|The centrality of its
position in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Africa has greatly
influenced the complexities and radical changes of Pantelleria's long
history since it was first
settled in late prehistoric times. The volcanic nature has instead
determined its economic bases up to the buildup of tourism in the present.
Alike other small islands in the Mediterranean, Pantelleria was first
visited in Late Mesolithic times, during the 6th
millennium BC, when significant developments in marine watercraft made
possible offshore fishing expeditions and seafaring navigation.
The abundance of obsidian, mainly outcropping along its southern shores, draw to the island the first settlers in Neolithic times. This black, shiny volcanic glass was the base resource for the making of tools indespensable to the earliest farmers around the whole Mediterranean. From its sharp concoid flakes were produced the ideal blades for sickles and other tools to cut plants. Unfortunately, only scanty, isolated remains survive in Pantelleria of these earliest periods, buried under later deposits. Significant improvements of farming and stock-breeding during the 4th and 3rd millennia BC created the conditions for a permanent and affluent occupation of all Mediteranean islands. The fertile volcanic soils covering the island became the main source of wealth of Pantelleria. Along with them obsidian continued to provide the material for all cutting tools, while vacuolar basalt was quarried to be used and exported for querns and millstones. By 1800 BC most of the island was occupied by groups of farmers akin to the Early Bronze Age Sicilian cultures. Their most interesting remains are still visible in the Mursia area: massive defensive walls, foundations of old houses, overlooked by dozens of megalithic cairn burials, locally called 'Sesi'. The site remained occupied for most of the 2nd millennium BC.Sometime during the 9th century BC the island became part of the Phoenician trade network transecting the whole of the Mediterranean from Lebanon to the Atlantic. Slowly with the growth of Carthage as the main city and market of the Central Mediterranean, Pantelleria became more closely related to Africa and the Semite world. Its first name as known from coins was Yrnm, and later was changed into Cossyra. A fortified Acropolis was built along the first line of hills, overlooking the harbour whose remains are still visible at San Marco. The aridity of climate was contrasted by efficient irrigation systems with thousands of cisterns and watering channels built in many parts of the islands to capture, store and trasport the waters. The close relation to Carthage was the beginning of the island's golden age, and it lasted till its destruction by the Arabs in 698 AD and the conflict between Christians and Muslims that has divided the Mediterranean to the present. The people of Pantelleria planted grapes, wheat and many other crops for subsistence and trade. Agriculture has remained the backbone of the economy. The island was flourishing if towards the end of Punic times from the end of the 3rd century BC a mint was established, issuing coins with the image of Isis. A small shrine was build in this period by
the lake 'Specchio di Venere' and remained in use during Roman times. The Romans conquered Cossyra at the end of the first Punic war in 248 BC, but the population remained largely Semitic for a long time, judging from the cultural evidence of the archaeological record. Undoubtely, the wealth of Pantelleria and its close connection with Carthage continued to grow through Roman and Byzantine times. Large portions of the islands were intensively cultivated, as evidenced by the remains of many villas and the centurial division of fields in the southern flatlands of Ghirlanda, Barone, Monastero and Scauri Scalo. In the 3rd –6th centuries AD the permanent population of Pantelleria might have reached its maximum of 10,000 persons. During Roman times was probably developed the architectural type of the 'dammusi', the vaulted rural houses built with lava blocks with a low dome that still represent the most characterising landmark in Pantelleria’s landscape. The Arabs captured the island from Byzanthium around 750 A.C., greatly improving its agricultural potentials, by reorganizing the land ownership and introducing new crops of higher yield. Their culture has had a very strong influence on Pantelleria persisting to the present. The Arabs called it al-Quasayra, and this name is still used by the Berbers of North Africa, or Bint-al Rion, "daughter of the wind". They also introduced the cultivation of cotton, for many centuries the major export of the island, and improved that of grapes to produce dry raisins as cash crop (zibibbo). Their political control ended with the Norman conquest of Sicily at the end of the 11th century, although alike the Romans in the 3rd century BC, the new Christian kings of Sicily preferred to leave the island populated by Muslims under the rule of qadis. A treaty signed in the 13th century with the Sultan of Tunis indicates that at least nominally the Pantescan paid tribute to both rulers. The wealth of the island is underlined in the Mediaeval notary acts by the presence of 60 Jewish families engaged in trading activities. This idylliac co-existence ended with the infameous edict of the Catholic Kings in 1492 that expelled from all lands of the crown of Spain Jews and Muslims alike. By severing its lifeline with the neighbouring coast of Africa, Pantelleria ended its wealth to became a frontier stronghold of Spain and later the Borboun Kingdom of Naples. The islands was resettled with Spaniards, Portugueses and their Italian allies, mainly Genoeses and Neapolitans. Muslim piracy and the military confrontation with Arabs and Turks undermined any possibility to recover the wealth, while the island was used as a fortress and a prison. Main monument of this period is the Castello Medievale to defend the port and the fortified town of Pantelleria, unfortunately almost completely destroyed by the Allies during the 2nd World War.The almost contemporaneous end of Berbery piracy and baronal landlordship in the 1840s reopened Pantelleria, improving the economic conditions of its people. Capers and grapes were intensively cultivated to articulate the local agricultural production with the world market. In 1860 Pantelleria was annexed, together with Sicily, to the Kingdom of Italy and has shared its historical vicissitudes up until the present. Following the Ethiopian War of 1935-36, and the development of an hostile policy with Great Britain, the Fascist government of Italy decided to turn the island into a fortress. Again for another decade Pantelleria became a nodal point in a militarized sea, economically marginalized and exposed to destruction. In June 1943 it surrounded without fighting, to became the first landpiece of Axis territory to fall to the Allies. In order to prove the military superiority of their air forces in face of their own people and the other allies, the Americans decided to mine the old city and film it pretending it had been destroyed by the airstrifes. However this useless sacrifice remains in our memory to mark the passage of this beautiful island to an age of peace and prosperity.