, or Pantalaria
, ancient Cossyra
, is an island in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, 100 km (62 mi) southwest of the south-western extremity of Sicily, and 70 km (43 mi) E. of the African coast, belonging to the Sicilian province of Trapani
. Pop. (1901), 8683.
It is entirely of volcanic origin, and about 117 km² (45 mi²) in area; the highest point, an extinct crater, is 836 m (2743 ft) above sea-level. Hot mineral springs and ebullitions of steam still testify to the presence of volcanic activity. The island is fertile, but lacks fresh water. The principal town (pop. about 3000) is on the north-west, upon the only harbour (only fit for small steamers), which is fortified. There is also a penal colony here. The island can be reached by steamer from Trapani, and lies close to the main route from east to west through the Mediterranean. In 1905 about 300,000 imperial gallons (1,360,000 L) of wine (mostly sweet wine), and 1900 long tons (1930 t) of dried raisins, to the value of £34,720, were exported.
On the west coast, 3 km (2 mi) south-east of the harbour, a neolithic village was situated, with a rampart of small blocks of obsidian, about 25 ft (7.5 m) high, 33 ft (10 m) wide at the base, and 16 ft (5 m) at the top, upon the undefended eastern side: within it remains of huts were found, with pottery, tools of obsidian, etc. The objects discovered are in the museum at Syracuse.
To the south-east, in the district known as the Cunelie, are a large number of tombs, known as sesi
, similar in character to the nuraghi
of Sardinia, though of smaller size, consisting of round or elliptical towers with sepulchral chambers in them, built of rough blocks of lava. Fifty-seven of them can still be traced. The largest is an ellipse of about 60 by 66 ft (18 by 20 m), but most of the sesi have a diameter of only 20 to 25 ft (6 to 7.5 m). The identical character of the pottery found in the sesi with that found in the prehistoric village proves that the former are the tombs of the inhabitants of the latter.
This population came from Africa, not from Sicily, and was of Iberian or Ibero-Ligurian stock. After a considerable interval, during which the island probably remained uninhabited, the Carthaginians
took possession of it (no doubt owing to its importance as a station on the way to Sicily) probably about the beginning of the 7th century BC, occupying as their acropolis the twin hill of San Marco and Sta. Teresa, 2 km (1 mi) south of the town of Pantelleria, where there are considerable remains of walls in rectangular blocks of masonry, and also of a number of cisterns. Punic tombs have also been discovered, and the votive terra-cottas of a small sanctuary of the Punic period were found near the north coast.
The Romans occupied the island as the Fasti Triumphales record in 255 BC, lost it again the next year, and recovered it in 217 BC. Under the Empire it served as a place of banishment for prominent persons and members of the imperial family. The town enjoyed municipal rights. In 700 the Christian population was annihilated by the Arabs, from whom the island was taken in 1123 by Roger of Sicily. In 1311 a Spanish fleet, under the command of Requesens, won a considerable victory here, and his family became princes of Pantelleria until 1553, when the town was sacked by the Turks.
Its capture was regarded as crucial to the Allied success in invading Sicily in 1943 due to the fact that it would allow more planes to be based in range of the larger island. Pantelleria was heavily bombarded in the days before the scheduled invasion by bombers and warships, and in the end the garrison surrendered as the landing troops were approaching. It then indeed played a part as a vital base for Allied aircraft during Operation Husky.
See Orsi, " Pantelleria" (in Monumenti dei Lincei