The Underwater Park of Gaiola

Published in Focus
03 June 2016

A protected marine area of rare beauty in Posillipo that extends across little more than 41 hectares from Marechiaro to the Bay of Trentaremi: the Underwater Park of Gaiola. With its rugged coastline and cliffs of Neapolitan yellow tuff, moulded by the wind and sea and tinged by the Mediterranean maquis, it is one of the Mediterranean’s most suggestive coastal landscapes.

Along the coast the remains of ancient villas are still discernible, while in the sea, just below  water level, lie the remains of fish farms that in Roman times bred orate (gilt-head breams), moray eels and oysters. Today the fish farms are underwater as a result of the gradual uplift and descent of the earth’s crust, a volcanic and tectonic phenomenon known as “bradyseism”. The complexity of the sea bed and marine currents have created an ideal habitat for octopus, sargo, damselfish and moray eel among soft coral and ancient ruins.

The rare beauty that distinguishes this place has always captivated those who have settled here. It is here that the Romans erected their sumptuous villas, the most important of which was Pausilypon (“the place where pain ends”) built by Pubilo Vedio Pollione. The remains of the theatre and several rooms used for ceremonial events can still be admired today, together with those of the thermal baths and port facilities.

As well as being a marine paradise in an underwater archeological park, Gaiola is also one of the most beautiful seaside resorts in Naples. The island of Gaiola, consisting of  two islets connected by a bridge, lying just a short distance one from the other, is situated in the middle of the park. One of the islets has always been uninhabited while an abandoned, uninhabited house, shrouded in mystery, stands on the other. The island saw the construction of the villa that occupies it today and which was, at one time, owned by Norman Douglas, author of Land of the Siren. The locals believe the island to be cursed, a reputation that came about because of the frequent premature death of its owners.

The series of misfortunes started sometime around the 1920s, when the then owner, a Swiss named Hans Braun, was found murdered. A short while later his wife drowned in the sea. The villa’s next owner was the German Otto Grunback, who died of a heart attack while on the island. A similar fate befell the pharmaceutical industrialist Maurice-Yves Sandoz, who committed suicide in Switzerland. Its subsequent owner, a German steel industrialist, Baron Karl Paul Langheim, found himself in desperate economic straits. The island has also belonged to Gianni Agnelli, whose only son committed suicide, followed shortly thereafter by the untimely death of his nephew. After buying the island, the grandson of multi-billionaire Paul Getty, its subsequent owner, was kidnapped. The island’s last owner Gianpasquale Grappone was jailed when his insurance company failed.Today, the island and villa belong to the Campania Region. 

Where is it?