LA TORRE DEI BORBONI – ITS HISTORY
(Author: Alessandro Romano)
The Ancient Romans built a so-called “Castrum” over the present site, which together with the “Castrum” of the tower above the village of Santa Maria, was aimed at protecting the population.
However, all the island’s defense s eventually collapsed under the invasion of the pirates Saracenes in the year 813, and the fortress was completely destroyed.
After having been abandoned to pirates’ incursions for more than 100 years, in 929 the island is finally occupied by the Duke of Gaeta, who partially re-builds the ancient Tower and constitutes a small village. In 1191 the Emperor Enrico occupies the island and takes possession of the Tower, but because of the pressure from the Bishop of Gaeta who claims title to it, he finally abandons the island.
In 1435, King Alfonso 1 of Aragon, occupies the island with massive military forces and he elects the Tower of Ponza as the place from were the assault of Gaeta should be directed. The Genoa army, lead by Commandant Biagio Assareto, rushes to support the besieged and, on August, 1, 1439, the Genoa army occupies the island and the Tower. In 1454, King Alfonso 1 takes possession of the Tower, and while trying to fortify it, the Pope sends an ambassador in order to notify the King that he should immediately release the occupied territories, since these are deemed to fall under the Church’s authority. King Alfonso 1, as the only reply, expels the Pope’s ambassador, and escorts him up to the Roman coast. While trying to find a diplomatic solution for the issue of the Tower of Ponza’s ownership, the island undergoes new pirate incursions, which imply severe damage to the village and the Tower itself.
After having settled all the disputes with King Alfonso1, in 1477, Pope Paolo II designates the Ponziane islands as a County and in 1478, he grants them in perpetual use, together with the Tower of Ponza, to the Duke Ariano Alberico Carafa, and appoints Perrucci Conte di Policastro and Ariamone Conte di Borrelli as his advisors. Next year, the Tower is again fortified and the village is rebuilt.
In 1485, the Gaeta’s army besieges the Tower of Ponza, and after a short combat, it takes it. However, Carafa obtains from King Carlo III the right to repossess the Tower; in 1524 the Viceroy of Naples, based on the Pope’s orders, attributes the ownership of the Tower to the Pontifical State.
In 1532, the famous pirate Barbarossa, proceeding from Turkey, after having occupied the Tower, lies waste the island of Ponza.
In 1542 the Tower and the island are granted to the Duke of Castro Pier Luigi Farnese, but because of the lack of a proper garrison, the island is frequently assaulted in 1543 by the Algerian corsairs, who eventually invade it and massacre the soldiers of the Tower, as well as the rest of the entire population.
On June, 1, 1543 the so-called “Commendatario” of Gaeta is officially installed in the Tower of Ponza, under the supervision of the Viceroy of Naples and the Pope, “in order to prevent the pirates’ calamity”, and considering that during the 1543 incursion, the pirates had almost reached Rome. The Tower of Ponza is again fortified in order to prevent the invasion of the island; the island of Ponza however remains inhabited, because of the population’s fear of new assaults by the pirates. From then on, everything on the island is strictly controlled from the Tower.
After the extinction of the Farnese family, all their assets, including the island of Ponza, are inherited by the family of the Borbone of Naples. In 1734, Carlo III of Borbone declares that the island of Ponza shall be colonized, and that a proper defense system shall be constructed. The Tower of Ponza is enlarged, reinforced and elevated; an enormous tank for rain water is also built. The island is provided with long-range cannons, as well as a “signal tree made of glasses and flags”. In practice, all the defense system seems to be strategically new: the main Tower, more than being a classical turtle’s shield outside the body, is located at the center of the eight defensive points. Once again, the “panottico” theory was actually used by the Borbonic military genius. The Tower represents the central point for communication from peripheral stations, as well as the starting point for defense orders. From the Tower, all the main defense points of the island could be seen. This represented a rather complicated system, which however also turned out very practical and effective, and which helped preventing any further attempts of aggression by the pirates.
In 1848, Carlo Pisacane, after having kidnapped some officers of the Port, enters the Tower; he is however rather disappointed in discovering the absence of weapons and of any classical defense system: the only things that he finds are communication and optical equipment. The Tower was, once again, hiding its actual defense function, and orders could be easily sent out to the coast, notwithstanding the presence of the occupants.
Once the famous story of Pisacane was over, the Borbonic Government, in order to avoid any similar tragedy to the little community of the island, decided to install a telegraph in the Tower of Ponza, whose cable of more than 30 miles was linked to the fortress of Gaeta: an absolute record for that time!
After the Italian Unity, the Tower was completely abandoned, as well as all the other coastal military buildings. At the beginning of the 20th Century, it became the seat of the municipality, and it was therefore enlarged in order to create extra rooms. After WW1, the municipality was transferred again and the Tower became a school, but only for a few years and after which it was again abandoned, and because, of a total lack of maintenance, it was almost destroyed.
The Tower was purchased by present owners in 1950, to be intended for cultural and tourist use. It is now the Torre dei Borboni Hotel in Ponza
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