No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you and this isn’t the work of Photoshop—this island has the distinct shape of a dolphin. In yet another example of nature being amazing, this island in Italy—located between Capri and Positano—is part of a cluster known as the Sirenusas or the Gallos. This specific, dolphin-shaped mass of land is the biggest island of the group and known as Gallo Lungo.
Besides the unusual shape, this island has a fascinating history to make it even more intriguing. First, the name Sirenusas comes from the Italian word sirene, which means sirens. Legend says that mythological sirens used the islands as their residence. The ancient Greeks said that they had the heads of humans and the body of a bird. This bird-like quality gave birth to the second name of the islands, the Gallos, which comes from the Italian word galli (roosters).
Gallo Lungo once housed a monastery and then a prison before a watchtower was built there in the 13th century. Charles II, the king of Naples, used this watchtower to guard the Amalfi Coast against pirates. Over the years, responsibility for the island was passed down through the different wardens of the tower. However, once Italy became a unified country in the 19th century, ownership passed to the town of Positano.
But the story doesn’t end there. The town eventually sold the island to a private owner who, in turn, sold it to Russian choreographer Leonide Massine in 1919. Massine transformed the island into a private residence, even installing a dance studio in the old watchtower. He built his own villa on the site of Roman ruins, following the advice of friend and famed architect Le Corbusier.
Once Massine died, the island was purchased by another Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. The acclaimed ballet dancer is considered by some to be the best of his generation. In 1961 he evaded the KGB and defected to the West—the first major artist to do so. This caused an international sensation and he then went on to dance for the Royal Ballet in London and served as director of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Starting from 1988 until his death in 1993, Nureyev lived on the island. He updated the villa’s decor to suit his tastes and made a considerable effort to improve the water supply and cultivate the gardens. A few years after his passing, Gallo Lungo went back into Italian hands when hotel developer Giovanni Russo purchased it in 1996. Now, aside from using the island as his own private residence, he rents out the estate to lucky guests who are served by a staff of seven.
If you are looking to explore this dolphin-shaped island rich in history, you’ll need to rent time at the residence. While anyone is allowed to swim in the waters surrounding the island, only guests are permitted to dock and take a look around. Luckily, its incredible shape is best viewed from above anyway.