The Truth Behind Italy's Cursed Island


In the Bay of Naples lies the tiny rocky island of La Gaiola. It is not far from the mainland to the idyllic island on which an old villa perches - but many Italians give La Gaiola a wide berth. They believe the island is cursed, as bad things happened to everyone who once bought it.

Gianni Agnelli, a wealthy Italian industrialist, once bought the ill-fated island. Agnelli made some important alterations to the villa and island, including the construction of a helicopter landing pad. Doomsayers attribute Agnelli's serious car accident (he crashed into a truck at 160 km/h and barely survived) to the cursed island, although the timing is not quite right: he only acquired the island after the accident. Because he rarely stayed on the island, he sold it to another billionaire in 1968: US oil tycoon and art patron Jean-Paul Getty.


Five years after La Gaiola became Getty's property, his 17-year-old grandson was kidnapped by mafia members. Only when the kidnappers cut off the boy's ear did the oil mogul pay a ransom of almost 3 million dollars, which he, however, demanded back from his son with interest.

In 1978, La Gaiola was passed to its last private owner. The Neapolitan entrepreneur Gianpasquale Grappone bought the island but went bankrupt with his company and ended up in prison, completely overindebted. His wife died in a car accident - on the very day when the ill-fated island was auctioned off.

By now La Gaiola has gained its reputation as an "isola maledetta" ("cursed island"). After all the strange events, no private buyer could be found, and the island became the property of the Campania region. The villa was left to its fate and gradually decayed, which indeed gives the rocky island a rather creepy appearance today.

In 2009, various Italian media again saw reason to associate a particularly gruesome incident with La Gaiola. In a villa in the Neapolitan district of Posillipo, just opposite La Gaiola, the Italian multi-millionaire Franco Ambrosio and his wife were attacked and murdered. In the end, three Romanians, one of whom had worked as a gardener for Ambrosio, were charged with robbery and murder. But for many, the killing of the couple fits seamlessly into the sinister history of La Gaiola.

Tourists, however, like to come to this area of Naples, to visit the Lost Place with its ancient ruins, and to snorkel and dive around La Gaiola.


And are the inhabitants of Naples still afraid of the island today? "No," says Maurizio Simeone, director of the AMP Parco Sommerso di Gaiola. "Neapolitans are also finally rediscovering the place today, which a few decades ago fell into a state of total neglect." The AMP takes care of the preservation of the marine park around La Gaiola and organises, among other things, snorkelling tours and excursions, where visitors can explore the underwater world around the island.


And what is to happen to the villa? "There is a project by the Naples heritage protection authority. The plan is to set up an information centre where people can learn about the natural and cultural heritage of the region."

Mr Simeone hopes that La Gaiola's inglorious past will soon be completely forgotten. "Almost no visitors ask questions or make comments about the imaginary 'cursing' of the island," he says. The most frequent comment of Neapolitan visitors is: “We had this treasure on our doorstep without knowing anything about it.”