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Italy Plans to Transform a Former Prison Into a Future Tourist Destination

Travel + Leisure logo Travel + Leisure 6/10/2021 Meena Thiruvengadam
a large body of water: Silva Ana/Getty Images © Provided by Travel + Leisure Silva Ana/Getty Images

Italy is hoping to create its own version of Alcatraz, the famous California prison that has since become a tourist destination off the coast of San Francisco.

Italy's Santo Stefano is situated inside a protected marine park between Rome and Naples. Nowadays, the tiny volcanic island is only accessible to adventurous scuba divers and those working on fishing boats, but it was once a prison where people - including those deemed enemies of the state by a Fascist government during the 1930s and 1940s - were sent as punishment.

a large body of water: Italy's Santo Stefano follows in the footsteps of California's Alcatraz. © Silva Ana/Getty Images Italy's Santo Stefano follows in the footsteps of California's Alcatraz.

The jail closed in 1965 and the property was abandoned, but the Italian government is now hoping an $86 million makeover will transform it into a vibrant tourist destination in the style of Alcatraz, CNN reports.


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While there are some guided tours of Santo Stefano, participation requires a steep, 40-minute hike and the creature comforts developers envision aren't available.

"There is no light, no running water. Access is tricky," Silvia Costa, the Italian official overseeing the redevelopment project, told CNN. The island has no dock, making it inaccessible even by canoe on days when the sea is rough.

Santo Stefano's transformation includes the creation of an open-air museum that will tell the story of the prison and the people it housed, among them Sandro Pertini, who in 1978 became Italy's president, and Altiero Spinelli, considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union.

It's a history that organizers plan to incorporate into the space in more than just a commemorative way. It will be a hub for world academics uniting on key issues such as green policies, human rights, freedom of speech, European citizenship, and Mediterranean dialogue," Costa told CNN.

And by 2025, the Santo Stefano bakery where prisoners once made bread is set to become a beautiful terrace garden for evening cocktails with views of Mount Vesuvius and the island of Ischia on a clear evening.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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