Pianosa, the former prison in the Tuscan Archipelago National Park
Pianosa Island is one of the seven main islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. The island is characterized by a substantially flat course with no reliefs, and in fact the highest point of the island reaches just 29 meters above sea level. Pianosa is located about 13 kilometers south-west from the Island of Elba, the largest of the Tuscan islands, and about 40 km from Corsica. From an administrative point of view, the island is part of the municipality of Campo nell’Elba in the province of Livorno.
History of the Island of Pianosa
The island has been inhabited since prehistoric times and in fact the remains of some settlements have been found along its coasts, as well as finds that make it clear how the island was on the trade routes that crossed the Tyrrhenian in the second millennium BC.
The Romans called it Planasia, which derives from planus that means flat. Between 6 and 7 A.D. Agrippa Postumus, nephew and potential heir of the Emperor Augustus, was exiled here. Agrippa remained on the island until 14 AD, the year in which he was executed. The island still preserves several testimonies of that period, including the remains of the Villa of Agrippa. The catacombs also date back to the Roman era, but a few centuries later. During the Middle Ages, the island was disputed by Pisa and Genoa but in 1399 it became part of the possessions of Piombino.
In the 1500s the island was devastated by the repeated raids of the Turks who at the time raged in the seas making raids and looting. In 1814 the island was visited by Napoleon who at that time was in exile on the Elbe. It was he who initiated the construction of the Forte Teglia which is located on the promontory of the island.
In 1856 the Pianosa prison was established. Initially it was an agricultural penal colony; during the fascism Sandro Pertini (italian president between 1978 and 1985) was imprisoned here for political reasons. In 1977 the prison on the island of Pianosa became a maximum security penitentiary intended for the imprisonment of terrorists and mafia members. In that circumstance all the inhabitants of the island were evacuated and the island was made inaccessible from the outside. Over time, the activities of the Pianosa prison decreased until its definitive closure in 2011.
Holidays in Pianosa: what to see and what to do
The total closure of Pianosa meant that the island was able to preserve its uncontaminated nature. Today the island is open to tourism even if the are some rules that serve to protect its environment. You can visit Pianosa but you should know that there is a limited number of 250 visitors per day and that the visits must be organized by guides authorized by the Tuscan Archipelago Park Authority. If you want to spend more than one day in Pianosa, you can sleep in the only hotel on the island. Housed in the prison director’s residence, this hotel is run by a cooperative in which some volunteers and semi-released prisoners work.
Now let’s see what are the main things to do and see on the island of Pianosa:
Where to swim: sea and beaches of Pianosa
Like all the other islands of Tuscany, Pianosa also boasts an enviable sea. Its clean, clear and crystalline waters are reminiscent of those of tropical paradises. Along the island there are several beaches and some coves such as Cala di Biagio and Cala del Bruciato, but there is only one beach that can be accessed for swimming and relaxing by the sea: Cala Giovanna.
Cala Giovanna is located near the town and the Old Port of Pianosa. Its long beach is characterized by a fine golden sand. At the bottom of the cove, on the opposite side from the port, there are also the remains of the Villa di Agrippa.
Diving and Snorkeling in Pianosa
The clear waters of the island of Pianosa are a real wedding invitation for diving lovers. Fortunately, for some years now there has been the possibility of diving and snorkeling along the coast of the island and thus being able to admire the large marine fauna that populates these waters. Among the numerous marine species that you can observe there are different types of plants, fish (groupers, sea bream, snapper, moray eels), crustaceans and even small schools of dolphins. From time to time the monk seal, an increasingly rare endangered species, has also been sighted in these parts. Before diving, always remember to ask permission from the Tuscan Archipelago Park Authority.
Catacombs of Pianosa
Traces of the past sometimes remain a little hidden. This is the case of the catacombs of Pianosa. They are located in the immediate vicinity of the old port and can be accessed from a small cave. The complex dates back to a period between the third and fourth centuries, or when a Christian community was established here, perhaps fleeing the persecutions of the emperor Diocletian. The catacombs of Pianosa are composed of a large number of tunnels in which there are about 700 tombs. This complex is very interesting from a historical point of view and represents a real rarity in Tuscany if we consider that in the whole region we find other catacombs only in Chiusi.
Villa of Agrippa
The Villa of Agrippa is one of the most important testimonies of the Roman era that can be found on the islands of the Tuscan archipelago. The complex consists of a stately home, a theater, a peristyle (i.e. a courtyard surrounded by columns) and the Baths of Agrippa. Of these environments it is possible to visit the theater, the peristyle and the baths which are a small spa overlooking the sea. The Villa of Agrippa dates back to the 1st century BC. and was inhabited until the 1st century AD. The catacombs and the villa are not the only Roman structures on the island of Pianosa, other remains are in fact found near the port.
Excursions to Pianosa
If accompanied by an authorized guide, you can go on excursions on the island to discover all its secrets and visit the main points of interest. There are various routes that require the use of the most disparate means such as mountain bikes, buses, carriages and kayaks but also trekking itineraries for those who want to take a nice walk. If you are organizing a trip to Pianosa, I recommend that you also think about which excursion you would like to do, in this way you can get to know the island and all its beauties in depth.
How to get to Pianosa, the ferries
As already mentioned, access to Pianosa is limited and well regulated, so if you want to go to the island you must necessarily use one of the affiliated ferries. In fact, navigation in the last mile of sea is forbidden to all unauthorized ships.
There are two different ferry services that allow you to reach the island of Pianosa. The first is called Acquavision and guarantees a daily connection with the Island of Elba and in particular with Marina di Campo and sometimes with Portoferraio. In summer, the same company also activates a connection between Capraia and Piombino. In Piombino we also find the Toremar ferries, the second company that allows you to arrive on the island of Pianosa. Toremar also has a connection between Elba and Pianosa, but with departure from Rio Marina.
Ferries to Pianosa from Elba:
Acquavision – departing from Marina di Campo or Portoferraio
Toremar – departing from Rio Marina
Ferries to Pianosa from Piombino:
Toremar and Acquavision
For all other information on how to reach Pianosa from Piombino and the Island of Elba, such as ticket prices and the duration of the trip, and to book the ferry, I recommend you go directly to the Acquavision and Toremar websites.