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Gaiola Island in Italy: a cursed little paradise from the days of Virgil to John Paul Getty

Brad Smithfield

He like a rock in the sea unshaken stands his ground.” Virgil.

It is believed that small and beautiful Gaiola Island (Isola della Gaiola) is a cursed place. Knowing the fact that almost all of its past owners tragically died, mysteriously disappeared, or had bad fortune connected with their finances and their personal life after buying it, it is easy to be convinced that this assumption is not just a local superstition, a fantastic story, or some marketing trick for attracting tourists.  Many strange events substantiate the popular belief of the island’s curse.

The island today is abandoned, and many locals refuse to be near it in fear of challenging the “Gaiola Malediction,” but in the distant past, it was a vibrant place. The island is located approximately 90 feet off the coastline of the Italian city of Naples in the Gulf of Naples. Actually, it is formed of two small rocky islets connected to each other by a single narrow stone bridge shaped like an arch and just a few feet long, which is now an attraction for the rare visitors. Some scholars think that it was constructed as a bridge, while others believe that it is a surviving part of the roof of a tunnel or artificial cave that was carved into the rock.

Now it is owned by the region of Campania and positioned in the middle of the Gaiola Underwater Park, which manages and preserves the ancient Roman ruins and the rare flora and fauna found in the area. The coastal area was a preferred location since ancient times. During the Roman era, aristocrats constructed villas along the coast. Today on Gaiola Island can be found the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Venus, as well as the remains of an ancient villa submerged in the crystal waters.

Gaiola protected area, sea and beach, Posillipo, Naples, Italy

Gaiola protected area, sea and beach, Posillipo, Naples, Italy

According to a legend on the two islets, the Roman poet Virgil enlightened his students with enchanting verses while teaching them about poetry. It is possible that he taught them in the temple, in the few island’s little caves or on the Roman harbor, which now can be also found shattered into pieces under the water. Maybe the great Virgil got the divine inspiration for his immortal verses wandering on Gaiola Island and the nearby mainland.

The glory days for the island were limited to ancient times because according to a belief held from the beginning of the 19th century, an aura of misfortune began to shroud the place. At first there came to live a local eccentric hermit known as “The Wizard” (“Il Mago”). He lived isolated and had only rare encounters with fishermen. One day he mysteriously disappeared without leaving any trace. After that, Luigi de Negri became the next inhabitant. He built a majestic residential villa on one of the islets, which still stands almost intact. But soon after he had huge financial problems, and his business empire of fish farms collapsed.

Gaiola

Gaiola

In 1911, Captain Gaspare Albenga was navigating his ship around the island and obviously was making a tour, because was seriously interested in buying it. But sadly, during the exploring, he hit some rocks and subsequently drowned. According to some versions of the story, his body and his ship were never found.

In the 1920s it came into the ownership of Hans Braun, a Swiss businessman. One day he was found dead and wrapped in a carpet in the villa. Shortly after his death, his wife was found drowned in the sea. The next owner died of a heart attack during a visit of the island and another one killed himself in a mental institution in Switzerland. The island was also owned by the owner of FIAT, Gianni Agnelli.

He managed to raise the company to a successful and worldwide known automobile brand, but had huge personal sufferings during his life: his son apparently committed suicide and his nephew died at 33 years of age from a rare form of cancer.

Gaiola protected area

Gaiola protected area

The billionaire John Paul Getty was the next famous figure associated with the island. In 1973, the Calabrian Mafia (‘Ndrangheta) kidnapped his grandson. They forced him to pay the ransom of 3 million dollars by cutting the boy’s ear and sending it to him in the mail.

The island can be easily approached by swimming or by boat. It provides great panoramic views over the surrounding area. The abandoned villa and the few narrow streets are oddly silent and in a mysterious way speak of the island’s dark past.

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The villa is deteriorating and slowly is approaching the destiny of the island’s ancient structures. When looked at from the mainland there is an impression that the small paradise is floating in the waters in desperate search for its glory days… And maybe it wants to be left alone without any permanent human presence during its quest?