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LI GALLI: WHERE MERMAIDS DWELL

Li Galli (the Roosters) or Le Sirenuse (the Sirenusas) is an archipelago located between Capri and Positano in the marine protected area of Punta Campanella, a few kilometers from the Sorrento Coast.


by Annalisa Russo

The archipelago Li Galli is composed of three small islands, the biggest one is the Gallo Lungo and seen from above it is shaped like a dolphin while the smallest ones are the Rotonda and Castelluccia, also known as the Isola dei Briganti. This archipelago is an uncontaminated place that has always fascinated the visitor of the Divine Amalfi Coast. Surrounded by a quiet atmosphere, with the sound of the waves which break against the cliffs and the call of the seagulls in the background, it is a real paradise.

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Li Galli Archipelago

Li Galli: between myth and reality

This archipelago has always been considered the place where mermaids dwell and it was described for the first time in the encyclopedia “Geography” of Strabo in the 1st century. The appellation “Le Sirenuse” comes from the name with which these islands are called in the work: Sirenai or Sirenussai.


In the past, mermaids indicated risks and difficulties of sailing. Moreover, the sailors reached Li Galli after crossing the Gulf of the Cyclops and the "bocche di Capri", a zone characterized by intense sea currents especially in case of strong winds that often pushed the boats to sink after hitting the rocks. According to mythology, the only two boats that didn’t sink were the ones of Ulysses and Argonauts. The name Li Galli then, would come from the Greek iconography that represents the mermaids with a body half-woman and half-bird. 

This archipelago drew the attention of the imperator Tiberio that used to go there in the hope of listening to the mermaids singing and, with the end of the Roman Empire, the archipelago became first an ideal place for the hermits and then a fortification in the period from Angevins until the second half of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, it remained in its natural state, frequented by hunters of quails.

 

Li Galli Archipelago

The owners

During the 1920s, the archipelago had new fame. Léonide Massine, an American dancer and choreographer of Russian origin on a trip to Positano in 1917, fell in love with these islands and wanted to buy them. In 1924 Massine acquired Li Galli for 300.000 Lire from the local family “Parlato”, the owner of the islands at that time. Lady Parlato is famous for this scene: she  screamed in dialect that she found a mad man who had bought the rocks, in other words, the islands.

Certainly, Massine dealt with some problems such as the fury of the sea and wind, but he commissioned the construction of a villa that will be renovated later by the famous architect Le Corbusier in 1937. This archipelago was for him a refuge and a great source of inspiration. As a matter of fact, he hoped that this place could be the same for other young artists from all over the world who were searching for a place far from modernity and a source of inspiration. Moreover, Massine thought that some of its best artistic productions were born in that place. 

After his death in 1979, Rudolf Nureyev, a Russian dancer who was in Positano to pick up the prize “Léonide Massine per l’arte della danza”, just like his colleague Massine couldn’t resist the charm of Li Galli and bought the islands. The villa, built at the behest of his predecessor, was restyled with azulejos (ceramic tiles) and kilim carpet while he ordered the construction of a dance hall in the Saracen tower. Nureyev loved this place where he could isolate himself from the world. It is said that the last time he was there in September 1992, being sure that he would never return there again because of his illness, he kissed the rocks of those islands that had become for him a refuge. With his death in 1993, the golden era where this place was a cradle of art ended. 

Today the owner is a famous Sorrentine hotelier and docking is possible only by invitation. 

This archipelago is clearly visible from the beach of Tordigliano and it is especially appreciated from the sea. 

 

The Gallo Lungo- Aerial view

Saracen Tower - The Gallo Lungo

Being a private archipelago where you cannot dock, the best way to enjoy it is from the sea. The group Battellieri offers an excursion of about 5 hours with departure from the port of Amalfi on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10.00 AM.

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