To speak of an island “which does not exist ” immediately evokes fantastic, magical, and legendary atmospheres. Fascinating ideas, but sometimes these can be much more real than they appear. The land we are going to tell you about, in fact, exists; only … we can’t see it. Or rather, you can’t always see it.
What are we talking about? From an island located in the Mediterranean Sea, off Sicily, between Italy and Tunisia. She is known by seven different names, but here we will call her the most famous: Ferdinandea. Are you ready to set off to discover a territory with a history as fascinating as it is curious, which has even caused a few diplomatic incidents?
image credit: Natural History Museum Library, London/Wikimedia Commons
In June 1831 , in the southwest of Sicily, very strong seismic phenomena were recorded, accompanied by many signs that something important was happening under the waters of the Mediterranean . Exhalations of sulfuric acid, columns of smoke, jets of lava and pumice stone rise from the sea, which boils and becomes more and more cloudy, causing the death of the fish.
In short: an almost hellish scene, confirmed by the inhabitants and the sailors and fishermen who have sailed in these waters. After a few days, the smoke, which rose higher and higher, amid the rumblings and debris, revealed a surprise: just where all these phenomena were concentrated, a real small island had appeared , with a crater from which ash and vapors came out.
image credit: Camillo De Vito / Wikimedia Commons
With a circumference of 4 km and a height of 60 meters, Ferdinandea Island emerged in mid-July. Over the days, its form became clearer and the news of its appearance began to circulate, causing some commotion. Beyond the geological and scientific aspects, however, this strip of land soon became the subject of very specific political demands . The main reason ? Its super-strategic position in the center of the Mediterranean: an excellent landing place for civilian and military ships.
Thus, along with the island, a series of territorial conflicts arose which lasted for many years. Although Ferdinandea was part of the Bourbon territories of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the British took possession of the land, planted their flag and named it “Graham”. The Bourbons reacted and, once there, replaced the English flag with theirs. But it was not over yet, because after about a month it was the turn of the French, who landed on Ferdinandea and called her “Julie”.
image credit: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons
During this time, it was the island itself that was showing signs of “movement”. Landslides and erosion have followed one another, and geologists have found that it could sink as quickly as it appeared. Composed mostly of tephrite , a rather fragile and easily eroded volcanic rock, the movement of the sea waves destroyed what had emerged, bringing the island back underwater. And it did: at the beginning of December, all that remained of Ferdinandea (or Graham, Julie, Nerita, Corrao, Sciacca or even Hotham!) Was a bar of lava rock barely visible on the sea.
image credit: Constant Prévost and a French artist/Wikimedia Commons
In 1846 and 1863, the island reappeared . Today the island is still there, at a depth of about 7-8 meters , and it is possible to see it while diving. How can this happen? It’s simple: this island is nothing but the tip of a volcanic edifice, submerged like many others nearby. As such, it is subject to the movements and action of the sea. The region of Sicily has also always been known for its seismicity and volcanism, and the history of Ferdinandea uniquely confirms this.
image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Will the time come sooner or later for the fifth appearance of this incredible Mediterranean island volcano? Only time will tell. Did you know its history?