Santa Maria island is the third and the last island that delimits Saint Mary Port. Santa Maria with a surface area of 2 square kilometres has about 10 km of coastline. The island is almost flat and its highest point called Guardia del Turco, the Turkish Guard in English, reaches just 49 metres above sea level. But on the other hand, it boasts one of the longest beaches of the Archipelago, the crescent shaped 200 metre long Cala Santa Maria, Saint Mary Bay in English.
An island different from the other
Santa Maria is different from the other islands and at a first glance this is apparant. Its geology is different as well, mainly flat, half granite and half a mix of gneiss and schist. Near the beach and towards the central part of the island we find the Padule pond. Every year in April and May avifauna migrating along a route from Africa to Europe stops here on the way.
The first Island to be inhabited
Some areas of the island not covered by the Mediterranean scrub were suitable for growing wheat in the past. Maybe this was one of the reasons why Santa Maria was one of the first islands of the archipelago to be inhabited. The only tangible proof of human presence on Santa Maria during the Middle Ages is a little further from the coast. They are the ruins of an old convent dating back to the 13th century where a group of Benedictin monks lived. In 1553 the convent was destroyed by the Saracen pirate Dragut and the monks escaped to Bonifacio. The existance and the importance of the convent is confirmed by a papal edict as well as some historic documents from the 19th century. The only religious building we find on Santa Maria now is the Maria Assunta Chapel built in 1954 as testimony to an old monastery where every year on the Feast of the Assumption mass is celebrated.
The Light-House of Cape Punta Filetto
On the eastern coast at Cape Punta Filetto there is a Light-house built in 1913 and inhabited by a light-house keeper and his family for a long period. Now it is abbandoned, but the light still switches on automatically. In 1956 the first teacher arrived on the island for the children of the light-house keeper and some local shepherds‘children from nearby Razzoli. An elementary public school was opened on Santa Maria in a room inside the light-house previously used as warehouse. In 1969 the lighthouse was declared unusable and it was abbandoned. Recently it has been entrusted to a private company for renovation and redevelopment. There will be a couple of bedrooms, a refreshment point and the area available to the local community.
The last inhabitants of the island
Santa Maria island had been inhabited for a long period and behind the main beach there is a small group of private houses where their owners usually spend the summer period. Not far from them we can find the former house of Maria Viggiani, known as the Queen of Santa Maria. Her father was a soldier stationed on Santa Maria and she married a soldier stationed on Spargi. She seems to be the only person who was born, lived and died on the island.
One of the last people who lived permanently on Santa Maria until a few years ago was a shepherd Pietro Sanna. His family came from the Sardinian hinterland. He was a skillfull shepherd, but out of necessity supplemented his food supplies by fishing. For many years Mr Sanna and his wife were the only 2 people living on this tiny piece of land.
For those who wish to spend an unforgettable holiday on Santa Maria there is an exclusive 4 roomed hotel, a villa and a renowned restaurant called La Casitta, it is an ideal location for a dream holiday or an exclusive wedding party.
The Muse of many artists
Santa Maria island has bewitched also some famous people:
Amid the peace and quiet of the island, the screen writer Franco Solinas found an ideal location to write. He worked with such illustrious names as Mario Monicelli, Roberto Rossellini, Joseph Losey, Costa Gravas and other film directors, conquering world-wide fame thanks to the film The Battle of Algiers which was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 1966.
These were the places so much loved by Gian Maria Volontè, considered one of the best actors in the history of cinema. Since 2003 in La Maddalena the annual event The suitcase of the actor dedicated to the deepening of his work. In fact Volontè was very close to this island, where he rests under a tree in the small cemetery.
A famous film La Vita è Bella, Life is Beautiful in English, was written by Roberto Benigni while he was a guest on the Santa Maria island. It seems he ows the success of his 3 Oscar winning film to inspiration this beautiful island gave him. He felt so indebted to his Muse he decided to buy a house facing the sea and the beach that brought him such good fortune. In 2021 Roberto Benigni was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice film festival for his life-long career.