The island of Monte Cristo, belonging to the Tuscan Archipelago and to the district of the town of Portoferraio, is a natural reserve. It develops for 16 km. of coast and it has only one landing place, the one of Cala Maestra. This island is enveloped by mist and fog almost all the year round and it has become legendary because of Alexandre Dumas's famous novel.
This island has a granite structure and a very broken coast with long parts of cliffs dropping into the sea. Just like all the other islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, it is a landing place for numerous species of migratory birds and it is the refuge of some exemplars of raptors and seagulls. The sea surrounding the island is a three-mile long marine natural reserve crowded by tunas and seals.
The first to inhabit the island were probably the men of Neanderthal, but despite this a real geographically stable human presence only existed at the time of the Etruscans who came here to provision with timber to use in their smithies. Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Liguri used it as a call during navigation while the Romans visited it to take granite. Yet, the inaccessible and inhospitable place and the difficulties in finding a landing place did not allow the presence of permanent settlements. The Greeks were the first to give a name to the island calling it "Ocrasia".
In 445 a.D., San Mamiliano, the bishop of Palermo who escaped from Geiseric, King of the Vandals, found his refuge here. The legend tells that the saint defeated the dragon that lived on the island, consecrated it to Christianity and changed its name from "Montegiove" (this was how the Romans called it) to "Montecristo". Mamiliano's followers went to live as hermits on the island. When pope Gregory II ordained them Benedictines around the year 600 they built a monastery.
In the XIII century, the authority of monastery of Monte Cristo had extended to part of Tuscany, of Sardinia and of Corsica. Yet, the island soon became a target for the pillages perpetrated by pirates and the monastery decayed. It is said that the Turkish pirate Dragut could loot the Benedictines' treasure in 1553 while others say that it is still hidden somewhere in the island.
In 1860, the Kingdom of Italy annexed Monte Cristo and, in 1889, it was ceded to the Marquis Ginori who transformed it into a game reserve and restructured the villa that had been built on the Cala Maestra some time before.
In 1971, the island went back in the hands of the state in the frame of the preservation programme of natural reserves and it currently belongs to the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. Since then, the island has been both a land and a marine reserve and tourists cannot reach it. It can only be visited by booking one of the excursions organized by the Foresters of Follonica or some visits organized by the Giglio island.