Not far from one of the most beautiful towns in southern Italy, Positano, approximately 6 km to the south-west of this village and comune on the Amalfi Coast, there is an archipelago of Li Galli. This small island archipelago is also known as the Sirenusas, the Gallos or “the Cocks”.
The name Sirenusas is due to the fact that in the Greek mythology the sirens symbolized the dangers that awaited the seafarers. And according to the legends, in ancient times they really lived on these islands. The most famous of the sirens were Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia. One of them sang, the other played the lyre, the third – the flute. In the 1st century BC, they were even mentioned by the Greek geographer Strabo.
Also the local folklore tells that it was here that King Odysseus, from Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, met the sirens during one of his travels. He managed to survive the musical onslaught of a siren, having tied himself to the mast of his boat. So, not surprisingly, that the sailors feared these places, since exactly in this part of the sea the currents often enthralled the watercrafts to the rocks, leading to the shipwrecks.
The modern name, Li Galli, oddly enough, is also associated with the sirens. It turns out, in the Greek mythology, the sirens were half females, half birds, (bodies of birds and heads of women) but not half-fish, as they were often portrayed later and shown in movies (they turned into mermaids only in the Middle Ages). Therefore, the word “galli” (translated from the Italian as “cocks”) may also be associated with the “feathered sirens.”
The archipelago consists of three main islands and several smaller islets. The notable and significant are Gallo Lungo, La Castelluccia and La Rotonda, sometimes Isca and Vetara are also mentioned. The main island of the archipelago, Gallo Lungo, is especially noteworthy, first of all, of course, due to its history, but also its appearance. It is often said that it has the shape of a crescent moon, but I strongly insist that it is a dolphin-island!
Since the days of Ancient Rome, patricians and senators liked to rest here. Immersed in mythology and breathtaking natural beauty, this island attracts travelers. However, not everyone could visit it quite for a long time, since all this was private property.
Once there was a monastery here, later – a prison. During the reign of Charles II of Naples in the late 13th – early 14th centuries, the Amalfi Coast was very often attacked by pirates, and to prevent danger, Charles ordered the construction of a watchtower on the ruins of an ancient Roman building on Gallo Lungo. Over the centuries, the post of the watchman of the tower passed from hand to hand, and with the formation of the Italian Kingdom the responsibility for the buildings on Gallo Lungo has passed to the municipality of Positano. Well, omitting the rich history of the island, we can say that in the XX century, it gained particular fame. By the way, after this, the Italians started calling Li Galli “Russian islands”.
The fact is that in 1924, after several years of negotiations with local authorities, Li Galli was acquired by the dancer and choreographer of Russian origin Leonid Miasin (Leonide Massine), the main director of the famous Russian Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Seasons. Gradually, he began to turn the island into a private residence. The building, snow-white inside, having exceptional views of Positano from the windows as decorations, was called the “White House”. It is worth mentioning that the famous architect Le Corbusier took part in the creation of the beautiful villa. There were also huge terraced gardens overlooking the Cape Licosa and the island of Capri.
In different years, renowned celebrities visited Miasin’s villa, including the English princess Margaret Rose, the first lady of the USA Jacqueline Kennedy, the actresses Greta Garbo, Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, the filmmakers Roberto Rossellini and Franco Zeffirelli and many others.
After the death of Leonid Miasin, in 1988 the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev became the proprietor of the islands of Li Galli. He took up the remake of the island with the same indomitable energy that struck him in his dance. The style of the previous owner seemed to Nureyev too ascetic, and he conceived a grandiose alteration of the interiors. Gradually, the main villa and tower turned into luxurious oriental palaces, bright and superfluous. They say that he loved this island so much, that on the eve of his departure the dancer even kissed the rocks. After the death of Nureyev in 1996, the island was bought by Giovanni Russo, the owner of the hotel from Sorrento, who turned the villa into a hotel.
Today, three mansions with magnificent terraces are lined up on the islands. Their total living area is more than two thousand square meters. With the cleaning system, solar panels, gardens, chicken coop and fishing pier, the island became a small autonomous paradise. A list of amenities also includes a luxurious spa, helipad and three swimming pools. There is a special factory, which produces fresh water for villas, and fresh vegetables are supplied by their own vegetable garden, which is more than one hundred years old. In general, the islands of Li Galli have everything necessary for life and comfortable, secluded rest.