Among the most beautiful and unforgettable experiences that can be done on the Island of Elba, there is undoubtedly a visit to the island of Pianosa.
The island of Pianosa is part of the Tuscan Archipelago and is the closest island to Elba, only seven nautical miles away. Its name is due to the predominantly flat character of the territory which, in its maximum "peak", barely reaches 29 meters above sea level.
Its status as a penal agricultural colony first and later as a maximum security prison (closed only in 1997), has made it possible to fully preserve the extraordinary natural beauty of the island, making it one of the most sought-after and coveted destinations in the Mediterranean.
In Pianosa swimming in the crystal clear and pristine waters, exploring the ancient Roman ruins and taking part in the various excursions, organized and led by the park's guides, will be unforgettable!
Morphology, fauna and flora
The island of Pianosa extends for about 10 square km, has a vaguely triangular shape and alternates stretches of rocky coast with sandy stretches.
The vegetation is that of the Mediterranean scrub, typical of the Tuscan Archipelago: rosemary, the "shaggy sparrow-wort" , mastic, and Phoenicean juniper. Thanks to the historic presence of the agricultural penal colony, part of the island has been planted with vines and olive trees.
The seabed around Pianosa is characterized by shallow waters, ideal for large banks of Posidonia and red corals (gorgonians), home to many species such as snappers, lobsters, amberjacks, spider crabs and groupers.
The fauna is mostly represented by small mammals, including the red partridge, the pheasant and the hoopoe. Furthermore, a few dozen seabirds nest on the cliffs of Pianosa: among the most common species there are the Corsican gull and the rare peregrine falcon.
As for the fish fauna, the coastal area is rich in groupers of all sizes, bogas, sunfish, large schools of barracudas and amberjacks. In addition, it is even possible to spot dolphins, loggerhead turtles and monk seals offshore.
How to reach Pianosa
Pianosa is a protected area, it falls within the protection zone 1 and the territory is protected up to one mile from the coast. For this reason, despite the closure of the prison, the rules that allow you to visit the island of Pianosa are still very restrictive: access to the island is in fact forbidden to unauthorized boats, so it is preferable to join the limited number of guided tours which are carried out throughout the year with departure from the island of Elba.
Throughout the year, the connection is guaranteed by a Toremar ferry departing from Piombino and by another boat of the Acquavision company with daily departures from the port of Marina di Campo.
All year round - every Tuesday - Toremar => at 8:30 departure from Piombino, at 9:20 arrival at the port in Rio Marina, at 11:00 arrival in Pianosa. Departure at 2.10 pm from Pianosa.
From February 15th to November 15th - every day - Acquavision Company => at 10.00 departure from Marina di Campo, return from Pianosa at 17.00.
Cala Giovanna and excursions with the Tuscan Archipelago National Park
Once you arrive on the island, you can freely access the former inhabited center, the Bagno di Agrippa and the beach of Cala Giovanna, the only beach on the island where bathing is allowed.
Cala Giovanna is a long beach in golden sand with shallow and crystalline waters, near the village and the marina.
It is allowed to stay overnight on the island at the small Hotel Milena, which offers accommodation and catering services.
From the National Park House, various excursions and organized activities start with the Park guides to visit the island of Pianosa.
Visits are organized on foot, by bus, by carriage, by mountain bike, to discover unspoiled nature and ancient Roman ruins.
Visits are daily and accompanied by authorized guides from the Tuscan Archipelago park.
Excursions must be booked at Info Park 0565 908231 or at the Casa del Parco in Pianosa. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- - A Walk in the village of Pianosa: a stroll through the ancient structures of the village of Pianosa to learn about its history from the Stone Age to the Napoleonic settlements.
Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes Cost: € 5, children 0-4 years free
- - Archaeological trekking: excursion to the major archaeological finds on the island. From the lookout, you reach the ancient Roman villa of Agrippa Postumo, on the coastal side of Cala Giovanna. Trekking shoes compulsory.
Duration: 2 hours. Cost: € 10 for adults, € 5 for children 5-12 years, children 0-4 free
- - Paleontological trekking: a suggestive walk that, starting from Cala San Giovanni, reaches the Cala di Biagio cave where prehistoric tools and bones of cervids and bovids have been found in the nineteenth century and in recent excavations. A discovery that proves the ancient contact between Pianosa and the continent. Trekking shoes required.
Duration: 2 hours Cost: € 10 adults, € 5 children 5-12 years, children 0-4 years free
- - Mountain-bike: pleasant ride across the island that leads to the northern tip, the "Punta del Marchese", from which you can see the ancient Roman Port. The length of the route is 11 km. Necessary: helmet (provided by the Park), sports shoes. Indemnity obligation for minors accompanied by adults.
Duration: 2 hours. Cost: € 15. Minimum age: 12 years.
- - Naturalistic itineraries: trekking or mountain-bike route, accompanied by an expert geologist. Necessary: helmet (provided by the Park), trekking shoes. Indemnity obligation for minors.
Cost: € 20 mountain bike, € 15 trekking. Minimum age: 14 years.
