Pantelleria (or Pantalaria, Pantellaria, etc.), the ancient Cossyra, is an island in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Sicily and just 70 km (43 mi) east of the Tunisian coast. Administratively Pantelleria is a commune belonging to the Sicilian province of Trapani.
The island is entirely of volcanic origin, and 117 km² (45 mi²) in area. The highest point is Mt Grande, a volcano tectonic horst, 836 m (2,743 ft) above sea level. Hot mineral springs and fumaroles still testify a quiescent volcanic activity. The island is fertile, but lacks fresh water. The principal town (pop. about 3,000) is on the north-west, upon the only harbour (only fit for small steamers), which is fortified. There was also a penal colony here. The island can be reached by ferries and hydrofoils from Trapani, and lies close to the main route from east to west through the Mediterranean.
Archaeological evidence has unearthed dwellings and artifacts dated at 35,000 years ago.
The original population of Pantelleria did not come from Sicily, and was of Iberian or Ibero-Ligurian stock. After a considerable interval, during which the island probably remained uninhabited, the Carthaginians took possession of it (no doubt owing to its importance as a station on the way to Sicily) probably about the beginning of the 7th century BC, occupying as their acropolis the twin hill of San Marco and Santa Teresa, 2 km (1 mi) south of the town of Pantelleria. The town possesses considerable remains of walls made of rectangular blocks of masonry, and also of a number of cisterns. Punic tombs have also been discovered, and the votive terra-cottas of a small sanctuary of the Punic period were found near the north coast. The name "Pantelleria" means "Daughter of the Wind", which represents the strong winds that arise off the north coast of Africa.
The Romans occupied the island as the Fasti Triumphales record in 255 BC, lost it again the next year, and recovered it in 217 BC. Under the Empire it served as a place of banishment for prominent persons and members of the imperial family. The town enjoyed municipal rights.
In 700 the Christian population was annihilated by the Arabs, from whom the island was taken in 1123 by Roger of Sicily. In 1311 an Aragonese fleet, under the command of Lluís de Requesens, won a considerable victory here, and his family became princes of Pantelleria until 1553, when the town was sacked by the Turks.
Its capture was regarded as crucial to the Allied success in invading Sicily in 1943 because it allowed planes to be based in range of the larger island. Pantelleria was heavily bombarded in the days before the scheduled invasion by bombers and warships, and the garrison finally surrendered as the landing troops were approaching. The capture of Pantelleria was called Operation Corkscrew and it played a part as a vital base for Allied aircraft during Operation Husky. The United States Army Air Forces planned to capture the island as a test case for air power, so they intended to bombard it into submission entirely from the air. British air and sea forces observed that such preparations were overrated.
A Neolithic village was situated on the west coast, 3 km south-east of the harbour, with a rampart of small blocks of obsidian, about 7.5 m high, 10 m wide at the base, and 5 m at the top, upon the undefended eastern side: within it remains of huts were found, with pottery, tools of obsidian, and other artifacts. The objects discovered are in the museum at Syracuse.
To the south-east, in the district known as the Cunelie, are a large number of tombs, known as sesi, similar in character to the nuraghe of Sardinia, though of smaller size, consisting of round or elliptical towers with sepulchral chambers in them, built of rough blocks of lava. Fifty-seven of them can still be traced. The largest is an ellipse of about 18 by 20 m, but most of the sesi have a diameter of only 6 to 7.5 m. The identical character of the pottery found in the sesi with that found in the prehistoric village proves that the former are the tombs of the inhabitants of the latter.
Pantelleria is known for producing obscure, but highly regarded, sweet wines of a remarkable golden-apricot color, from the island's three wineries.