine protected area

West coats

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,[14] from San Vincenzo by Aquavision twice a week and daily from Marina di Campo.[15] It is possible visit the island only with organized excursions or trekking by bicycle escorted by Park guides.

Pianosa lighthouse

Pianosa lighthouse
Pianosa is located in Tuscany
Location Campo nell'Elba, Tuscany, Italy
Year first constructed 1864
Year first lit October 1, 1865
Construction brick
Tower shape round 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)
Range 16 nautical miles
Characteristic FI (2) W 10 s.
Fog signal no
Admiralty number E1448
NGA number 8968
ARLHS number ITA-212
Italy number 2088 E.F

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.[16][17]

Geographical landmarks

Namesake in Apulia

Another island named "Pianosa" is part of the Isole Tremiti archipelago, off the Adriatic coast in the Apulia region of southern Italy, north of Monte Gargano.

In popular culture

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."[18]


  1. ^ Italian Paleontological Society
  2. ^ Archipelago Toscano National Park
  3. ^ Associazione Pianosa
  4. ^ Tacitus Annals Book 1.3
  5. ^ Associazione Pianosa
  6. ^ Associazione Pianosa
  7. ^ Associazione Pianosa
  8. ^ Associazione Pianosa
  9. ^
  10. ^ Corriere della Sera
  11. ^ La Repubblica
  12. ^ Corriere della Sera
  13. ^ Associazione Pianosa
  14. ^ Toremar
  15. ^ Aquavision
  16. ^ Faro di Isola di Pianosa Marina Militare
  17. ^ Fari di Toscana
  18. ^ Joseph Heller’s Combat Experiences in Catch-22Scoggins, Michael C. War, Literature & the Arts Journal

External links

  • Arcipelago Toscano National Park
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