This submerged volcanic island — it is basically the truncated cone/tip of an underwater volcano — lies in an area known as the Campi Flegrei del Mar di Sicilia (Phlegraean Fields of the Sea of Sicily), which is located between Sicily and Tunisia in the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. Volcanic activity at Ferdinandea was first reported in the region during the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.), and the island has appeared and disappeared four or five times, during which eruptions raised it above sea level before erosion eventually caused it to submerge again. Since the 17th century several eruptions have been reported. Ferdinandea, sometimes referred to as “L'isola che non c'è più” (“The island that is no more”), is currently a seamount — dozens of which dot the floor of the Mediterranean.
When Ferdinandea last sprouted from the water about 41-50 km (26-31 nautical miles) south-west of the Sicilian seaport of Sciacca in July of 1831 (after an earthquake on the Sicilian coast and much spitting of fire and stones from below the sea), its appearance was as much a political event as a geological one. Observers at the time wondered if a chain of mountains would spring up, linking Sicily to Tunisia and thus upsetting the geopolitics of the region. A four-way dispute over its sovereignty ensued. Captain Humphrey Fleming Senhouse led a British naval party to the summit. After disembarking, he proclaimed the landmass a part of the British Empire by planting a flag on the black lump. He named the fickle seamount Graham Island, after the first lord of the admiralty, Sir James Robert George Graham. An island at this strategic point in the Mediterranean — closer to the southern coast of France and Spain than Malta (a British asset) — was of obvious interest to the world's greatest naval power. But the government of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies became furious at losing a potentially vital base. The King of Naples, Ferdinand II, dispatched the corvette Etna to replace the Union Jack and claim the nascent island for the Bourbon crown. On August 17th, his men christened it as Ferdinandea, in honor of Ferdinand II. Last on the scene was Constant Prévost, a co-founder of the French Geological Society, who arrived with the French Navy. The geologist compared the eruption to a bottle of champagne being uncorked. Hoisting the flag of France on the tallest part of the island, he called the smoking, foul-smelling cone Île Julia, for its July appearance. Spain also showed an interest and declared its territorial ambitions. With four claimants, a diplomatic spat broke out. The scene was set for a four-way war which was only averted when the fully-grown island decided to resolve the issue on its own volition. The volcano bubbled and spat for six months. It is said that the aquatic rock stood at 65-70 meters (213-229 feet) above sea level. Different sources cite various measurements: it measured 700 meters in diameter and/or it had a circumference of about 5 km (3 miles). However, it was composed of loose tephra, which was easily eroded by wave action. Therefore, before a single shot could be fired over its possession, geology rapidly had the last word on the matter. Ferdinandea crumbled in on itself and all but disappeared by the end of the year.
By January 1832 it had sunk completely, vanishing beneath the waves before the issue of its ownership could be resolved diplomatically. Afterwards, there was less than a meter of water over the spot. British surveys reported this had increased to 5.5 meters in 1870 and 7.3 meters in 1885, while Italian surveys in 1890 and 1925 showed no appreciable changes. Since then, the remains of Graham Island have been referred to as the Graham Bank (or the Graham Shoal), but Italians still call it Ferdinandea.
During its existence, the unique natural phenomenon was studied and written about by numerous scientists. Many other visitors also came to witness the maritime anomaly — the most famous being the novelist Sir Walter Scott, during an attempt to recoup his failing health by a trip to Malta (he died in 1832). Fresh eruptions in 1863 resulted in the brief emergence of a new islet at the auspicious location before it sank again, devoured by the insatiable ocean. Subsequently, the volcano lay dormant for many decades, with its summit just 8 meters below sea level. In 1986, it was allegedly mistaken for a Libyan submarine and bombed by a U.S. Air Force plane on its way to bomb Tripoli. The insular cause was again taken up by the Italians, after signs of volcanic activity in February 2000 prompted a newspaper article on the topic. In March 2001, Domenico Macaluso, a surgeon in the coastal town of Sciacca, organized a project to place a marble plaque on the underwater shoal re-claiming Ferdinandea for the Sicilian people. To bolster their case for ownership, Sicilians (fishermen and sailors, as well as Ignazio Cucchiara, the mayor of Sciacca), persuaded Ferdinand's descendant, who styles himself Prince Carlos of Calabria, to sponsor a permanent nameplate. In a ceremony filmed by a flotilla of camera crews, Prince Carlo di Bourbon (accompanied by his wife, Countess Camilla Cruciani), a marble plaque weighing 150kg and inscribed “This piece of land, once Ferdinandea, belonged and shall always belong to the Sicilian people” was lowered into the waves. The Prince told cheering locals: “It will always be Sicilian.” (in order to accommodate television crews, the plaque was lowered well before reaching the dangerous shoal). But within six months it had been broken into 12 pieces, possibly by fishing gear though vandalism cannot be ruled out. The possible culprit remains a mystery. In November of 2002, Ferdinandea made headlines once again. Renewed seismic activity around the coveted rock led volcanologists to speculate that a new eruptive episode could be imminent. The seamount, in what would’ve been a very beautiful and fascinating event, might become an island once more. In advance of its expected resurfacing, Sicilian divers acted swiftly and planted a flag (it features a Medusa's head