Ponza Island: a wild harbor in the middle of crystal clear waters
Don’t be fooled by the fact that this island is not often mentioned as one of Italy’s most beautiful, or that you don’t see it on top-ten lists with stars beside it. Ponza, the largest island in the archipelago that bears its name, is straight out of a fairy tale.
Your arrival in the harbor presents one of the most picturesque and surprising vistas you can imagine. Although it was modified in the 1700s, you can still see unmistakable signs of its structure dating back to the Romans. There are numerous other traces of the descendants of Romulus and Remus. Probably the most spectacular of these are the Caves of Pontius Pilate, which can only be reached by the sea. It is a sophisticated fishery, consisting of five pools, of which only one is external while the others are dug into the rock. The pools were used for breeding moray eels, which the Romans considered a delicacy, and is near an enormous Augustan villa.
The harbor is the hub of the island. Here you will find an amalgam of houses and buildings, some historic, others more functional, linked by back streets and passageways in unforgettable surroundings. The harbor area is a sort of gathering point for locals and visitors as they are out for a stroll. The most popular route takes you from Piazza Pisacane to the Roman Gallery in Via Dante.
The best time to enjoy this part of Ponza is at sunset, when the sun falls behind the jagged coastline, when lights begin to appear in the houses and on the streets, and people begin to fill the narrow lanes between the walls, some going back to the beach, others to have an aperitivo, the boats resting in a row along the port, and in the distance you can just see the sail of a boat returning from Ventotene or Palmarola.
The true proprietor of Ponza is the sea. The island doesn’t have many beaches and the most famous, Chiaia di Luna, is closed because it is too dangerous. This shouldn’t worry you. The sea around Ponza is stunning, and you have to experience by getting out on the water in a boat. You can rent one yourself, or if you aren’t a “sea dog”, you can board one of the larger ones that organize a full tour of the island with trained crew.
The most important thing is to experience the sea, perhaps putting on a scuba mask, and enjoying the ocean floor near the cliff walls, where the play of light and shadow creates surreal colors.
You don’t have to be a professional scuba diver to feel the urge to explore the underwater attractions around Ponza, as the waters provide continual discovery. But even outside the water, the island, as seen from the sea, is like opening a book of living geology where you can observe sea stacks, caves, volcanic rock, reefs and natural pools. The island is narrow and long, and outside the harbor area, other little towns have developed, such as Giancos, where the houses are stacked one on top of the other along the outline of the terrain, or Santa Maria, where, according to legend, the enchantress Circes was born.
Travelling along the roads that rise and fall in the midst of vineyards, low walls, houses dug into caves, the remnants of defensive towers, and stairways, you will finally arrive at the village of I Conti, in the central part of the island. From here you can easily reach one of its most well-known beaches, Frontone.
Ponza offers something to interest almost everyone: the ruins of a hermitage and a fort built on orders of Pope Paul III, or the remnants of a bentonite mine that is no longer in use.
On June 20th, the island celebrates its patron saint, Saint Silverius. At dawn the island is awakened by the sounds of fireworks and band music. At the beginning of the day, all the local families prepare the traditional lasagna or baked pasta, to be eaten at lunch following mass. The procession is led by the bishop, following by a float full of carnations and bearing the statue of the saint.
A procession of boats follows the one on land, and at a certain point the statue is loaded onto a boat for a tour around the coastline.
After the eating, drinking and dancing, the day ends as it began, with a spectacular fireworks show on the water.