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Ferdinandea Island has spent, after all, most
of its existence under the sea. Its rst
appearance was reported as “eruptions of
lurid re”.
On July 8, 1831, the tract of Mediterranean
sea between Sciacca (Southern Sicily) and
Pantelleria began to boil and bubble, and in
a short time a volcanic island sprouted in
full eruption.
Italians immediately claimed their rights
on the small island calling it Ferdinandea.
The British called it Graham Island, while
the French Julia Island; Spain also declared
territorial rights on the small new land.
Any single shot could be red over its
ownership. A geological process quickly
solved the political problem; Ferdinandea
disappeared, eroded by the sea before the
end of the year.
Now, on marine maps, Ferdinandea doesn’t
exist anymore; the area is called Graham’s
Bank and the once emerged island is
approximately 7 meters below the surface
of the sea. This shoal, trampled by very few
human beings, is now a good habitat for
marine organisms that dwell there.
Ferdinandea Island is a superb example of
the close relationship between man and
Nature. Its ephemeral life demonstrates the
dominance of Nature on the human pride
and on the ownership concept.
Natures domination
over human pride
The submarine volcanic eruptions that
surround Sicily are known since ancient
times. The rst written record of this
phenomenon is found in the Meteorology
(Μετεωρολογικά) book by Aristotele that
describes the sprouting from the sea of
Volcano, in the Aeolian Islands, between
the din of volcanic explosions.
The Roman historians report submarine
eruptions in the channel of Sicily and the
appearance of Stromboli just before the
age of Plinio.
In this part of the Mediterranean Sea,
the eruptions are more frequent than
elsewhere and are particularly remarkable
between Sicily and Tunisia, in
correspondence of the famous benches of
Sciacca. The Island of Pantelleria is a perfect
example of a volcanic island, born from the
eruption happened on one of these
benches in immemorial epoch, trace of a
volcanic crater; the area of the Graham
bank is known as the Phlegraean Fields of
the Sea of Sicily.
Volcanic activity at Graham bank was
reported during the First Punic War, and an
island has appeared and disappeared four
or ve times. Several eruptions have been
reported since the 17th century.
The oor of the Mediterranean Sea is
dotted by dozens of seamounts and one of
this, Ferdinandea, is the object of our
Ferdinandea sprouted from the seawater
about 30 miles South-West of the Sicilian
seaport of Sciacca and 33 miles North-East
of Pantelleria Island during the eruption of
summer 1831.
The rst signs of activity were some shocks
felt in Sicily and on board of a vessel sailing
over the spot on June 28. During the rst
days of July shermen felt fetid odor and a
smell of sulphur deriving from hydrogen of
the sea, in such quantity that it blackened
objects made with silver. They reported that
the sea over the bank appeared to be
strong grumbling and gurgle and covered
with dead shes and oating matter. This
was the reactivation of a long silent
submarine volcano.
On July 8, Francesco Treletti, Captain of
the brig Gustavo, coming from Malta, saw
the surface of the sea bubbling for tens
minutes to a height of 20 m and then
sinking down, believing this phenomenon
due to the struggle of a big cetacean. Few
days later the eruption of tus, lapilli,
pumices and ery ashes started, arriving up
to the beach of Sciacca.
On 10 July the captain of the ship La Teresina
Giovanni Corrao, noticed a column of
smoke, about 15 meters tall, going up from
the sea; at the base of the column he
noticed a small island about 4 m high with
a crater in the middle containing boiling
red water. The island rapidly increased in
size, reaching 20 m in height and 250 m in
diameter in just few days.
The news about the new island rapidly
spread: on July 13 the King of Sicily
The ephemeral Ferdinandea
The Giulia-Ferdinandea Island view from ENE on 1831, 25 August.
From Mercalli, Geologia d’Italia, 1883; redrawned by Laura Galeazzo.
Marco Pantaloni is Senior geologist at the
Geological Survey of Italy; his researches focus
on eld survey, geological mapping, database
management and history of geology.
Responsible of the History of geoscience section
of the Italian Geological Society (SGI) and
member of the International Commission on the
History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO-IUGS).
Fabiana Console has MSc in Contemporary History and
work as librarian at the ISPRA Library. She devoted her
research on history of geology and of Italian geological
maps. Member of the Italian Association of Libraries
(AIB), Italian Geological Society (SGI) and International
Commission on the History of Geological Sciences
Ferdinando II di Borbone dispatched from
Palermo the corvette Etna, commanded by
the captain Raaele Cacace; from Marsala
an English brig was sent with scientists and
curious. The volcanic eruptions was
extremely intense from 18 to July 24,
ending on the rst days of August. The
island reached his maximum development:
65 m in height and 3700 m in
circumference. The shape of the island,
changing from time to time, was that of the
summit of a cinder cone, with a center
crater containing water. The cone was built
by stratied volcanic sand, lapilli and
scoriae, lacking in lava ows.
At the end of July the sea around the island
was crowded. Many curious and journalists
approached to Sciacca to visit the new
island leaving their descriptions in
newspapers and magazines of that period,
especially the English ones.