surrounded by three naked legs — a sign that is traditionally interpreted as “keep away”) on the top of the bubbling underwater rock so as to thwart any claims of British sovereignty (and to forestall arguments from any other potential rivals) if and when it breaks the surface. However, the furious seismic rumblings did not lead to volcanic eruptions. Ferdinandea did not make a spectacular comeback. Pierluigi Maria Rossi, a professor of volcanology at the University of Bologna, says the sunken island is just, in a sense, letting off steam. “It's a very young volcano,” he notes, “and with all young volcanoes there's going to be gas released.” Such emissions are quite normal. Enzo Boschi, director of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome, agrees: “There are bubbles and waves,” he reports, “but that doesn't mean the island is about to be reborn. It just means the zone is active.” He has been monitoring the situation, and although he could not rule out an appearance of the volcano above the water surface, he said he did not expect one any time soon. This goes to show that the geologically active Mediterranean seabed — a precarious location where the earth's Eurasian and African tectonic plates come together — maintains a powerful grip on the imagination. The possible re-emergence of Ferdinandea is merely one of the more fascinating scenarios surrounding seamounts. Theoretically, at least, it could be reborn as an above-surface island (formed when lava pushes out over the top of the volcano and solidifies in the cold water, increasing the height of the mount) and Ferdinandea’s “eruptive surfacings” could continue indefinitely. “Geologically speaking, it's a possibility,” acknowledges Boris Behncke, a German researcher at the University of Catania's department of geological sciences in Sicily. “But geology has a very long time scale…We really should not be too worried.”
Today, Ferdinandea remains outside Italy's territorial waters. The huge underwater volcanic structure, shaped like a horseshoe and with a peak more than 500 meters high (taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris), is 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) off the southern coast of Sicily. Its summit remains only about 6-8 meters (19-26 feet) below the water’s surface. As such, it is considered a menace to navigation and to shipping. The olden dispute over Ferdinandea has now been overshadowed by the discovery that the former island is just one outcrop of a far grander volcano, the largest seamount (underwater mountain) off the Italian coast, and one that is still active, though for now emitting only gas (the find was the result of investigations into Ferdinandea). Professor Giovanni Lanzafame, of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, named the volcano Empedocles, after the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Sicily and plunged headfirst into the crater of Mount Etna (Europe’s largest active volcano, which lies 100 kilometers to its north and is still highly active today) in the interests of scientific research. Empedocles hypothesized that all matter consisted of four elements — earth, air, fire and water. Because Empedocles (the volcano) is dormant, scientists believe there is no imminent risk of eruption, nor of the appearance of new islands.
While the reappearance of Ferdinandea may not spark the same diplomatic wrangling as it did over 175 years ago, there could well be a new debate. Should it re-ascend, Federico Eichberg, an international relations expert based in Rome, believes it would do so within Italian territorial waters — and in all probability would be formally claimed by Italy. Eichberg does not expect that a renewed international rumpus would arise, noting: “If it's just a little island, we're not going to have a big fight over it.” In all actuality, the island would not have the same strategic importance today that it had in the summer of 1831. A diplomatic disagreement would be highly improbable, and the island would likely belong to Italy. A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, however, kept all options open. The British government “would look at this if and when any island were to emerge,” she said, adding: “We don't want to make waves now.” In the words of Enzo Boschi, director of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome: “I'm sure the European Union will want it as a member, won't they?”
From Mr. Oded Paz, I purchased the copper version of the Ferdinandea “One Penny”, dated 2000. Thanks to Mr. Paz, I was able to learn that the designer of this coin is someone named Mr. David Mannucci. The idea to make this coin occurred to Mr. Mannucci after he “found out the existence of the ghost island” from a newspaper article. A student at the time, “I have realized the coins for the school exam in the school Istituto D’Arte Statale di Porta Romana of Firenze. These coins have been coined in the Picchiani and Barlacchi Company from Firenze.” The first batch was minted in 2000. Mr. Paz learned about these coins (and acquired a couple of specimens) a few years later, when he was contacted by Mr. Mannucci. Mr. Paz wanted to acquire additional pieces for other members of the Unrecognised States Numismatic Society (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UnrecognisedStatesNumismaticSociety/ and http://www.usns.info/), but there were none left. Then, at the urging of Mr. Paz, Mr. Mannucci decided to do a special minting of these coins, using the original dies. Besides the copper piece, varieties exist in silver, copper “with protective enamel”, and silver “with protective enamel”. I initially found it rather odd that while this Italian-made coin fittingly bears the Italian name for the island, the conflicted piece also features a bust of “Elizabeth II D.G.R.” and bears a British denomination. As a result of this numismatic ambivalence, it could be said that the coin has a “dual nationality” of sorts. Ferdinandea is currently under Italy but claimed by United Kingdom. France, Spain and possibly Malta, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco.
Chiefa Coins