A godforsaken world-class archeological site lives in Pantelleria


The small volcanic Sicilian island called Pantelleria is not only the exotic “buen ritiro” of big names such as Giorgio Armani and Carol Bouquet, or the private garden of some smart contemporary art collector. This very welcoming place – sometimes windy, but extraordinary rich in colors, sounds and traces – is also a world-class level archeological site. Whoever has been fascinated by megalithic sites such as Stonehenge or Carnac, will be overwhelmed by the constellation of mysterious circular funeral structures from the Bronze Age (about 1800 B.C.) located in north-west part of the island, near the city of Mursia.


There are approximately a hundred structures, and they are called “Sese” (pl. “Sesi”). As proved by the great Italian archeologist Paolo Orsi in 1894, they are tombs. The Sese number 58 is by far the biggest of them, hosting twelve death chambers – the others have between 3 and 5. The Sese number 58 is not circular, as it appears at a first glance, but elliptic (10 x 20,6 m., Infranca, 1984). The narrow galleries that lead to the death chambers are 7 meters long and their floor is made of basaltic stone – that is why no excavation has ever been done. The Big Sese, as the archeologists call it, was built to host the members of group of people ruling the island. As rarely happens in this kind of places, and thanks to the lack of control, the visitor is allowed to climb over it and take a look from the top of the collapsed volt.


Since its rediscovery at the end of the 19th century, this world-class archeological site is under the risk of vandals, real estate developers, and bad politicians. Despite it’s extraordinary value and beauty, the attention of the Italian government has always been little – of course no official web site is available. That is why the description Orsi gave in his diary of the discovery of a skeleton buried inside a Sese seems today so tragic, ingenuous and symbolic:


…the content of the small tholos (diameter 1,90 x 1,65 x 1,70) was untouched; the single skeleton – laid down, curled up, with the skull put toward east and its feet indicating the gallery’s exit – was in a very bad state because of the humidity and the crushing. A cute marine snail was over it, surely to adorn it. The pottery on the left and on the right side of the chest had the same characteristics of the items found in the village.


Paolo Orsi, 1894.

July 26, 2015