Digest>Archives> July 2009

Still and Always: The Keeper of Punta Libeccio

By Annamaria “Lilla” Mariotti


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Aerial view of Italy’s Punta Libeccio Lighthouse ...

Bonaventura Venza, or better known as Ventura, as he likes to be called, is a man who refers to himself as having been born twice. The first time was in Marettimo, Italy, on June 28, 1934. The second birth happened when he was 13-years old when, after a serious accident, of which he does not like to talk, Ventura says he died and went on the other side. He claims he came back to life after having seen so many touching things that changed his life forever. This may sound absurd to some, but not to Ventura, who believes it to be fact. It is probably because of this life-altering experience that Ventura is such peaceful and gentle man.

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Bonaventura Venza who for many years was the ...

As a young man born on an island, there was only one future available to him. At age 18 he joined the Italian Navy; full of enthusiasm for this new life. But, it was not meant to be. Life on the high seas can be beautiful and adventurous, but it can also cause health problems. Ventura eventually developed a serious form of a rheumatic disease that stopped his Naval career. Unfortunately, all that he could expect is a small pension and the slim possibility to obtain a government job that would allow him to carry on a decent life.

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The Punta Libeccio Lighthouse as it appears from ...

But fate or destiny seemed to be on his side. With very few jobs available anywhere, in 1968 Ventura was offered the position of lighthouse keeper at the Punta Libeccio Lighthouse, on his childhood home island of Marettimo, and Ventura, who in the meantime had become married, goes back home.

Marettimo is one of the Egadi Islands, an archipelago of three small pieces of land located on the West side of the bigger island of Sicily in the south of Italy. Marettimo is like a mountain in the middle of the sea. It is so near to the African Coast that the beam of its lighthouse can nearly touch that of the Capo Bono Lighthouse in Tunisia. It is a quiet and calm land, where you can hear only the swash of the waves against the rocks, the howling of the wind, and the shouts of the seagulls.

When Ventura went to live at the lighthouse with his wife and an assistant keeper, he immediately realized that this would be his life, the life of the keeper of the Punta Libeccio Lighthouse, which he felt is located at one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The lighthouse is on the south coast of the island, on a rock 24 meters high on the sea level, and his octagonal tower is 50 meters high. It was built in 1860 of local white stones with a black stripe that runs all around the building where the name of the lighthouse is written. The first class Fresnel lens, made in Sweden and installed in 1955, has a range of 36 miles making the Punta Libeccio Lighthouse the second most important lighthouse in Italy after the lighthouse at Genoa.

Years went by and Ventura was living quite in symbiosis with his light. His work started at dusk, when he lighted the lantern and with the help of an assistant keeper and a built in alarm in the tower that would sound if the light went out, he was able to always get a good nights sleep. During the day he was always busy maintaining the lens and its apparatus, the lighthouse proper, and the property in good order. He performed every task above and beyond what was expected. After all, this was also his home, and for the next 18 years he was happy there, among the beauties of the nature, with the mountain on the back and the sea that he loves so much in front of him.

That all came to an abrupt end when the lighthouse was automated and there was no more need for a lighthouse keeper. So Ventura and his wife moved into the actual village of Marettimo, which is about 9 kilometers from the lighthouse. However, even though the lighthouse is automated, every two days he still went to the lighthouse to check on the automatic mechanisms. Driving a four wheel drive automobile, he traverses the vehicle along dangerous road that is no longer maintained that leads across the mountain to the lighthouse. This road is so dangerous and the bends so sharp that every time Ventura says goodbye to his wife, he does it like the last time that he is going to see her. But keeper Ventura goes on with his with perseverance and dedication to the lighthouse and always arrives safely back home. After all, nothing wrong can happen to him near “his” lighthouse.

It is often said that many lighthouse are haunted, that mysterious presences can be seen and heard inside them, maybe because they are located in lonely places or perhaps the constant howling of the wind can frighten even the most fearless man. However, Ventura tells that “his” lighthouse is indeed haunted. In 1941, during WW II, in the Sicily Strait, there was a terrible naval battle and many sailors perished. For some time after the battle, the inhabitants of the village found dead bodies on the beaches and the rocks. The locals buried the victims, but only a few of the graves had a name on the marker and only a few families were informed. Most of the dead were unknown. There is a legend, among the sailors, that if one dies in the sea, one cannot rest in peace until his family has said a Requiem Mass for his soul.

According to Ventura, it seems that many of these poor souls had found their home inside the lighthouse. Venture said at the beginning he didn’t care for the strange noises, until he started to hear steps going up and down the spiral stairs of the tower when nobody was there. Windows opened when there was no wind at all and there were strange whispering in empty rooms. Ventura never saw anybody, but could feel their presence. One evening, while he and his wife were ready for dinner, Ventura had an idea. He set the table with another dish, fork, knife, glass and a chair, just as if they were expecting a guest. Immediately all the noises ceased and were not heard again, unless Ventura forgot to set the table with one more dish. When this happened, he was bothered all night with small stones thrown against his window. Future dinners had one more dish on the table. Ventura says that all these presences were friendly ones and that he was never afraid of them.

In 1999 when automation came, Ventura had to leave his ‘friend; the lighthouse. He says that when he left the lighthouse, he took its souls with him.

Sadly, the ancient lighthouse that he took such good care of for so many years is now, with no one on site to care for it, is falling into a serious state of disrepair and ruin. It no longer resembles the grand structure that it once was.

Recently a rumor spread in Marettimo that the lighthouse was for sale. Many people came to view the lighthouse in hopes of purchasing it with hopes to bring it back to life, perhaps as a hotel, resort, or even a private home. However, the Italian Navy, which owns all the lighthouses in Italy, said the lighthouse is not for sale. Unless something happens soon, the future of the lighthouse remains bleak.

Today, Ventura enjoys his island retirement where he enjoys his favorite hobby, painting. And, once a year he and his wife fly to California to visit their relatives.

When people ask Ventura about Italian lighthouses, he shakes his head and says that as the loyal and dedicated keepers are removed, all the lighthouses will be abandoned and as happened in other countries, the structures will be left to the elements and vandalism. Ventura is proud of the fact that he has been one of the last of the lighthouse keepers, a job that will never again be repeated in history.

Today, in his home town of Marettimo, Ventura is still called “the light keeper,” a name he will be known by forever.

This story appeared in the July 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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