Lampedusa belongs to the submerged platform of Norht African continent. And, constituting an offshoot of it, it bears unmistakable traces of it: the structure, which is calcareous-dolomitic, the climate, which is mild all the year round (average temperatures: max 37°C, min 9°C), the flora and the fauna, akin to those of the Libyan and Tunisian coasts, to which, moreover, the island is nearer ( 113 Km ) than it is to the Sicilian one (205 Km ). The consequent coexistence in this environment, above all in the sea, of two different biozoological situations (North African and South European) is a cause of great scientific interest. Lampedusa, which whit its surface area of 20.2 sq. Km. is the biggest island in the archipelago, rises softly out of the sea, up to about one hundred metres and then, suddenly, to the north, precipitates into the sea. Hence it appears like a big plateau, of triangular shape strongly eroded, inclined from north-west – where the biggest mountain is the Albero sole (133 metres above sea level) – to south-east. High and jagged cliff walls, marine grottoes, decidedly mark the northern coast; on the southern and eastern ones, which are more accesible, there are instead numeorus sandy bays, dominated by whitish rock curtains moulded by atmospehiric agents, and some rugged “spits” that stretch out into the sea. a very marked feature of the southern coast is the Conigli rock, prhaps the most enchanting palce on Lampedusa, separated from the land by a little shallow water for a length of about one hundred metres, closing off a big and beautiful bay with crystalline waters.
The inland part of the island offers today a uniform landscape made up of whitish and arid rock expanses, where only a few herbaceous species and shrubs take root, having adapted to the difficult environmental conditions.
It is not by chance that the word “today” was used above: Lampedusa, colonised starting fron 1843 in order to check expansion of the British Empire in the Mediterranean, until that time had remained pratically uninhabited, though sporadically frequented by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. This favoured the preservation of an absolutely intact natural envionment, one which, as we shall see, was very different from, and much more luxurious tha, that which we now see. The numerous detailed reports on the archipelago sent by the commanders of the various expeditions ordered by the Bourbon administration are enlightening from this point of view. In 1791, Lampedusa, inhabited by just a few farmers, was defined as follows: “fat and fertile and abounding in water springs...there is plenty of game, rabbits, torotoises, wild goats and deer. Moreover, it is alla covered with plants and trees among which there are a grat amount of carobs, figs, wild lives, broom plants, letisks, dates”. In 1828 the inhabitants numbered 26. A lot of precious information has also come down to us from the reports that, startung from 1843, the year in which colonisation of the islands of Lampedusa began, the governor Bernardo Sanvisente was to sed regularly to the higher authorities in Palermo. With a wholly Bourbon diligence, he went so far as to indicate the exact number of wild olive trees present on Lampedusa (5118). While, as regards fauna, he writes: there is a big quantity of rabbits, big beetles, cranes call in here, and the seals commonly referred to as marine calves rest in the grottoes situated towards the western part.
Though the goal was balanced exploitation of the agricultural resources, a lot of attention was paid to the natural environment of Lampedusa, especially on the part of the governor. He was worried about the excess in grazing in the woods, which he strictly regulated; and also about correct use of water; efficent distribution of high trees; and above all, about planning of the activities of charcoal burners on the island. This was the case until 1852, the year in which Sanvisente rebelling against 52 new consessions to charcoal burners on the island, and thus disobeying the Palermo authorities and interfering with major economic interest, marked his own destiny and, in some respects, that of the island too. In January 1854, placed under investigation, Sanvisente was forced to leave Lampedusa for good: there thus began the inexorable devastation of the woods and the consequent impoverishment of the bio-physical characteristics of the island.
Despite this, as mentioned, it still preserves several elemnts of major interest, so much so that it was deemed necessary to set up a special nature reserve along a large stretch of the southern coast of the island where there are the most characteristic expressions of the flora and the present-day vegetation.
Among the most interesting species there are Fior di tigre, a small Stapelia, the only European cactus-type plant, which grows in cracks in the rocks, and a herbaceous plant with yellow-purple capitula, Grattalinga Marocchina, in extremely localised colonies: these are two endemic plants, showing affinity with species of the African continent, which have evolved in almost desert-like tropical environments. There are also numerous herbaceous plants of a steppe type, like Asphodel, Maritime Scylla, endemic limonio and some shrubs or liana-like plants typical of Meditarranean scrub, like arborescent euphorbia, Sicilian tea, wall-germander, clematis, thyme, myrtle, Monpelier cyst, strawberry tree. Of particular interest is the “rabbits rock” and the beach next to it: the Lampedusa reserveonce limited to this area-exists because it is necessary to safeward there the conditions required for reproduction by the sea turtles Caretta caretta and get deeper knowledge of oviposition in the archipelago, one of the last Italian sites where this still occurs.
