The paradise of Li Galli immerges from the crystalline waters of the protected marine area of Punta Campanella between Capri and Positano; it is an archipelago composed of three islands: Gallo Lungo, La Rotonda and La Castelluccia.
The largest of the three, Gallo Lungo, has a shape that seen from on high evokes a dolphin, and is the only one of the three to have been inhabited since Roman times.
The ancient Greeks, in fact, identified this magical place as the home of the sirens, who bewitched passing sailors with their singing, causing them to shipwreck on the rocks. Greek mythology tells us that only two ships succeeded in escaping this tragic end.
In the Odyssey, Homer recounts how Ulysses, not wanting to renounce hearing the sirens’ song, followed the advice of Circe and had himself tied to the ship’s mast, but only after having had his sailors’ ears carefully plugged with wax: in this way, he could enjoy the rapture of their song while his ship continued undisturbed on its voyage. In The Argonauts, Orpheus saved his crew thanks to his virtuosity on the lyre: taking it up and starting to play, he outclassed the seductresses, who in humiliation threw themselves into the sea and were transformed into rocks.
For this reason, the islands are also sometimes known as the “Sirenusas.” The appellation Gallo, or rooster, refers to their bird-like shape.
In decidedly more recent times, Gallo Lungo has bewitched a number of well-known personalities who have chosen it for their summer vacation residence. Yes, because this paradise is private! In 1924, the Russian dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine bought the archipelago, building a magnificent villa that Le Corbusier helped to design, as well as a suggestive open-air theater modeled after the ancient Greek one in Syracuse. Soon what he considered as simply a refuge from the stresses of his career became an indispensable source of inspiration. His dream was to transform Gallo Lungo into an arts center that brought together various disciplines, from dance to musical composition and painting: a place where young artists from all over the world could come and get away from the suffocating materialism of modern life and take inspiration from the beauty and simplicity of the place. Unfortunately, this dream never materialized, and after Massine’s death, the island passed to another dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. The new owner led a less cloistered life than Massine, and frequented Positano much more, actively participating in the lively worldliness proper to Capri and the Amalfi coast. He carried out further modifications, personalizing the villa in the Moorish style and enlarging the dance room that rises at the height of the 14th-century stone watchtower built to warn against pirate incursions.
Legend has it that in the summer of 1992, Nureyev, fatally sick with AIDS, said goodbye to the island by kissing those rocks that had so sweetly welcomed him all those years. He died a few months later, and with him, the dream of making the island an Eden dedicated to the art of dance.
Later, a businessman from Sorrento bought the island; but with the arrival of the new millennium, rumors began to circulate that the archipelago was once again for rent.
The new owner at first denied the rumors, but according to some international websites specialized in luxury travel on private islands, it seems that the rumors are in fact correct. So, for the modest sum of 220,000 euros a week, one can become king of the island, at least for a short while. The price, valid for up to 12 guests, includes everything, from meals to transportation. One can sojourn in the sublime rooms designed by Nureyev, left intact by the new owners, with their arabesque and Turkish tiles, enjoying the silence broken only by the murmur of the sea or the occasional cry of a seagull.
Carving out a moment of evasion means finding refuge where the masses don’t arrive, and one doesn’t always have to pass endless hours in flight to reach isolated islands and atolls. Li Galli demonstrate this well, thanks to the unique combination of luxury and privacy, the watchwords for the new mega-rich. Those less fortunate, of course, can still admire this prohibited dream from afar by booking one of the many boat tours organized in the ports of Positano and Sorrento.
by Oreste Sacco