It’s spooky, crumbling and abandoned. Inhabited by seagulls, with only the odd day-trip by scuba divers to disturb them, Santo Stefano is a tiny volcanic island between Rome and Naples, where silence rules – though not for much longer.
This was once Italy’s Alcatraz. For centuries, criminals, bandits, anarchists and political dissidents were sent here to rot. From the Roman emperor Augustus, who banished his daughter to the neighboring island of Ventotene, to the Fascist regime, which deported here those it deemed enemies of the state, rulers throughout history have used Santo Stefano as one of the bleakest places to send those deemed the worst of the worst.
In 1965, the jail was closed and the island abandoned. Until now – when it’s being brought back from the grave with an ambitious restyle project.
The Italian state is spending €70 million ($86 million) to breathe new life into Santo Stefano, transforming it into an open-air museum and tourist hotspot in the vein of America’s original Alcatraz. Maintenance works are underway to secure key areas, and in June a call for proposals on how to renovate the jail will be launched.
Silvia Costa, the government commissioner in charge of the restyle, tells CNN the goal is to recover all parts of the penal colony – from the barracks to the original cisterns – “with an environmentally friendly approach that takes into account the uniqueness of the island’s natural habitat.”