Ponza draws on a very different vein of vernacular architecture

An island off the coast, equidistant from Rome and Naples, Ponza draws on a very different vein of vernacular architecture. Fishing villages with tall, green-shuttered houses painted alternately dusty pink and ocher yellow are characteristic of Haly's Tyrrhenian Sea, and they have echoes on the mainland at Portofino and the Cinque Terre (which, because of difficult mainland access, sh are some islandlike features).

But Ponza also has a further legacy that elevates a basic pink and yellow fishing village into something extra special. Two centuries ago, the island's Bourbon rulers had the harbor remodeled by a military engineer, who built two curving pink-painted esplanades, one stepped above the other like the keyboards on a Wurlitzer organ.

The lower level is used by fishermen and is the working core of the town, whereas the upper level has the restaurants, church, and civic buildings and is the the place for sitting and strolling-a division of function that works admirably.On the far side of the island is a famous beach named Chiaia di Luna, backed by a magnificent cliff of white and gold limestone. When you first see the beach from above, you wonder how it is possible for people to get down to it-the sheer drop of three hundred feet seems to forbid all access. The problem was solved by the Romans two millennia ago. From a valley on the town side of the island, they dug a tunnel that burrows through the rock behind the cliff face and emerges miraculously onto the beach itself.

This isn't Ponza's only bit of coastal theater. A boat trip around the island reveals rock arches, several groups of faraglione (offshore rock pinnacles), multicolored red, white, and yellow volcanic cliffs, and the uninhabited islet of Palmarola, complete with a sandy beach and a troglodyte restaurant. As a natural spectacle, it outdoes even Capri. Why, therefore, Ponza should be so relatively little known is a puzzle, but I am happy it should remain so.

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