The largest island is Isola Maddalena, on which sits the archipelago's largest town, La Maddalena. The other six islands, in order of size, are: Caprera, Spargi, Santo Stefano, Santa Maria, Budelli and Razzoli. Only Maddalena, Caprera and S. Stefano are inhabited.
Lying adjacent to the famous tourist resort of the Costa Smeralda, Maddalena shares the same crystal clear waters and wind blown granite coastlines but also remains a haven for wildlife. It is a designated National Park, the Parco Nazionale Arcipelago di La Maddalena. It is a very popular tourist destination, especially among boaters. In 2006 it was placed on the Tentative list for consideration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The islands have been inhabited since prehistoric times. They were known by the Romans as Cunicularia and were a busy shipping area during the second and 1st century BC. The Maddalenas have always held strategic value and were first the object of a dispute between the maritime republics of Pisa and Genoa in the 13th century and subsequently were abandoned for a long period before being colonised again by Corsican shepherds and by the first Sardinian settlements in the 16th century. Napoleon Bonaparte, Admiral Nelson and particularly Giuseppe Garibaldi all have historical links with the area.
S. Stefano island housed a NATO naval base, closed in 2008, at which US nuclear submarines were housed. This was the basis of some controversy in 2003 when the USS Hartford ran aground while on maneuvers in the area.
Administratively the islands now lie within the province of Olbia-Tempio, having moved from the province of Sassari in 2005. The main access into and out of the archipelago is via the frequent car ferries from nearby Palau on Sardinia that run into La Maddalena. There are roads only on Maddalena and Caprera.
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