In the sea off the coast of Livorno sits the Island of Gorgona, the smallest in the Tuscan Archipelago. Gorgona is almost entirely mountainous and densely covered in the typical Mediterranean scrub. A part of the island is currently home to a penal colony, established in 1869 as a branch of the one in Pianosa. The main center of the island consists of an ancient fishermen’s village – there have been many fruitless attempts to cultivate the island and every colony sent by the Tuscan authorities has always ended up resorting to fishing – where about 70 people live, of which only 7 can still be found in the ancient seaside village.
The coastline is dotted with evocative coves and bays, like the Coasta dei Gabbiani or the Scirocco Bay, where the Grotta del Bue Marino can be found, once a shelter for monk seals. The island has two beautiful fortresses, one made by the Medici and another by the Pisans. The Villa Margherita sits inland, built on top of the ruins of ancient Etruscan-Roman settlements.
Gorgona, the ancient Urgon, is thought to have been inhabited by Etruscans and definitely by Romans, as the ruins of a building on the Piano dei Morti can attest to. During the Middle Ages, some monks founded Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. In 1283, the island became part of the Maritime Republic of Pisa, who built the Torre Vecchia, or Old Tower, and in 1406 it was seized by the Medici, who are behind the island’s fortifications. It once again became a religious property, this time with Carthusian monks, and it remained so until 1777, when Grand Duke Peter Leopold liberated the island and tried to populate it, without success. The first prison settlement was established by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and it continued as such when the Kingdom of Italy was founded, when a contract was signed with the population in 1861, still in effect today, agreeing that a part of the island would be ceded by the local community in exchange for the prison providing all their essential needs.
The sea that surrounds the island is rich in every way, thanks to both the centuries-long protection ensured by the penal colony and the protection in place today given by the Park. For this reason, the waters around Gorgona are the subject of continues studies, while all along the routes that pass close to the island, dolphins and whales are abundant. Indeed, the island is in the heart of the so-called International Cetacean Sanctuary.
Access to Gorgona is permitted but severely regulated by both the Prison Administration and the quota that has been fixed for environmental safeguarding measures. The Prison Administration requires visitors’ ID details and reservations are obligatory (and must be approved with adequate advanced notice prior to the visit), which can be made directly with the carrier that will escort you on your visit. The Park recently upped the number of persons allowed on Gorgona per day, now with a maximum of 3 groups of 25 people, for a total of 75 excursionists (excluding residents and service personnel at the penal colony).