Sardinia’s Asinara Island: A Former Prison Turned into National Park

Oct 09, 2018 206

Located off the north-western tip of Sardinia, the 20-square-mile island of Asinara is a national park and a marine reserve covered by thick Mediterranean scrub and inhabited by the little albino donkeys, a protected species thought to be native to Asinara, who give the name to the island (donkey in Italian is ‘asino’).

Because of its historical isolation, Asinara has been preserved largely intact. Human presence  dates to the Neolithic age, but the island was not settled permanently until the 1600s, when a community of shepherds and fishermen took up residence. However, in 1885, this small colony was moved to the mainland to make room for the chief leper hospital of the Kingdom of Italy and later a penal colony as well. During World War II, the island became a prison camp for Austro-Hungarian soldiers; from the 1970s until the establishment of the national park in 1997, Asinara was reconverted to become one of Italy’s main high security prisons, used mainly for detention of mafia members and terrorists.   

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