Ustica Archaeological Itineraries
Ustica Archaeological Itineraries, boasts a great millenary history that can be traced back to the Bronze Age. To retrace the traces of its fascinating past, we advise you not to miss a visit to its numerous archaeological sites scattered throughout the territory, relying on local expert guides who will make you discover the importance of this small island in the Tyrrhenian over the centuries.
Ustica was inhabited since the Neolithic age, as evidenced by the few fragments of engraved and engraved decoration or monochrome red surface (Diana’s style), found in recent years in a small area of the Spalmatore locality. For the following eras, however, the attestations become more extensive and significant: in fact, the fragments of ollette, glasses and impasto bowls decorated with incisions, found inside the Blue cave, date back to the Eneolithic Age (IV-III millennium BC). Even in the nearby San Francesco cave, which can be reached both from the sea and from the land and also characterized by the presence of the basins for the collection of dripping water, a few fragments of Middle Eneolithic pottery have been found. Furthermore, a Middle Eneolithic village seems to have arisen in the south-eastern part of the island, in the Piano dei Cardoni area, as evidenced by a few fragments of pottery; the town probably lived continuously up to the Middle Bronze Age and, subsequently, experienced a revival of life in the late Roman period.
During the Ancient Bronze Age, however, the summit of the Culunnedda was occupied, a sort of terrace from which you can enjoy a 360 ° view: the huts were perhaps scattered on the plateau, only hinted at by the presence on the ground of fragments of dough . The occupation of the island turned out to be particularly intense in the Middle Bronze Age, between the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC, a period in which Ustica probably had to find itself inserted in the lively Tyrrhenian trade routes that affected, at that time, the northern coast of the Sicily and the Aeolian Islands. Consistent traces of settlements, documented through the superficial dispersion of the typical impasto ceramic, can be found in the north-eastern area and, in particular, in the locality of Dead Man Point and Old Houses, but also in the south-western part of the island. in the area of the Spalmatore Village.
For that period, however, the most significant evidence is certainly that of Contrada Tramontana where, right on a high cusp overlooking the sea, stands the Faraglioni village, so called from the stack of Colombaro which stands out, solitary, right in front of the archaeological structures. The sudden end and the sudden abandonment of the village of huts in the Tramontana district marked, for Ustica a period of long abandonment until the third century BC, in fact, the reoccupation of the site dates back to that time, perhaps in conjunction with the events of the first Punic war: a substantial settlement was founded on the Falconiera fortress. Other rural settlements of the late Roman and Byzantine age are documented, through the ceramic scattered on the surface, in the plain of Tramontana, upstream of the Gorgo Salato and at Madonna pass, and, above all, in Contrada Spalmatore, in the western part of the island, where they are The remains of a modest necropolis consisting of about thirty pit tombs associated with pottery fragments from the 5th-6th century BC have also been traced The southern side of the island is also affected by the presence of farms and small cores of tombs, witnessed both in Contrada Oliastrello and in the locality of Windmillas well as a modest necropolis of pit tombs and a burial chamber with a hypogeic chamber develop in Contrada S .Maria, just upstream of the current inhabited center.
The Prehistoric Village of the Faraglioni
The fortified village of the Faraglioni of the Middle Bronze Age (1400-1200 BC), discovered by Giovanni Mannino in 1970, is located on the northern edge of the Tramontana coast, in front of the Colombara stack.
It covers 7000 square meters. but it must have been even wider since traces of huts were found on the stack. The subsidence of part of the coast is the probable reason for the sudden abandonment of its inhabitants, which justifies the richness of the finds found there and which make it one of the most significant monuments in the Mediterranean for the Middle Bronze Age. Inaccessible from the sea due to the high cliff on the inside, it was defended by a high wall. Excavations conducted between 1974 and 2008 have brought to light numerous circular or square shaped huts, some with an equipped open atrium and warehouse, built along a preordained road system.