- - Snorkeling: with mask, snorkel and fins it is possible to immerse yourself in a pleasant swim in Cala dei Turchi and discover the extraordinary marine flora and fauna of Pianosa, which only very few other protected areas can boast. The length of the route is approximately 1 km. (Indemnity obligation for minors who must be accompanied.)
Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes (about 50 minutes in the water). Cost: € 15. Minimum age: 14 years.
- - Kajak (Sit On top): kayaking is the best way to visit the beautiful and rugged coasts of the island. (Indemnity obligation for minors who must be accompanied by an adult.) The safety equipment required and provided by the Park Authority must also be worn.
Duration: 2 hours. Cost: 25 €. Minimum age: 14 years.
- - Guided carriage tour: a relaxing, suggestive and romantic way to fully enjoy the beauties of the island. The route follows the streets of the former prison and the "Orti" of Pianosa, with some stops to contemplate the view.
Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cost: € 16 adults, € 13 children 5-12 years, children 0-4 years free
- - Guided tour by bus: ideal for those who prefer to sit comfortably on the bus to admire the nature and history of Pianosa.
Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cost: 20 € adults, 14 € children 5-12 years, free children 0-4 years
- - Sunrise and Sunset: for those who stay overnight on the island, it is possible to participate in trekking or mountain-bike excursions at sunrise and sunset.
- - Diving: from the summer of 2013 the Tuscan Archipelago Park has granted the possibility of diving on the island of Pianosa through authorized diving centers, but only on certain days of the week and only at certain times.
Seven mooring buoys were placed for diving.
The diving activity is rightly regulated and controlled but has allowed, for the first time, to reveal the extraordinary marine wonders of the island: having been closed to the public for 150 years, Pianosa preserves an uncontaminated marine environment, which makes diving a unique and suggestive spectacle.
It is possible to dive on the shallows surrounding Pianosa, which are free to access, and in the biological protection area, in compliance with the regulations of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park.
For diving in the Pianosa Biological Protection Area it is necessary to have at least a second level certification that allows diving up to 30 m. (example. PADI Advanced Open Water Diver).
According to researchers about 15,000 years ago Pianosa was attached to the Island of Elba and to the continent and it was probably in this period that the first men settled there. In fact, there are numerous traces of settlements dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic times.
However, no Etruscan remains have been found: this is because the island had very little interest for them as it is free of metals on its territory.
The Romans, on the other hand, colonized Pianosa permanently, building the typical buildings of ancient Roman culture. In fact, the remains of the Villa of Agrippa Postumo have been found with the thermal part still well preserved, the aqueduct of the "Botte" spring, numerous fish ponds and salt pans, the Roman port and, in the seabed near the island, numerous remains of wrecks or loads dating back to the Roman period.
Finally, the catacombs of Pianosa which are located below the village date back to the Roman period.
Between 1000 and 1300, however, the island was disputed by the two maritime republics of Pisa and Genoa with a prevalence for the former, who built a fortified citadel and other defensive buildings on the island. The totally flat territory, however, made it very difficult to defend the island which in the following period, marked by the raids of Saracen pirates, was almost totally abandoned.
Subsequently, noteworthy events were the annexation of the island to the Elban Principality by Napoleon in 1814 and the annexation in 1858 to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which was the first to set up a small prison.
In 1861, the constitution of the Kingdom of Italy led to the transformation of the island of Pianosa into a penal agricultural colony, a status that it maintained for almost the next 150 years.
The Italian Alcatraz
Ten years after the establishment of the prison on Pianosa, the direction was entrusted to Cavaliere Leopoldo Ponticelli, a very important figure in the history of the island as he remained director for more than 20 years. It was the knight who ordered the subdivision of the island into "farms", agricultural production centers where the prisoners worked the land and reclaimed the uncultivated land, obtaining excellent harvests. Pianosa was therefore divided into two parts, separated by a reinforced concrete wall: the penitentiary part, which was in turn divided into farms, and the village where the prison staff lived.
In the first half of the twentieth century there were no events of note, except, during the period of fascism, the detention on the island of the future president of the Republic Sandro Pertini.
We returned to talk about Pianosa only in 1977, when, at the behest of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the penal colony was restructured into a maximum security prison, where some of the most important exponents of the Red Brigades were locked up, including Renato Curcio and Mario Moretti.
At the end of the 1980s, the Super Prison seemed to be in the process of being dismantled: the terrorists in prison were being transferred to other prisons and rumors about the imminent closure of the prison followed. In 1992, however, the massacres of Capaci and Via d'Amelio led to a sudden turnaround, which was followed by the transfer to the island of some of the most important mafia bosses of the time including Michele Greco, Pippo Calò, Nitto Santapaola and Giuseppe Madonia.
The island therefore passed from a phase of dismantling to one of very strict controls, for which the island became practically inaccessible. This regime was maintained until 1997 when the last member of the mafia was transferred to another penitentiary. The following year the Pianosa prison closed permanently, remaining only as a garrison of the prison of Porto Azzurro.