The Italian island of Pantelleria and the Tunisian heritage

The Italian island of Pantelleria and the Tunisian heritage

"I do not know a place on earth comparable to the moon, but the island of Pantelleria is much more beautiful," said Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a world-renowned author.

Pantelleria, whose current name derives from the Arabic word "Bent Eriaah" or "causara", as the Muslims used to call it.

Is a small island of about 83 square kilometers, located in the Sicilian Strait, 70 km from the shores of the Tunisian city of Kelibia and about 100 km from the city of Mazara del Vallo in Sicily.

The island is mediated by the Mediterranean Sea, and its geological appearance has been associated with volcanic interactions in the region, as demonstrated by many scientific studies.

This island is home to an important cultural encounter between the two continents of Europe and Africa since ancient times, not to mention its central position strategically, making it the starting point for several maritime invasions on both sides of the Mediterranean.

This research highlights the importance of geopolitics in its pivotal role throughout history, following the influence of the Tunisian heritage, which took many forms of civilization, ranging from linguistic influences to customs and traditions.


Map of Pantelleria 

The history of "Pantelleria" or the story of the tides between the two sides of the Mediterranean


Several archaeological studies have shown that the prehistoric monuments of prehistoric humans have been found in Pantelleria since the Bronze Age, especially in anchorage of the Island, in some artificial hills and stone tombs.

The island was known as a Phoenician settlement since the 8th century BC. It was first called "Iranim" before it became "Kosira", meaning the small basket in the Phoenician language. Which is the same meaning in the Arabic language of the word "Qoosra" which was named after the island after the Islamic conquest.

This island gained  some independence from the political decision-making center in Carthage, but remained in a state of alliance with it, where it contributed to resisting the Roman encroachment on Sicily. As evidenced by Latin sources about the First Punic War, which referred to the victory of the Roman army on the Qoosrian people and the Carthaginians.

The island was then subjugated to Roman rule and then to Vandali where they established a small active settlement in the northeast of the island. The remains of its effects are still present today, before being occupied by the Byzantines who erected many fortresses to protect them from sea raids.

It was then settled by a Greek community belonging to the Orthodox denomination, which acquired a place of worship called St. Basil's Church.

Then, beginning in the year 707 AD and with the construction of the center of the fleet (House of Industry) in Tunisia began a series of naval raids on the island by Commander Abdul Rahman bin Cotton.


The final Muslim domination of the island ended with the time of the Umayyad governor Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib al-Fihri (grandson of 'Uqba ibn Nafi') in 748 AD.

The island became the base of the fleet that invaded Sicily led by Assad Ben-Euphrates to begin effectively the policy of Arabization of the island.

The Aghlabid realized the strategic importance of this island for the protection of Tunisia from the Byzantine naval raids, They created an innovative settlement policy that brought together a group of Christian settlers from Sicily and gradually exploited their skills in agriculture and horticulture to experience some of the crops that were brought from the Levant, such as the Quraysh, especially cotton, whose industries flourished in (causara), To print the island in its own character, although some Italian historians tried to attribute this to the Spanish who occupied the island after that.

The Tunisian influence remains in the labels related to this industry, such as Mahlouj, which is the cotton of Montouf and Ridaneh, a small wood where cotton is run during spinning.

This Sicilian group later merged with farmers from the Tunisian coast villages and from the tribal homeland (Nabeul) to begin the homogenization and adoption of Islamic revenues.

It is generally observed that the Aghlabid kings paid particular attention to the island, For several days, the Amir of Algeria, Mohamed II (Abu Gharaniq), visited the military equipment and preparations of the army there.

The port of the island has been re-configured as a hub for Islamic property in southern Italy and the construction of a station for the transfer of urgent messages through the pigeons between Sicily and Hammamet.

In the Fatimid era, the "Qusra" of its remote site became a kiss for some minorities fleeing the persecution of followers of the Ismaili ruling sect along the lines of the "Wahhabism" category of Ibadi, Djerba, Which settled the island at the beginning of the tenth century, Or some groups of Jews.

Has remained a number of evidence on the rule of the Islamic dynasties of the island and include some gold money from the periods of majority and Fatimid and a number of tombstones and inscriptions, Including an inscription in which a quote was given to Ali ibn Abi Talib, It mentions the name of Qusra in its original meaning, ie the small basket, which says :


                              حبذا من كانت له قوصرة    يأكل كل يوم منها مرة


With the surrender of Sicilian Normans beginning in the year 1091, Christian raids began targeting Qusra, which was finally governed by the rule in the year 1123, And a fleet that wanted to invade the city of Mahdia before it failed to achieve its mission.
After that, the German family "Hohenstaufen" inherited the rule of the island, Where the King Frederick II concluded a political treaty with Abi Zakaria Hafsi on 20 April 1231.