The copious material returned from the excavations is exhibited in its most significant specimens in two pavilions of the Municipal Archaeological Museum named after “Father Carmelo Seminara from Ganci“, Franciscan friar on the island for more than fifty years, and active precursor of archaeological discoveries in Ustica together with the Palermo archaeologist Giovanni Mannino. The prehistoric village can be reached by two roads, arrived at the crossroads after the Municipality, you can take the perimeter road to Tramontana, and when you reach the middle of this long straight you will find a stone road that will take you directly to the site. Or the road to the cemetery and arriving at the Faraglioni you will find the entrance to the village.
Archaeological Path of the Falconiera
The archaeological route of the Falconiera, which includes, in addition to the Fortress, also the Necropolis and the Rivellino fort, can be easily reached from the town. To the right of the church there is Calvario street, at the bottom left the path to the fortress starts. Or, leaving the town, immediately after the town, at the crossroads, take the road to the right and after fifty meters you will find the stone road that leads to the village of Falconiera.
The Falconiera fortress
Dominating the Santa Maria cove, the natural landing place of the island, the Falconiera promontory, the remnant of an original volcanic cone, rises to m. 157 above sea level, with precipitous walls on the eastern side, and milder slopes on the northern side – used for traditional crops – southern and western, partially reforested. The top part, on which the inhabited area of the Hellenistic period settled, has undergone strong washout phenomena that have led to the emergence of the typical tuff rock that characterizes the relief.
The esplanade visible today and the terraced arrangement are due to human intervention and were necessary both for the construction of the ancient town and for the cultivation of the steep lands. The need to build a settlement precisely in that position, so perched and so exposed to winds and bad weather, had to arise from serious defense needs and from the possibility of controlling the most important natural landing place, the Santa Maria cove, still today the main port of the Island. The town was built on three artificial terraces, the houses partly carved out of the natural rock bank; of the rooms the simple traces in the rock and some strips of floor in cocciopesto or mosaic of white tiles are visible today, and stairs carved into the rock that connected the various levels of houses. Numerous cisterns dug into the rock and lined with cocciopesto ensured the possibility of water supply.
The emptying of some of them allowed the recovery of a very significant quantity of archaeological material, even of excellent quality. Among the most significant finds, for the most part dating back to the third century BC. and the 1st century AD, there are numerous fragments of wall plaster characterized by a lively polychrome and stucco frames, abundant tableware and transport, amphorae, ointments, fragments of earthenware or white tessellated floors, bronze jewelry and coins. The construction of the fortification works of the Bourbon period, recently restored and hosting the Volcanological Museum, and originally built with ashlars extracted from the ancient buildings, irreversibly damaged a large part of the inhabited center, of which the north area has been preserved in better conditions. The Falconiera fortress is one of the most panoramic points of the island of Ustica, from where it is possible to admire the port, the village and a large part of the island, as well as magnificent sunsets. A place that offers truly unique suggestions.
Connected to the Hellenistic-Roman settlement is the necropolis identified on the western side of the Falconiera: the discovery of a tomb on the occasion of the construction of a water reservoir near Calvary, at the end of the nineteenth century, of which memory is preserved in the archival documents, as well as the accidental discovery of a burial in Contrada Petriera, on the slopes of the Falconiera, suggested the opportunity, in 1980, to carry out archaeological investigations in the area suspected by the findings. Numerous burials were brought to light, some of which were violated in ancient times, of a very rare type among the contemporary Sicilian necropolises.
These are pit tombs dug into the rock and characterized by a sort of step that led to another and deeper pit, parallel to the first and caved in with respect to it, closed, the latter, by a slab, within which the buried. The presence of amphorae with bone remains, lying near the heads of some buried, documents a reuse of burials over the centuries, attested among other things by the grave goods that can be placed between the third century BC. and the I-II century A.D. The intense frequentation of the island in the late Roman and Byzantine age is documented not only by the series of villages scattered throughout the island, but also by a large and dense necropolis located on the south-western side of the Falconiera, partially destroyed both for natural causes and for the action of man who, in the past, quarried the soft tufaceous rock to transform it into sand to be used for building activity.
