Isola Ferdinandea

L'Isola  - (by A. Grifasi) 26/6/02

Sicily was called « the island of fire » because of the Etna volcano presence, but it would be much better to call it « island of the fire in a sea of fire » if we consider that almost all the small islands crowning the main isle have a volcanic origin. 
The volcanic phenomenons in the sea that surround Sicily are known since ancient times. Aristotele, into his book of the Meteors, writes that the island of Volcano, in the Eolie, sprouted from the sea between the din of volcanic explosions; the Stromboli appeared little before the age of Plinio, the Roman historians remember submarine eruptions in the channel of Sicily. Here in this part of the Mediterraneo sea, the eruptions are more frequent than elsewhere and are particularly remarkable between the sea near Granitola and White Head, in correspondence of those slums called benches or shoals, any they are covered of coral: the famous benches of Sciacca. From the eruption happened on one of these benches in immemorial epoch, it bores the island of Pantelleria, perfect example of volcanic island that culminates in the Big Mountain, leftover of a volcanic crater edged from other 24 said craters « cuddìe ».
Precisely between Pantelleria and Sciacca, in 1831, a volcanic Island sprouted, since its birth until its disappearance under the sea it was examined and studied by the most illustrious scientists of that epoch.
In June 28 1831 some shakes of earthquake started to warn Sciacca (and also Palermo). They lasted until the 10th of July and caused lesions in many houses of that area. The sea, where the new island must then rise, was violently shaken, like Captain Pulteney Malcon affirmed, as he was there with his ship. On July the 4th an odor of sulphur deriving from hydrogen of the sea was smelt, in such quantity that it blackened objects made with silver. July 13, it was seen clearly from the main sqaure of S. Domenico near Sciacca a column of smoke, from the distance of about 30 miles, could be seen from the place called "secca di mare". Some thought about the curse of a steamboat passing nearby; then, due to the persistence of smoke, the idea of a steamboat in flames started. In the same day Captain Francesco Trafiletti Commander of the brig Gustavo, coming from Malta, reported that 30 miles from San Marco he noticed a bubbling from the sea that he believed could be the effect of the shaking and of the struggle of a big cetacean. The column of smoke, the bubbling of the waters and the booming were noticed since 13 until 15 of the same day also by Mario Provenzano, commander of the Bombardiera Madonna delle Grazie
Two days after the captain Corrao of Sciacca and his sailors returning from fishing, noticed a great quantity of fishes afloating, some corpses, other senseless and a column of smoke of around 15 meters tall going up impetuously from the sea, along with strong grumbling and gurgle of the surrounding waters. After a couple of days started the eruption of lapilli,pumices,tufi and of fiery cinders that, falling red-hot into the sea, they determined a foamy screeching of it and they pushed up to the beach of Sciacca.  July 17 a fully grown islet growing quickly in size was there. The sanitary Deputation of Sciacca sent a fishing boat on the place commanded by Michele Fiorini, who put an oar on the ground of the dawning volcano, as the first discoverer, and he took the first news about the new island to Sciacca.
This Isle rose at 37°, 11' of latitude north and 12°, 44' of eastern longitude from Greenwich, in a 180 meters deep sea zone, on the « secca di mare » point; later named bench Graham. The news abiut the birth of a new island quickly spread; from Palermo the Etna Corvet, commanded by the captain Raffaele Cacàce; from Marsala an English brig with also many curious was sent. The eruptive phenomenons were intense from the 18 to the 24 July, they then stopped and later extinguished on the first days of August. The days the island reached his maximum development: 4800 meters of circumference and 63 meters of maximum height. It presented itself with a circular form and was irregoulary tall; in fact on the Northeastern side reached the maximum height, on the Southern side was tall just 8.50 metres and even less on its the West side. In the middle it was a plain; in the North side there was the sea and there opened the crater with a 184 metres circumference, where there opened two eruptive mouths, this was the place from which,intermittently, the volcanic material erupted. The eruption lasted from half an hour to an hour and then come back after few minutes, determining a layer deposition of the erupted materials. As the eruption stopped, the two mouths of the crater soon got filled with water coming from north and that changed'em in two little ponds where water sent vapor up to the height of one meter. One of the two little ponds had a circumference of twenty meters and a depth of two; the water presented a reddish color and had salty spicy taste; the other little pond was smaller and the water had a yellow color and sulfuric taste. The analysis of the waters showed that there was water with iron salts and sulphur hydrogen. 
