Ponza is the largest island of the Pontine arcipelago and lies 33 km south of Mount Circeo. Its long shape extends in an 8 km-long arch from north-east to south and the coastline is about 25 km long. The main coves are the creeks of Ponza, Core, Inferno and Gaetana on the east coast and those of Chiaia di Luna and Lucia Rosa on the west.
The originally volcanic island is made up of the remains of a large central cone with two craters on either side in the creeks of Ponza and Inferno.
The rock consists of tuffaceous substances whose fragility has contributed to the erosion of the coastline by the sea, making it jagged and craggy with many cliffs.
The highest point on the island is 283 metres. The prominent "Monte della Guardia" rises in the south.
The main town on the island is Ponza, laid out like an amphitheatre on the high ground around the port in the east. The other villages are Giancos, S.Maria, I Conti, Campo Inglese and Le Forna.
There are many impressive Roman ruins. A grand villa dating back to the Augustan age has been discovered, with terracing on different levels, a small theatre and a pool dug out of the rock.
A vast necropolis, from between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. has revealed interesting hypogeum graves in a rectangular space with niches.
Also of particular historical and archaeological interest are the famous Grotte di Pilato (Pilate's Caves) with their ancient adjoining tunnel that leads to the beach of Chiaia di Luna and the grotta del Serpente (Snake's Cave).
The history of the island
This island, known as the farthest in the Campanian Sea, was first inhabited in ancient times.
It was probably occupied by the Phoenicians to control the mainland coast from the sea and the Greeks definitely came and gave the island its original name, Pontia. It was then inhabited by the Volsci, who lost it to the Romans when they established a colony there in 313 B.C.
The island remained loyal to Rome during Hannibals War and became one of the favourite destinations, as well as a place of confinement, for members of the Imperial family at the beginning of the Empire.
Nero died on the island and the sisters Agrippina the Younger and Julia Livilla were sent here by Caligula.
Very many new converts to Christianity became martyrs on Ponza. Pope Silverio was imprisoned here and died of starvation. He was later made patron saint of the island.
St.Silverio's Day is celebrated on 20 June.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the island belonged to the Byzantines and became part of the Duchy of Gaeta. Control later passed to the Church.
In the 15th century the Pope's dominion was contested by the Aragonese, who in 1478 exercised their sovreignty by conceding the island in emphyteusis to some Neapolitan aristocratic families.
The island became a thriving trading post and suffered at the hands of the Barbary Coast pirates who caused its gradual depopulation.
The Farnese took possession of the island in 1572 and when they died out in 1731 the Bourbons attempted to repopulate it and used it as a prison.
It was occupied by the French during the Neapolitan Republic (1799) and then by the English, who kept it as an important strategic post against the Kingdom of Naples until the Bourbon (1815).
It was from Ponza that Carlo Pisacane, departed for his unsuccessful Sapri landing on 27 June 1857.
Three years later the island was united with Italy and under Fascism was used as a prison along with the nearby island of Ventotene.