Just south of the coast of Posillipo, one of the most famous quarters of Naples, what looks like a pair of small islands turns out to be just one, with the two huge rocks connected by very a thin stone arch. Seen from the sea it’s a wonderfully odd sight, and yet this bizarre bridge is not the only unusual thing about Gaiola Island.
The cursed fame of this abandoned isle begins in the early 19th century, when it was inhabited by a hermit known as “The Wizard.” Later, in 1871, the island was bought by Luigi Negri, owner of an important fishing company. A villa was built on the island during this time, but Negri had to sell his possessions when his company went bankrupt.
The villa, and the whole island, was owned by many different people during the 20th century, all of which suffered various misfortunes, building up the notorious reputation of the island. In the 1920s, the island’s Swiss owner, Hans Braun, was killed and found dead wrapped in a rug, and his wife died drowning in the sea while swimming offshore. The following owner, Otto Grunback, died of a heart attack while visiting the villa. Next owner, writer and pharmaceutical industrialist Maurice-Yves Sandoz, was locked up in an asylum in Switzerland and committed suicide there in 1958.
Gaiola Island was then owned by Baron Karl Paul Langheim, a German industrialist whose company also went bankrupt. He sold the island to Gianni Agnelli, owner of Fiat (the most important automobile manufacturer in Italy), who suffered from many tragic deaths in his family. Another owner of Gaiola Island was American industrialist Jean Paul Getty. He had his fair share of misfortunes, with the suicide of his oldest son, the death of his youngest son, and the kidnapping of a grandson by an organized crime group.
The last owner was Gianpasquale Grappone, who ended up in prison and his wife died in a car accident. In 1978, Gaiola Island became a property of the government, along with the nearby marine reserve, the Underwater Park of Gaiola (Parco Sommerso di Gaiola). The island has been uninhabited for 40 years now, but the curse apparently hasn’t stopped; in 2009, the owners of a villa opposite the island were murdered.
Know Before You Go
You can drive to the coastline near Gaiola Island, which is close enough to the shore to be able to see from there. You can also take a boat out to get closer, or scuba dive and snorkel at the nearby Gaiola Underwater Park, a marine protected area.