Lampedusa, Isola di Lampedusa, Isula di Lampidusa, is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, part of the Province of Agrigento, in the region of Sicily, Italy; it is the largest of the Pelagie Islands. Tunisia is the closest shore to Lampedusa. It is situated 205 kilometres (127 mi) from Sicily, 176 kilometres (109 mi) from Malta and 113 kilometres (70 mi) from Tunisia, and is the southernmost point in Italy. The island has an area of 20.2 square kilometres (7.8 sq mi).
Its population of approximately 4,500 subsists on fishing, agriculture and tourism. It has lately been known primarily for its role as an entry point to Europe for impoverished illegal immigrants from Africa.
Lampedusa is the largest part of the comune of Lampedusa e Linosa which also includes the smaller islands of Linosa and Lampione with the latter just hosting an automatic lighthouse.
Geography and climate
Politically and administratively Lampedusa is part of Italy, but geologically it belongs to Africa since the sea between the two is no deeper than 120 metres. Lampedusa is an arid island, dominated by a garigue landscape, with maquis shrubland in the west. It has no sources of water other than irregular rainfall. The fauna and flora of Lampedusa are similar to those of North Africa, with a few pelagic endemic species. Overall the island has two slopes, from west to east, and from north to south of the island. The southern-western side is dominated by deep gorges, while the south-eastern part is dominated by shallows valleys and sandy beaches. The entire northern coast is dominated by cliffs: gently sloping cliffs on the east coast, and vertical sheer cliffs on the west coast.
The Isola dei Conigli (literally ‘Island of Rabbits’), which is close to the south coast of Lampedusa, is one of the last remaining egg-laying sites in Italy for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, which is endangered throughout the Mediterranean. The beach and the neighbouring island are part of a nature reserve: here the singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno spent his vacations, and died in 1994. Next to Parise Cape is a small beach accessible only by sea, through a low grotto. Other species living along the island's coast include mantas and dolphins.
Lampedusa has a Mediterranean climate, with very mild winters and warm, dry summers.
The sea surrounding Lampedusa is relatively shallow and sea temperatures stay warm most of the year, with the warmest being in August when the sea typically reaches 28°C to 30°C. The water stays warm until November, when temperatures range from 25°C to 21°C. The water is coolest in February and March when it averages between 18°C to 20°C.
Historically, Lampedusa was a landing place and a maritime base for the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The Romans established a plant for the production of the prized fish sauce known as garum. As a result of pirate attacks by the Arabs, the island became uninhabited.
The first prince of Lampedusa and Linosa was Giulio Tomasi, ancestor of the famous writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who received the title from Charles II of Spain in 1630. A century later the Tomasi family began a program of resettlement. In the 1840s the Tomasi family sold the island to the Kingdom of Naples.
In 1860 the island became part of the new Kingdom of Italy, but the new government limited its activities there to building a penal colony.
During World War II, the island was captured by British forces in Operation Corkscrew, as an immediate precursor to the Allied invasion of Sicily. The surrender of the island's garrison was accepted by the pilot of a RAF torpedo bomber who landed, low on fuel, after issues developed with his compass.
The first telephone connection with Sicily was installed only in the 1960s. In the same decade an electric power station was built. The western part of the island became a U.S. Coast Guard LORAN-C transmitter in 1972.
In 1979, Lt. Kay Hartzell, United States Coast Guard took command of the Coast Guard base, becoming the first female commanding officer of an isolated U.S. military base.
The Mediterranean during the 1980s was the scene of numerous terrorist attacks. 1985-1986 saw an increase in tensions. On April 15, 1986, Libya fired two Scuds at the U.S. Coast Guard navigation station on the island, in retaliation for the American bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, and the death of Colonel Gaddafi's adopted daughter. However, the missiles passed over the island, landing in the sea, and caused no damage.
On January 4, 1989, U.S. Navy aircraft from the carrier USS John F. Kennedy shot down two Libyan fighters approximately 200 kilometers from the island. At the time, a U.S. Navy logistics aircraft from HC-4 was on the ground at the NATO base, preparing for takeoff. The base commander, Lt. Kenneth Armstrong, received notice from U.S. Sixth Fleet Intelligence at La Maddalena that the Libyan fighters had been shot down, and immediately grounded the unarmed logistics flight, which was scheduled to move on to Tel Aviv. Sixth Fleet Intel also informed Armstrong that Libyan president Muammar al-Gaddafi had made direct reprisal threats against the American commanders at Sigonella, Sicily, and at Lampedusa.
The aircraft remained on the ground overnight, and an Italian media frenzy followed, putting Lampedusa and Armstrong in the spotlight. Armstrong responded by hosting a media tour of the base, conspicuously wearing his body armor and pointing out defensive forces on the base. The move quieted speculation that the Americans were once again preparing to leave.
The NATO base was decommissioned in 1994 and transferred to Italian military control. It can still be seen clearly on Google Earth (keyword: Lampedusa), at the west end of the island, with swimming pool and outbuildings visible.
Illegal immigration issue
Lampedusa has made international news as a prime transit site for illegal immigrants hoping to enter Europe from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A secret agreement between the Libyan and Italian governments in 2004 obliged Libya to take in returned refugees and resulted in the deportation of many people from Lampedusa to Libya in 2004 and 2005. The European Parliament did not endorse this.
In 2006 it was reported that illegal immigrants from Africa still commonly pay smugglers in Libya for a transit to Lampedusa. From there they are transferred by the Italian government to reception centres in mainland Italy and eventually released; their deportation orders are not enforced. The illegal immigration into Italy's territory is a major issue in recent times, with parties who campaign with the issue as part of their promises.
The conditions at a temporary reception centre for immigrants on the island came under criticism by the UNHCR for overcrowding in early 2009. The centre, originally built with a maximum capacity of 850 people, was reported to be housing nearly 2,000 'boat people' with significant numbers of them sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting. On 19 February 2009, a number of Tunisian men broke a hunger strike that sparked a riot in which a large portion of the holding facility was destroyed by fire.
Following the 2011 rebellions in Tunisia and Libya, Lampedusa saw a boom in illegal immigration from those countries. More than 35,000 Tunisian and Libyan illegal immigrants arrived on Lampedusa in the year to May 2011. The majority are male in their 20s and 30s. The French government regards many of these migrants as having arrived for economic reasons, rather than a fear of persecution.
The island of Lampedusa is connected to Sicily by a ferry service with the seaport of Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento. Lampedusa Airport has flights to Palermo Airport and Trapani-Birgi Airport all year round and to Catania-Fontanarossa Airport and Milan Airport during the summer.
The movie Respiro (2002), written and directed by Emanuele Crialese and starring Valeria Golino, was filmed entirely on Lampedusa.