These are simple pits carved into the rock, varying in size and accuracy of the cut, within which, in the mid-eighteenth century, materials referable to the late imperial age were collected by Pigonati. The necropolis also included some hypogean tombs, concentrated on the southern side of the slope, these are almost square or irregularly elliptical rooms, carved into the rock. The depositions were contained in pits dug into the floor or in niches created in the walls or in sarcophagi placed inside arcosoli.
Going up the ridge, just before the Falconiera fortress, we find the Rivellino di San Giuseppe fort, built by the Bourbons as an outpost of the Falconiera fortress in 1804. It was inhabited by Commander Di Bartolo, then by the Germans in the last war and, after a period of neglect, it was restored. Consisting of two small buildings and a terrace that runs around the central building, with a silent wall all around. Located in a strategic and privileged position from which to enjoy a splendid panoramic view of the Tramontana, Giacone cove and the suburban park, with fantastic sunsets and endless sea.
Ustica Archaeological Museum
In the large rooms of Largo Gran Guardia called “U Fossu” of Ustica there is a small but significant exhibition of the archaeological finds found on the island. The exhibition includes the finds from the prehistoric village of the Faraglioni, dating back to the Middle Bronze Age, with a significant sampling of the abundant pottery that constituted the movable furniture of the huts brought to light and mostly related to domestic activities and life daily that took place in the village for about two centuries (1400-1200 BC),
Among the most characteristic products we remember the four-part clay plates of various sizes, and the so-called “alari“, a particular type of vase to which a votive function or practical use has been alternatively attributed, always in relation to the preparation and cooking of food.
The large flat bottom pans with low vertical edges, convex bottom jars or simple pots of coarse and refractory dough, complete the kitchen “service”, while more varied is the repertoire of pots used for consumption of meals: the most characteristic and widespread in the Faraglioni village is the bowl on a high trumpet foot. And then again the bowls, the cups, the bowls, the drawing-boards, the mugs, jars and jars, mortars, pestles and grinders, numerous spindles for the practice of spinning and weaving and weights from nets, metal washers for accounting, and casting molds for metalworking.
Other finds, on the other hand, refer to the most recent periods of life documented on the island and attested both through submarine recoveries and thanks to archaeological investigations conducted on the Falconiera promontory. From the cargo of shipwrecked ships come amphorae and canteen services consisting of bowls, paterae and achromatic or black-painted plates. Then there are the lead anchor blocks or other elements connected to the anchoring system as well as some stone millstones used on boats for milling cereals or as ballast.
Finally, the finds from the Hellenistic-Roman period coming from the Falconiera and recovered, for the most part, inside the deep and numerous cisterns found on its crest are significant: they are, above all, table and kitchen pottery, amphorae and oil lamps . In addition, fragments of mosaic floors, stucco frames or wall plasters, of which a small selection is exhibited, which finally document a certain wealth and a high standard of living in the inhabited center of the Hellenistic period, testifying to commercial circuits. especially between Africa and central Italy.
The necropolis of Culunnedda is located in the middle part of the East-North-East ridge of the homonymous lace (m.238), which from the summit descends to the Don Bartolo Pass (m.159) and further down to the Petriera, the development area of the town of Ustica. It can be reached by going up the comfortable stairway road that winds, first through the woods and then, just after the last bend, south of the pine forest.
Having taken the straight stairway, after a hundred meters, you leave the little road and continue for the same number of meters to the left along the same line through fields where the rock emerges in yellowish banks (lapilli and ash) and branches of mastic and broom grow. A series of low walls, for the most part in ruins, testify that those fields were once cultivated; elderly farmers remember that this happened until the early 1960s. Four tombs have been identified: three are leaning against each other; the fourth is located about fifty meters on the left of those climbing the slope. The latter was easily identified because a slab of golden tuff emerged from the ground, extraneous to the site and fixed vertically. There is no shortage of fairly consistent clues to be able to think of a greater development of the necropolis area: immediately to the north of the triad of burials, particularly luxuriant vegetation can be observed, certainly because the roots, of mastic and broom, sink into the humus, collected in the vacuous of other cells. A little above the fourth tomb, at the height of a step of the slope, about fifty meters on the left, you can see an cave or rather a crack, almost a couple of meters wide and about twenty centimeters high, which suggests the vault of a partially collapsed cell. On the left of the three tombs, after a hundred meters and more on about twenty meters, at the foot of a terracing wall a couple of meters high, another crack is observed; slightly wider than the one described above but not wide enough to be able to penetrate, probably an old quarry of crushed stone and sand.
