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"Capi has always existed as un mondo a parte, a world apart," says one resident. That sentiment is demonstrated in the Faraglioni pinnacles off southeastern Capri. (Francesco Lastrucci)

The Lure of Capri

What is it about this tiny, sun-drenched island off the coast of Naples that has made it so irresistible for so long?

Out of fear of being disappointed, I delayed my visit to the Blue Grotto, which has become a symbol of Capri’s overcommercialization. Hundreds of boatmen ferry tourists in and out of the sea cave in a perfunctory parade. Then, on the day I finally chose to visit it, the grotto was closed because of a mysterious sewage spill; it was rumored that the Neapolitan mafia had dumped waste there to damage Capri’s tourist trade, for reasons unknown.

But after a few cleansing tides had allowed the grotto to be reopened, I took a bus to Tiberius’ Villa Damecuta and descended the cliff steps to sea level. At 7 p.m., after the commercial boats stop working, a number of intrepid tourists swim into the grotto, ignoring the posted signs warning against it. I joined them and plunged into the waves. After swimming the few strokes to the opening, I pulled myself along a chain embedded in the wall of the cave entrance, the waves threatening to dash me against the rocks every few seconds. Soon I was inside, and my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Deep beneath my feet, the water glowed that famous fluorescent blue, which Raffaele La Capria writes is “more blue than any other, blue below and blue above and blue along each curve of its vault.” I was not disappointed. The magic endures.

Tony Perrottet’s new book, The Sinner’s Grand Tour, is due out next month. Francesco Lastrucci photographed the Sicilian mafia story for the October 2010 issue.

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