The exceptional geologic phenomenon  was observed and studied from numerous scientists;  between them there were Hoffinann Germans, Schultz and Philippi, the English Davy and Smyth, the Jonville and the French Prévost. Between; between the Italians there were: Domenico Scinà (1765-1837) that published his observations in the« Effeméridi Sicilians» (1832- Vol. 2°) and Carlo Gemmellaro (1787-1866) teacher of geology and mineralogy at Catania University, he also published a clear and precise relations into his « Actions of the Gioenia Academy of Catania » (1831- Vol. 8°). Many were the curious who approached to Sciacca to go on the new island and some between them left descriptions in newspapers and magazines of the epoch, especially the foreigners between which, particularly the English ones. Two of them, despite the heat emanated by the eruptive materials, into which people sink up to the ankle, had breakfasy with the classical British coolnes!
The English had a particular predilection for the new island lying on the route to Malta. The Malta Gazzette of the day 10 August 1831 reported that Captain Sanhouse, commander of the Hind Cutter, on August the 2nd disembarked on the island and there he planted the English flag; another English (of which the name was forgot) on August the 7th departed from Sciacca with the ship of Domenico Cusumano, carrying an English flag that would have planted in the island, but with the fury of the volcano, he thought that staying at a mile of distance was more prudent. They gave the island seven names: Sciacca, Nertita, Corrao, Hotham, Julia, Graham, Ferdinandea.
The Real Society and the Society of geology of London adopted the name of Graham, an English political man who participated to the circumstances of the Sicilian constitution of 1812 and was then a minister when the letters of Mazzini were opened, later communicated to the Borboni's government, they caused the execution of the Bandiera brothers and of their fellows. On August 17 1831 Ferdinando II of Borbone, reigning on Naples and Sicily, with a sovereign action included the island into his own kingdom and he gave it the name of Ferdinandea, proposed by the Gemmellaro. On September 29 the French Derussat, that was with the scientific team of Professor Prévost, hoisted the French flag on the taller part of the island and gave the name of Julia remembering her apparition in the month of July.  Meanwhile the new island, flagellated from the waves, decreased  visited by Prévost his perimeter it had reduced to 700 meters. Toward the end of October the island emerged of about a meter from the sea level and its the crater was almost unrecognizable. On December the 8th, the captain Vincenzo Allotta, commander of the brig Achille,  instead of the island found just a small column of hot water« with stink of bitumen». December 17 two officers of the topographical Office from Naples, went on the place, found that all the island was covered by the sea. In the month of January of the following year (1832) the vices-admiral  Hugon and the Captain Swinburne found only a "bassofondo".
Toward the end of the year 1835, instead of the island a small underwater wide mountain for around 1100 meters existed and its top was about three meters from the surface of the sea, constituting a danger for navigation. August 12 1863 the crater was reopened and in few days a new islet was formed  that was quickly destroyed by the sea waves.
  According to the last reliefs by the Idrografico Institute of the Military Harbor (1925) there were: in the Oriental part of the Graham bench, a volcanic cone, whose base has the form of a circle of about 500 meters of diameter, at the height of around 25 meters under the sea level and the summit climbs 'till eight meters under the level of the sea.

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Almanacco Siciliano - Grifasi - (immagine riservata)
Get your hands off my things.
Livativi i manu ra me ruobba.
Italian Version
Angelo Grifasi did the translation

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