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The dolphin-shaped Isola Lunga

Dolphin Island and the Song of Sirens

history of the amalfi coast

Italy’s Amalfi Coast is a magical destination for many reasons. One more to add the list is a small, private archipelago called Li Galli, which is made up of three atolls located between Capri and Positano. Pictured is Isola Lunga (Long Island) which resembles a dolphin leaping from the water. The other two, considerably smaller islands are La Castelluccia and the roundish-shaped La Rotonda.

The three isles are also known as Les Sirenuse, which refers to the long-held belief that these rocky outposts were home to the sirens of mythology – creatures who lured sailors to their doom through beguiling songs and other provocative behaviors. Today we know that it was the strong, often shifting currents around the islands that likely played a role in maritime disasters.

The name Li Galli is based on the Italian word gallina which means hen and has nothing to do with the appearance of the island. The name is based on ancient depictions of sirens who had the bodies of birds and heads of women. The isles were used by the ancient Romans as an anchorage and later developed as a medieval place of defense with a stone watchtower.

the amalfi coast now

In modern times, the isles became less about the ‘song of the sirens’ and more about the ‘dance of the dolphins.’ Isola Lunga entered a new phase of development when famed Russian choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine purchased Li Galli in 1922. Massine converted the 14th century tower into a dance studio, installing floors of Siberian pine that remain to this day. It also contained six small bedrooms for visiting dancers. Massine went on to design and erect a main villa and created four gem-like beaches. He also converted an ancient vineyard into a large terraced garden.

Massine’s dreams of turning his island residence into an arts center was never realized by the time of his death in 1979, but another ballet giant took over patronage of the magical little island. The great Rudolf Nureyev, purchased Li Galli in 1988 and poured his own vision into the island, including a stunning renovation of the villa. With Nureyev’s death in 1993, the island traded owners and remains in private hands. Currently, the best way to experience the centuries of magic on Italy’s little dolphin-shaped island is to join one of the many local boat charters that run excursions along the Amalfi Coast and pass beneath the rocky outlines of Isola Lunga and her siren sisters.