The name Culunnedda, which has remained in the memory of the elders, derives from the presence of a geodesic column of which no trace remains. The top of the relief is leveled, certainly artificially, and bounded all around by large boulders; a rather rectilinear alignment with a North West-South East course is very evident. They are works that find no justification from the aspect of agricultural exploitation of the area and are instead explained when one thinks of defense works or rather the remains of a fortification of the area. high ground to perch a small settlement.
Ustica Underwater Archeology
The history of Ustica is naturally and inextricably linked to the sea, it is therefore logical that the island has found itself in a non-secondary position with respect to the trade routes of the Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian Sea which were characterized above all by the intense relationships between the northern coast of ‘Africa and the Tyrrhenian coast of the peninsula. The result is a particular richness of the depths of Ustica which hide a remarkable series of wrecks, especially in the areas of easier and easier docking, namely those of Santa Maria cove and its immediate vicinity.
The tendency to preserve in situ the most significant evidence of the passage of people and goods found an exemplary and early example in 1990 with the creation of an underwater archaeological itinerary in the Cavazzi point area, where a special route was created, adequately marked and explained through didactic panels, next to the objects left in their original position: these are anchor stocks and ceramic materials referable to different eras which underline, in their typological and chronological heterogeneity, the richness and interest of the Usticese backdrops.
The Roman ship discovered by chance in June 2019 will become an underwater museum in Ustica when a heap of amphorae was found 70 meters deep from the coast and, not far away, the wreck of a ship. Two hundred meters from the coast, at a depth of 80 meters, the experts of the superintendency – now led by Valeria Livigni wife of Sebastiano Tusa, have started the documentation and 3D survey of the deep wreck of Ustica. The wreck was identified on the occasion of the positioning, in the itinerary of the Falconiera, of the Heart of Sebastiano, a work created by the sculptor Rizzo, to remember the passion that Sebastiano Tusa has always dedicated to his sea. On that occasion, the deep-sea deep-sea scientist Riccardo Cingillo, on a reconnaissance with a bathyscaphe, identified the wreck and today he is the one who leads the Sicilian deep-sea experts in the campaign of instrumental and visual investigations, launched after the preliminary analysis of the video material.
In the summer of 2021, in collaboration with numerous international experts, the 360-degree video-photographic documentation was created, the 3D reliefs of the wreck were carried out and underwater hydrophones were installed in collaboration with the Cnr chef Granitola: all operations were coordinated. by the Superintendent of the Sea and the underwater nucleus of the Superintendency of the Sea, documenting the first intact Roman wreck found in Ustica at 80 meters and which will be museumized in situ. Amphorae have been recovered to attribute a certain dating to the wreck of the Roman ship. The collaboration of the Marenostrum diving center and the Municipality of Ustica, which provided the utmost hospitality and logistical support, was precious.
Ustica Volcanological Museum
In the evocative location of Falconiera fortress, the Earth Science Museum Laboratory was born, on the initiative of the Ustica Island Study and Documentation Center, and was established thanks to a memorandum of understanding between the Municipality of Ustica and the INGV. It is a cultural and scientific institution very active in the fields of dissemination of Earth Sciences, teaching and research, operational since 2015. Thanks to Franco Foresta Martin was born “Ustica before Man“, a project developed with the goal of transferring to students the awareness of the naturalistic value of their island.
The students of the inclusive school of Ustica have reconstructed, through about twenty posters, the birth and evolution of the island from about a million years ago, when it began to be built as an underwater volcanic mountain on the bottom of the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea. The panels were subsequently reproduced “in fair copy” by the INGV Graphics and Images Laboratory which donated them to the Museum, where they are in permanent display. Also present in the exhibition are numerous volcanites, various volcanic products formed under water and a malacofauna typical of the equatorial seas. The exhibition continues with a holographic pyramid inside which three-dimensional images of different eruptions are composed. It is then possible to observe a 1:10 scale model of the first underwater abyssal laboratory, the Geostar, built by INGV about twenty years ago in collaboration with other bodies and institutions and dropped off Ustica.