Regarding fauna, of great interest is the presence on Lampedusa of migratory birds, some of which nest there, like the Queen’s Falcon, which comes from Madagascar, and the Royal Gull; that of a small lizard, the Algerian Psammodromus (only on the “rabbits’ rock”); of a big endemic locust-the Panfago di Ortolani-the favourite prey of the Queen’s Falcon; of two harmless snakes, in small population.
Lampedusa, a long bare plateau with shape elongated in the east-west direction, seeming to float in a limitless azure expanse, with high and steep cliffs, is prevalently of a calcareous nature. It is as if the sea, which is light blue or suddenly an intense blue, wanted to get it back, and erodes a metre of it a year. And the gigantic, extraordinary grottoes, which are majestically disturbing, bear witness to it. To appreciate the beauty of the coastal perimeter (26 Km) you can go round in a motorboat, of course with a calm sea, in four hours. It is unique experience. To anyone who sees it four the first time, this island looks unreal and arid. One could not imagine that at one time Lampedusa was a very fertile land, full of springs and streams. When the settlers arrived, in the last century, intense tree felling began in order to create agricultural areas. Then, when a colony of deported people was set up there to create a preserve industry, in just fifty years people succeeded in burning almost the whole forest in the wood-run boliers. Today the problem of getting drinking water still exists. After going round thae compact cliffs (100 metres high) of the monte Albero del Sole (133 metres), the highest place on Lampedusa, and then round Punta Parise, about 100 metres before going round Cape ponente, wich you appears like the prow of big raft, one is struck by an enormous semicircular grotto which at the bottom ends in a diffcult narrow pass, right on the water, which you can only swim to; there materialises a fantastic and sudden little beach with delicate sand. The tormented nature of the variegated rocks unleashes the fantasy of the beholder, who can play around imagining its sculptures. In a bend, the rocks remind one of the statue group of a Madonna with child. Gigantic human skulls, a neptune with moustache, almost a Don Quixote, look severely at the clear sea on the orizon. Other stone monsters accompany you and suddenly loom up as you go round the island.
But then there is the extraordianry Isola dei Conigli (Island of Rabbits), high, flat, with steep walls. There is a beach with very fine sand which is protected by Wwf and Legambiente. In June, announcing the summer, caretta caretta turtles come here to lay their eggs, at night. When the young ones hatched make their first clumsy dashes towards the sea, in October, the summer will be over. You go on towards Punta Galera, followed by Cala greca, and from the deep bay of Cala Madonna and from Cala Corce you get to Punta Guitgia. Opposite there is the Punta Maccaferi lighthouse. Between the two spits there is the little harbour and the Citadel, in the big inlet with Punta Favaloro, Cala Salina and the White Horse promontory with its jagged rocky coasts gently sloping down. In May and June you have to be very careful about the sudden “marrobbio”, which with its violent currents makes it impossible to moor boats.
The boat trip round the island continues via Cala Spugna and Cala Francese, where it is natural to have a refreshing swim in the emerald water of a deep bay. In the background you can see a welcoming beach where you notice a little house and two palm trees. Between the two bays there is Grottacce, with numerous deep grottes. Afterwards, between the low spit of Punta Sottile and Punta Parrino there are two other little inlets, and then you com, in order, to the fascinating but very busy cala Pisana, Cala Creta and Cala Calandra, with tormented rocks that seem to guard them. A variety of Mediterranean fish swim in this big aquarium, indifferent to the noises of motorboats, fishermen’s boat, rubeer dinghies and the like. Scuba divers sometimes find themselves swimming amid dolphins and mantas. In february and march there also sperm whales in these waters. On the old marina, where fishermen’s boats are moored, there is the so-called citadel, with low houses tight set aganist one another, small shops, a smell of brine, in the sunny and unsheltered streets an odour of petrol and fish moxed with that of seaweed. There is nothing to make you think of a past hisoty. In the little squares there are two monuments by modern artists: one in bornze by Arnaldo Pomodoro dedicated to those who fell in all wars, the other one in marble, a homapage to the firshman by Andrea Cascella. They appear like presences that have come to this island like tourists who fail to integrate.
About two kilometres from the citadel, immersed in greenery, there is the little old sanctuary of the Madonna di Porto Salvo. To the side of it there are some communicating grottoes that you can visit, they were used by fleeing slaves, shipwrecked people and settlers too.
The tradition has it that starting from the time of the crusades people venerated an image of the Madonna in a grotto at the start of the Vallone Maria. There are a great many stories and legends about the statue of the Madonna, in painted heavy stone (about 150 kilograms), roughly made, but taken with grat devotion and faith as the protector of lampedusa, every september it is carried in a procession which involves a lot of people on the island.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Palermo and Trapani, aeroplane for Lampedusa.
From Porto Empedocle, ferry (and hydrofoils in june, july, august and september) for Lampedusa and Linosa.
In june, july, august and september, direct connections with Lampedusa airport, also from Rome and Milan.
Lampedusa and Linosa are regulary connencted in june, july, august and september by hydrofoils.
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