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The Tower of the Bourbons
on the Ponza Island

by Alessandro Romano
At the current site the ancient Romans placed a 'castrum' that together with the castrum of the tower above the village of Santa Maria constituted the bastions that once protected the village.
The fortification fell and failed under the irrepressible and disastrous invasion of Saracen pirates in 813. The fortress collapsed and was literally flattened. The Island was abbandonded for over 100 years due to the pirate raids, and in 929 the island was occupied by the Duke of Gaeta who finally restored the bastions of the ancient tower to its former glory, which also protected a small village. In 1191 Emperor Enrico occupied the island and settled in the the Ponza Tower but due to the pressure from the Bishop of Gaeta who claimed it was his property, he abandoned the island. In 1435 King Alfonso I of Aragon occupied the island with considerable forces and elected the Tower of Ponza as the place from which to direct the siege of Gaeta. Under the command of Biagio Assareto, the Genoese rushed to the aid of the besieged and on the morning of August 1st, 1439 there was a bloody confrontation that ended in the evening with the victory of the Genoese and their occupation of the Pontine Islands and the Ponza Tower.
In 1454 King Alfonso I along with his large milatary foce, took possession of the Tower of Ponza, and while he was trying to fortify it, the Pope sent an emissary to notify the king that he had to immediatly release the occupied territories and the Ponza Tower since these territories fall under ecclesiastical authority. Alfonso I, in response, expelled the emissary, and escorted him to the Roman coasts. While trying to solve the problem of the ownership of the Tower of Ponza and the Island diplomatically, new pirate raids devastated the Island, causing serious damage to the village and to the Ponza Tower itself. In 1477, the dissent of King Alfonso I, Pope Paul II, elevated the Pontine Islands to a County and in 1478 he gave the islands in everlasting use along with the Ponza Tower and all other relevnat island assets to the Duke Ariano Alberico Carafa and appointed Perrucci Conte of Policastro and Ariamone Conte di Borrelli as his advisers.

The following year began the re-fortification of the tower and the restoration of the village. In 1485, the Gaetani besieged the Ponza Tower and after a brief fight took possession of the garrison. But soon after, Carafa claimed from King Charles VIII have had the right to own the Ponza Tower, and he came back into possession of it and keept it until March 21st, 1524, the date on which the Viceroy of Naples, on the Pope's orders, returned the possession of the county to the Papal State. In 1532, the pirate Barbarossa from Turkey, after having conquered the Ponza Tower, invaded the Pontine islands by lighting them on fire. In 1542, the Ponza Tower and the Pontine Islands were ceded in perpetual lease to the Duke of Castro Pier Luigi Farnese. Because Ponza Island was still deprived of adequate militias, in 1543 the Algerian pirates assaulted it repeatedly until they managed to land and kill the soldiers and all the inhabitants.
On June 1st, 1543 the 'Commendatory' of Gaeta, under the auspices of the Viceroy of Naples and the Pope, officially took possession of the Ponza Tower and restored it, so that the terror of the pirates was removed since during the pirates’ 1543 incursion, they had almost reached the gates of Rome. The Ponza Tower was consolidated, becoming the garrison to protect access to the islands; yet, the territories remained uninhabited due to the fear of the population towards the continuous pirate raids. From that moment on, every landing, every picking of firewood or stones, and every small settlement was strictly controlled by military stations.
With the extinction of the Farnese family, all assets as well as the Pontine Islands were inherited by the Bourbons of Naples. In 1734, Charles III of Bourbon ordered its colonization starting from the construction of a solid and effective defensive system. The Tower of Ponza was extended, strengthened and considerably elevated. Among other things, a huge cistern for the collection of rainwater was produced. Long-range naval guns were installed and an innovative “signal tree made from mirrors and flags" were installed. In practice, the whole defensive system was strategically new and carefully studied in its points. The main tower, rather than appearing as the classic tortoise shell on the outside of the body, was instead, placed at the center of the eight defense points.

Once again, the panoptic theory is practically applied by the Bourbon military genius. The Ponza Tower in the center acted as the point of arrival of communications of the peripheral positions as well as the starting point of the defense orders towards the periphery. In fact, it was possible to see all the points of defense of the island even if they were located on the other side. This complex system was at the same time practical and effective as it virtually fioled any attempt by pirates to assault the island.
In 1857, Carlo Pisacane, after having cleverly taken hostage some service officers at the port by a stratagem, he ordered them to open the doors of the Ponza Tower. However, he was disappointed because there weren’t either armaments or traditional defensive systems, only equipment for sighting and signaling! The Tower had masterfully concealed even after its conquest, the real and important function in the complex defensive system of the island since the assailants underestimated it so much that from it they left undisturbed information and orders to the other locations allowing the military to organize a defensive line on the rest of the island and send informants to Gaeta. The time of Pisacane ended, and fearing new similar tragedies for the small island community, the Royal Bourbon Government had a telegraph installed at the Ponza Tower, whose cable was laid up to the fortress of Gaeta for over 30 miles of sea, which was a real record for that time.
After the Italian Unification, the Ponza Tower fell into a total state of abandonment, and with it the rest of the coastal outposts too. At the beginning of the century it became a municipal seat, therefore, it was restored and partly enlarged for the construction of new rooms. Immediately after the war the town hall was moved again and the Ponza Tower this time was used as a school building, but after a few years it was crumbling again due to lack of maintenance, and was again abandoned to its typical fate. In 1950 it was bought by the current owners who assigned it for tourism and cultural purposes. In 1995, the Ponza Tower (The Tower of the Bourbons) was restored thanks to Maria del Pilar Oliviè’s initiative.

Where we are

Hotel Torre dei Borboni is located in an exclusive position, on a promontory overlooking the sea, just a three minute walk from the port and very close to the most important tourist attractions of the island.