The treaty provides for the division of power between the kingdom and the Hafsid state on the island, The aim of its signing from the Hafs side was to preserve the Tunisian character of the island and protect its inhabitants from oppression.

Continued to work on this treaty for 10 years and provided for the recognition of Hafsien Frederick's political sovereignty over the "Pantelleria ".

Compared to half of their annual crops return to Tunisia, And to respect the doctrines of Muslims and take their legal and customary rulings, Where Abu Zakaria was optimistic about the importance of the island and keen on the survival of the Islamic community, He therefore provided many subsidies to the local population, As was often sent to them guides.

However, as soon as he died, this treaty was annulled and a number of Muslims were killed. 

Despite this persecution, the Muslims continued their presence on the island and had a legitimate judge elected by them, Their commercial links continued to be in the Tunisian mainland, particularly the ports of Hammamet, Sousse, Mahdia and Djerba.

In the meantime, the island was governed by many families, including the French Anjou family, Followed by the Spanish kingdom of Aragon for two centuries before moving to the unified Spanish rule which he handed over to a crusader group called the Knights of St. John, Which made Malta the headquarters of its activities.

Then the island was known Ottoman occupation for a very short period by the Ottoman captain "Dargoth Pasha" in 1553, Before being retrieved by the Knights of Malta again.

To follow the Kingdom of Italy since 1866 and later become an advanced center, Where an Italian naval and air base was established.

The base was used to supply the Italian forces in Libya.

Subsequently, during the Second World War, the island witnessed a landing by US forces that surrounded the island for 35 days, And occupied it on 8 May 1943.

The impact of this process has been devastating, The houses were blown up with 5,000 tons of dynamite in order to shoot an American propaganda film called "Kombat Film", The Allied forces control the island of Sicily, leading to the eradication of most of the cultural and cultural heritage of the island.

The impact of this destruction is still today in the buildings of "Pantelleria", All attempts at restoration, which began in the 1950s, have not succeeded in eliminating its repercussions.

However, the remaining buildings were used in tourist activity initiated by the Italian government in the promotion since the seventies, Where the island became the destination of many public figures in Italy, The most prominent of which is the famous designer Giorgio Armani, who has set up an elegant residence in this area.

The Italian Ministry of Tourism also provided facilities for some Libyan businessmen to set up hotel projects there, However, these attempts did not achieve the desired success of several economic and logistical difficulties such as the island's remote location, scarcity of fresh water and weak tourism promotion.

Tunisian influence on the island of Pantelleria 


The blogger Jean Bonnie, a French trader,Who was captured in Tunisia in 1670 and then escaped from his prison to Pantelleria, Writing a description of the island that the people were speaking in the Tunisian dialect to the late seventeenth century, He even asked a Maltese translator to communicate with local people who did not even understand Italian at the time.

And one of the areas that name remained in Arabic :


“المرسى” “المنية” “الجبل” “الشرفة” “الشمالية” “الحمة” “الكدية” “حروشة” “الخربة” “السلوم” “الخنقة” “بلاطا” “السداري” “بو جابر” “كدية بن سلطان”. 

So is the number of words like : “زبيبو”
The raisins, introduced by the Muslims there and then converted after the Norman rule to the material from which the manufacture of one of the world-famous drinks.


The island has known migrations to the Tunisian mainland, since the late 19th century with the French occupation of Tunisia, Where many of the arrivals of the region of Kelibia near their island, as well as the plains of Grombalia where they worked with the old age  manof the competent in Qawaras and Krum.

These immigrants, unlike others, were known for their rapid integration into Tunisian society and their adoption of a number of customs, They quickly acclimated to the Tunisian dialect they spoke fluently.

But a large proportion of them left Tunisia after independence towards industrial areas in northern Italy And few returned to the original island where the elderly are still longing for the country's memory, They keep many old photographs that embody their lives in Tunisia and their peasant work there, with some memories of the Tunisian dialect.

The memory of Qusra in turn is still present in the tribal homeland where the population is still called the wind coming from the north-east by the "Quarry wind", The title "Qusri" held by a number of Tunisian families also remains a testimony to the immigrants who left the island to escape their religion during the Middle Ages.

This island remains in need of several academic studies of the most obsessive in its history, Especially anthropological issues, Where the researcher lacks many details related to the development of civilization amid the tyranny of research related to geology as a study of volcanic and seismic activities at the expense of studies that relate to the history of the island.

On the other hand, the objective and neutral vision in the history of the official blog of Pantelleria is absent and there are some biased theories that try to overlook the Tunisian influence and ignore its contributions to the cultural heritage, In the future, it is hoped that specialized Tunisian and Italian research teams will be created to build new perceptions in understanding the changes that have taken place in the island throughout the various eras.


Writer : Kheireddine Bacha - 28 years, MA Research in Public Law and Political Science. He is a legal analyst with a number of NGOs and is interested in international relations.Translate and format the article : Hazem AllaguiTranslation source: Nawaat






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