We are not in a book that tells the adventures of Peter Pan, there is not Wendy and not even Captain Hook. Yet, there is…a sort of Neverland, the island that doesn’t exist! We are talking about Ferdinandea Island, a rocky platform that stood in the Strait of Sicily, between Sciacca and Pantelleria. Today? It is underwater! Let’s explore it with Sicilian Secrets.
The history of Ferdinandea Island takes us to the south-western coast of Sicily, the one by the Mediterranean Sea. The first stop of our journey, before discovering the curiosities of this now island, is Sciacca.
Sciacca: tourism, Carnival and…
Sciacca is a town in the province of Agrigento often named for the famous Carnival or for their hot sprigs that flow from the slopes of Mount Kronio.
The first settlements date back to prehistoric times, followed by the passage of the Phoenicians in ancient times, and of the Arabs in the Middle Ages. The birth of the toponym ‘Sciacca’ is attributed to the latter but the meaning is controversial: just to give a few examples, it is enough to know that there are scholars who have read it with the meaning of ‘division’, perhaps because it separated Marsala and Girgenti. Or even those who interpreted it as ‘lord, governor’, if not even as ‘Mercury’, perhaps for a temple dedicated to this god.
We will probably never know the truth, but before diving towards Ferdinandea Island, we can have a walk through its streets.
What not to miss in August
In addition to the religious architectures such as the 12th century Cathedral (known as the church of Maria SS. Del Soccorso), founded by Giuditta la Normanna, and the civil buildings such as Palazzo San Giacomo Tagliavia from the 15th century, there are some nice events not to be missed. An important religious feast is celebrated during the month of August, namely that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the town. On August 15th, some barefoot sailors lead the statue of Virgin Mary through the streets of the city center: this is a symbol of great devotion to commemorate the end of the plague epidemic happened in 1626.
Ferdinandea Island, a little Sicilian secret
Ferdinandea Island emerged in 1831 and immediately became the subject of international disputes over its sovereignty. But the waves soon returned it to the sea, in fact in 1832, it was submerged and disappeared into the Strait of Sicily.
Its volcanic nature has always interested many geologists, but its strategic position in the Mediterranean caused a stir. The name ‘Ferdinandea’ was given to it by King Ferdinand II of Bourbon, who, on August 17th 183, claimed it as part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
«Questo lembo di terra, una volta isola Ferdinandea era e sarà sempre del popolo siciliano». (This strip of land, Ferdinandea Island, was and will always belong to the Sicilian people)
This is what the stone plaque that some Sicilian divers had placed on the surface of the submarine reef said. And so it is! When in 2022, following a suspected seismic activity in the area, volcanologists hypothesized that Ferdinandea Island was ready to surface again, Italian divers had planted a tricolor flag on the top of the volcano to avoid new possible conflicts. But in the end, nothing happened and the island decided to stay hidden. In the future? Who knows!
Some curiosities …
The charm of Ferdinandea Island fascinated several writers who have not missed the opportunity to mention it in their works. This is the case of Jules Verne and his novel ‘Captain Antifer’, of Luigi Pirandello and – more recently – of Andrea Camilleri and his book ‘A Thread of Smoke’, and of Simonetta Agnello Hornby who talks about the island in her book ‘The Marchesa’.