On August 25, the island was visited and
depicted by Wright that made the best
reproduction of the newborn island.
With the ending of volcanic activity the
erosion action of the sea waves rapidly
destroyed the island. By the end of October
the volcanic crater disappeared; the only
remains was a at island at sea level
with a small hill of scoria rising about 60 m
and a little pond, about 20 meters in
circumference, lled by reddish and salty
spicy taste water; another pond was smaller
with a yellow color and sulphuric water.
On December 8, the captain Vincenzo
Allotta, commander of the brig Achille,
in place of the island found a small column
of hot water with stink of bitumen.
The destruction proceeded rapidly; on
December 17 two Neapolitan ocers
reported to the King Ferdinando II the total
disappearance of the island.
This exceptional geologic phenomenon
was studied by several scientists: Karl
Homann, Arnold Escher, Amando Philippi,
John Davy, Otto Abich and Constant
Prévost. Among the Italians were Domenico
Scinà, Benedetto Marzolla and Carlo
Gemmellaro; the latter, professor of
Geology and Mineralogy at Catania
University, published a long and detailed
“Relation on the new volcano phenomena
arose from the sea between Sicily and
The rst disembarking on the island took
place on August 2 by Captain Humphrey
Senhouse; he armed to had took
possession of the island planting the British
ag for the King of England, giving it the
name of Graham Island for the First Lord of
the Admiralty. The British Navy thought this
new emerged land as suitable to control
the sailing route from Gibraltar to Malta.
Gemmellaro and Prévost, in their scientic
reports, held impossible that Senhouse,
as reported in his relation to the Royal
Society, had been able to climb on the
island because the ground was too hot,
warm, soft and not yet solidied.
On August 7 another English man departed
from Sciacca with the ship of Cusumano,
trying to plant an English ag on the island,
but with the fury of the volcano, he thought
that was more prudent staying at a
reasonable distance; this story was
ironically reported by Gemmellaro.
Ferdinando II, King of Naples and Sicily,
with a sovereign action on August 17
included the island into the Borbone’s
Kingdom giving it the name of Ferdinandea
as suggested by professor Gemmellaro. On
September 29, M. Terond Derussat, member
of the scientic team of Professor Prévost,
hoisted the French ag on the taller part of
the island called by him Julia, remembering
its appearance in the month of July.
During that period, politicians and
scientists, for dierent reasons, gave to the
island seven dierent names: Graham,
Ferdinandea, Julia, Sciacca, Nerita, Corrao,
The island thus became the object of
several rivalry and jealousy during its brief
life, as demonstrated by the imposition of
dierent names.
As demonstration of the power of the
Nature on the human being, as soon as the
island disappeared beneath the waves,
everyone agreed to forget about it.
Only geologists learnt lessons from the
ephemeral event. Ferdinandea was an
evidence of the theory of geologic
uniformitarianism: the geologic forces
working in the world today have always
been shaping the world in the past, as
stated by Charles Lyell in his Principles of
Now, the top of the island is only 7 meters
below the sea surface. In recent times,
geophysical study revealed the presence, in
the area, of nine distinct monogenic
volcanic craters.
... Los primeros registros históricos de la isla Ferdinandea datan de la Primera Guerra Púnica, siglo 3 antes de la era común (a.e.c.). La isla apreció y desapareció entre 4 y 5 veces (según los registros históricos), y se registraron diferentes erupciones del volcán Empédocles desde el siglo xvii (Pantaloni y Console, 2017). Los primeros signos de actividad reciente de Empédocles fueron algunos choques sónicos y temblores percibidos el 28 de junio de 1831 por algunas poblaciones residentes en la costa de Sicilia y por la tripulación de un barco que navegaba cerca del volcán. ...
... Sin embargo, en unos meses alcanzó una altura de 63 metros y un diámetro de 4.8 km. La isla había aparecido en una ubicación considerada táctica para muchas naciones, principalmente para el control de las rutas marítimas (tráfico comercial y militar) a través del Mediterráneo (Pantaloni y Console, 2017; ver video 1). ...
Full-text available
Las islas volcánicas son estructuras que pueden tener diferente origen dependiendo el contexto geodinámico. Algunas están formadas por lava solidificada surgida de volcanes que originariamente se encontraban por debajo del nivel del mar. Sin embargo, existen otras clases de islas volcánicas provenientes de volcanes sumergidos que formaban parte de una dorsal centrooceánica. Otro tipo de islas volcánicas son las que están formadas por una placa tectónica que fluye por debajo de otra. La subducción crea una cadena de volcanes que, a medida que emergen, forman una cadena de islas. Un último tipo está formado por un punto caliente sobre el que se mueve una placa tectónica. En este trabajo se abordan ejemplos de los tipos de islas volcánicas y su evolución, y en específico se analiza el caso de la isla Ferdinandea, isla de origen volcánico situada en el sur del mar Mediterráneo (Sicilia, Italia), cuya formación y desaparición en el siglo xix desató un conflicto diplomático de unos pocos meses.
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