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The Sirenusas (Italian: Le Sirenuse), also known as the Gallos (Li Galli) or The Roosters are an archipelago of little islands off the Amalfi Coast of Italy between Isle of Capri and 6 km (4 mi) southwest of Positano. The name, Sirenuse, is a reference to the mythological sirens said to have lived there.
The archipelago consists of three main islands, Gallo Lungo which takes the form of a half-moon, La Castelluccia also known as Gallo dei Briganti, and nearly circular La Rotonda. Nearer the shore, there is a small fourth island, Isca, and finally, midway between Li Galli and Isca, there is a prominent rocky outcropping that juts above the water, Vetara.
Several sirens were said to have inhabited the islands, the most famous of whom were Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia. One of them played the lyre, another sang, and another played the flute. They are mentioned in the 1st century BC by Strabo, the Greek Geographer and by Straton of Sardis in 120 A.D. In ancient stories, the sirens were depicted as having bodies of a bird and human heads, but the medieval interpretations of the stories depicted them as mermaids. The terms "Sirenai" and "Sirenusai", from the Latin Sirenusae, meaning Sirens, indicate both the sirens themselves and their residence. The modern name, Li Galli or The Roosters, references the bird-like form of the ancient sirens.
Originally the site of an ancient Roman anchorage, In the Middle Ages, the islands then became medieval fiefdoms of Emperor Frederick II (1220 to 1250) and the Capetian House of Anjou.
Originally Gallo Lungo hosted a monastery and then a prison. During the reign Charles II of Naples (1285 to 1309) the Amalfi coast became subject to increasing attacks by pirates. To defer them Charles wished to build a watchtower on top of the remains of a Roman tower on Gallo Lungo. As he lacked sufficient funds he accepted offer of Pasquale Celentano of Positano to lend the required funds in return for being appointed warden of the fortification. The tower (today called the Aragonese Tower) was constructed around 1312  and occupied by a garrison of four soldiers. The wardenship was subsequently passed to Angelo Balbo in 1382 and in 1425 to Viviano Mirelli. Responsibility for the islands then passed to Catalian Gilberto Squanes, the Miroballo family and then to the Marino Mastrogiudice before passing to the crown and then the Marquises of Positano. Eventually with the establishment of the Republic of Italy ownership passed to the town of Positano. The town later sold the islands to a native of Salerno who sold them to Davide Pariato.
In 1919 the Russian choreographer and dancer Leonide Massine sighted the islands while staying with a friend in Positano. In 1922, he purchased Gallo Lungo and began converting it from a place of defense into a private residence. Initially Massine restored and converted the old Aragonese Tower on Gallo Lungo into accommodation with a dance studio and featuring an open-air theatre. The theatre was subsequently destroyed by a storm. With design advice from his friend Le Corbusier he constructed a villa on the site of the original Roman structure . The villa featured the bedrooms facing Positano with a large terrace garden on the first floor facing Cape Licosa and Capri.
Shirley Hazzard in her book Greene on Capri recounts a visit to Massine.
After Massine’s death the islands were purchased in 1988 by Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who spent the last years of his life here. He redecorated the villa in the Moorish style and clad its interiors with 19th-century tiles from Seville. He also installed a desalinization plant which provided a reliable water supply to and assisted in the development of the gardens,
After Nureyev’s death the islands were purchased from his foundation in 1996 by Giovanni Russo, a Sorrento hotelier who besides using them as a private residence also makes them available for private rental with a staff of 7 and a launch to take guests to and from the mainland. Members of the public are not allowed to land but can swim in the surrounding waters.
The Neapolitan playwright, Eduardo De Filippo purchased this island, which is still owned by his son Luca De Filippo.
Isca has a lovely villa and garden on the side facing the cliff (and, thus, not visible if you sail behind the island, as most do). The island was described by the playwright’s wife, Isabella in a book entitled, In mezzo al mare un'isola c'è... (There is an island in the sea…).
- Sabella. Page 20.
- Fisher. Page 114.
- Berger. Page 176.
- Rob Bear, A Pricey Amalfi Archipelago and Some Cheaper Alternatives, Curbed, February 23, 2011, accessed September 6, 2013.
- Berger, Diane (1999). Rivera Style (hardback). London: Scriptum Editions. pp. 215 pages. ISBN 1-902686-01-2.
- Fisher, Robert (2011). Close to Paradise – The Gardens of Naples, Capri & the Amalfi Coast (hardback). London: Frances Lincoln Limited. pp. 2008 pages. ISBN 978-0-7112-3038-5.
- Sabella, Giuseppe; Sabella, Roberto (2010). Positano (paperback). Salerno: Matonti Editore. pp. 64 pages.
- http://ac-support.europe.umuc.edu/~jmatthew/naples/sirens.htm Around Naples Encyclopedia - Land of the Sirens.