The Laboratory Museum was born with the aim of being a point of reference not only for ordinary visitors and the numerous students who arrive every year, on a school trip from all over Italy, but also for undergraduates and scholars who go to Ustica in order to develop their research. Ustica is an extinct volcano, extinct for more than one hundred thousand years and offers, like all volcanic islands, an extraordinary wealth of structures such as lava cushions, relics of ancient craters, dikes, directly observable in conditions of total safety. This institution also intends to promote new research in the field of Earth Sciences, attracting geologists and volcanologists from all over Italy, with the aim of enhancing the often exclusive aspects of the island.
Ustica Ancient Sentry boxes
The island of Ustica in 1800 defended itself from Barbary pirates through a coastal defensive system consisting of two watchtowers, Santa Maria to the east and Spalmatore to the west, each with two tanks inside and three 12-piece artillery pieces, a fort in the cove , with two pieces of 18, a fort on the top of the Falconiera, with four cannons, two of 12 and two of 6, at a short distance the Rivellino di San Giuseppe with two cannons, and 11 sentry boxes arranged throughout the circumnavigation of the island, distant from each other as easily as the voice can be heard, in case suspicious woods are seen.
Ustica Bourbon Towers
The Bourbon Towers of Ustica were part of the warning system of the Coastal Towers of Sicily. The Santa Maria Tower was built starting from 1759 on the orders of King Charles III of Bourbon to a design by Andrea Pigonati, who found it necessary to build the Spalmatore tower as well. The military engineer Giuseppe Valenzuola during his reconnaissance to prepare the first topographical map of the island, agreed with this evaluation by recommending a correspondence with the old Falconiera fortress. In 1762 the works had not even started, the newly settled population was kidnapped by the Barbary pirates, then in 1763 by the engineer Sgarbi the tower was built with shapeless stones, but with the cantons in hard lava stone and in the shape of a truncated pyramid . However, Valenzuola was able to control the works and urbanistically planned the new town of Ustica. The interior spaces are articulated by a central corridor from which four rooms of various sizes branch off with a barrel vault, equal to the first floor. In 1885 it was still active as a prison, in 1965 the prison was abandoned, and the tower became the property of the Municipality of Ustica, and in 1994 substantial restorations were carried out. It became the Archaeological Museum first, and the Museum of the Sea later, until a few years ago, today it is waiting for its destination.
Spalmatore tower, located on the western tip of the island, in the locality of the same name, is a Bourbon construction of 1763. Watchtower, twin and contemporary of the Santa Maria tower, restored in 1996, until a few years ago it was the seat of the Protected Marine Area, which housed a study and research center, a library and a congress hall. The Tower offers space for office work, small conventions, meetings, and exhibitions. Activities for informational and didactic purposes, cultural events, meetings with school groups, screenings, and the setting up of shows and exhibitions took place there. Today it is awaiting restoration.
Ustica Island Study and Documentation Center
Centro Studi e documentazione Isola di Ustica. Exhibitions, research, educational projects, literary magazine, books, conferences, guided tours and much more in the name of Ustica. The Ustica Island Study and Documentation Center, established in 1997, is a voluntary association that organizes cultural events focused on the island of Ustica with in-depth knowledge of its naturalistic and cultural heritage. In-depth studies on the history of the island will make you discover pages of extraordinary interest because they are linked to the broader history of Italy. The island, in fact, was for two centuries the seat of confinement and, for this reason, the crossroads of all the social and historical events that have crossed the troubled history of the nation: from the Risorgimento uprisings, to anarchist struggles, to anti-fascism. The premises of the former exSettebello host the exhibitions and activities of the Ustica Island Study and Documentation Center.
The studios are rented with a short tourist lease without the provision of personal services (Article 4 of Legislative Decree 50 \ 2017).