Imagine being able to see right through to the depths of the South Tyrrhenian Sea, to the origins of an imposing mountain range, extending from the Central Tyrrhenian Bathyal Plain and rising for over 3000 metres before surfacing as peaks known as the Aeolian islands to the east and the small island of Ustica to the west. The huge underwater mountain of volcanic origin, revealing less than four square miles of land above sea level and known as the island of Ustica, if entirely visible would in fact be comparable in size to the Etna volcano.
Ustica is 36 nautical miles north of Palermo and due to its coastal black volcanic rock formations, is known as the “Black Pearl of the Mediterranean”.
It was named Ustica by ancient geologists and historians, as it is the remnants of a burnt out Volcano ("Ustum" in Latin means "burnt out") while instead the Greeks named the island Osteodos, meaning "cemetery" because of the human remains of Carthaginian mercenaries, who after they mutinied, were deported to Ustica and left to die of hunger.
The first human presence goes back to the Palaeolithic era. Some major excavations have revealed an interesting Palaeochristian village. Graves, tunnels and reservoirs dug out in soft volcanic rock known as "tufo", and many archaeological findings have been discovered in various sites on the island and from underwater shipwrecks, confirming that the island was once inhabited by ancient Mediterranean civilisations.
Ustica was a strategic cross roads for trade, used by the Phoenix, the Carthaginians and the Romans, and was then conquered by the Saracens. However, it was the Bourbons who established the basis for a today’s small and peaceful community of about 1,200 all-year-round residents. They also built two observations points, which now house Ustica’s archaeological museum and the Natural Marine Reserve administrative offices.