Gorgona: Italy’s Hidden Island Gem, the last prison island of Mediterranean Sea

Tucked away in the Ligurian Sea, part of the Tuscan Archipelago, Gorgona is the smallest and northernmost island, offering visitors a unique blend of natural beauty, intriguing history, and strict preservation efforts. Unlike its more accessible neighbors, Gorgona serves a dual role as a protected natural reserve and the site of Italy’s last remaining agricultural penal colony. This combination creates a fascinating, albeit complex, destination for those looking to explore Italy’s lesser-known corners.

Visiting Gorgona: Navigating Access and Regulations

Access to Gorgona is strictly regulated due to its status as a penal colony and its commitment to environmental preservation. Visitors must obtain permission from the Italian Department of Penitentiary Administration, often facilitated through organized tours that sometimes partner with the prison for educational and rehabilitation projects. These tours leaving from the port of Livorno, offer a controlled yet immersive experience into the island’s unique ecosystem and social experiment.

It is mandatory has an Hiking Environmental Guide authorized.

The days for visit are usually weekend, and in summer period also monday. 

Anyway you have to plan the visit in advance, because of Penitentiary permission, and maximum visitors number each day (100).

The Lure of Gorgona’s Natural Environment

Gorgona’s isolation has allowed its natural environment to flourish, making it a haven for biodiversity. The island’s terrain is a mosaic of rugged cliffs, lush Mediterranean scrub, and vibrant marine life, all under the protection of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. Hiking along its marked trails reveals panoramic views of the Ligurian Sea, while guided snorkeling excursions offer a glimpse into the vibrant underwater life in the surrounding protected marine area.

A Glimpse into History: The Agricultural Penal Colony

The history of Gorgona’s penal colony dates back to 1869, evolving from a traditional prison to an innovative agricultural project. Inmates at Gorgona are engaged in farming, viticulture, and animal husbandry, contributing to the island’s self-sufficiency and offering a path to rehabilitation through connection with the land. The prison’s philosophy focuses on reintegration, with the belief that a strong work ethic, learned skills, and the therapeutic nature of agricultural labor can aid in the inmates’ societal reentry.

The island’s agricultural products, including wine, olive oil, and cheese, are highly regarded for their quality, embodying the success of this unique correctional approach. Visitors, under guided supervision, can learn about these initiatives firsthand, often leaving with a profound respect for the island’s commitment to human dignity and environmental stewardship.

The Island’s Rich Tapestry of History

Beyond its contemporary role as a penal colony, Gorgona boasts a rich historical tapestry dating back to antiquity. It served various roles through the ages, from a monastic retreat in the Middle Ages to a strategic military outpost. The remnants of its past, including the ruins of the Monastery of San Gorgonio and the forts that dot its landscape, offer visitors a fascinating journey through time, revealing layers of history that have shaped the island’s unique identity.

Understanding and Respecting the Rules

Visiting Gorgona requires an understanding and respect for its rules and regulations, designed to protect both the island’s ecological balance and the privacy and dignity of its inmate population. Photography is denied, mobile too, and visitors must stay within designated areas under the guidance of their tour leaders. These measures ensure that the island remains a sanctuary for its inhabitants—both human and wildlife—and maintain the integrity of its rehabilitation efforts.

Planning Your Visit in Advance

For those interested in visiting Gorgona, planning is key. Prospective visitors should:

  • Contact Authorized Tour Operators: Inquire about available tours through agencies specializing in responsible tourism that offer approved visits to Gorgona.
  • Prepare for a Unique Experience: Expect a visit that’s different from typical tourist destinations, with a focus on education, conservation, and reflection.
  • Embrace the Opportunity for Insight: A visit to Gorgona is as much a journey inward as it is an exploration of the island’s external beauty and history.


Gorgona stands as a testament to the possibility of harmony between nature, humanity, and history. It challenges visitors to rethink their perceptions of incarceration, rehabilitation, and environmental conservation. A trip to this secluded island is not just a unique adventure but an opportunity to witness a bold experiment in social and ecological sustainability. As Italy and the world grapple with issues of environmental protection and criminal justice reform, Gorgona serves as a living example of alternative paths forward, rooted in respect for the land and belief in human redemption.