Rose Island: Netflix adapts the story of 'prince of anarchists' Giorgio Rosa

 The original Rose Island, and the poster for the Netflix film about it

In the late 1960s, an Italian engineer built his own island in the Adriatic sea, which housed a restaurant, bar, souvenir shop and even a post office. It is an extraordinary story, which has gone largely untold for decades.

That's about to change with the release of Rose Island, a new Netflix film which follows the true story of Giorgio Rosa and his battle with the Italian authorities for his self-made structure to be recognised as an independent state.

The story is likely to have passed you by unless you happen to live in the north Italian city of Rimini, off the coast of which Rosa built his utopian micro-nation.

"It's the sort of tale in Rimini that grandparents tell their children and grandchildren," explains the film's producer Matteo Rovere. "It's a very famous story, but only in Rimini. We thought it was an incredible story, and very strange that we didn't know about it."

Prior to his death in 2017 at the age of 92, Rosa met with the film-makers and, after a bit of persuasion on their part, gave them his blessing to adapt the story for the screen. The resulting film depicts the construction of the island, and Rosa's refusal to give in to the Italian government's demands that it be dismantled.

The story begins in 1967, when Rosa set out to build a micro-nation, which was intended to be a symbol of freedom. Many people at the time thought he must be crazy to attempt such a feat. But, as his real-life son points out, the building of L'Isola delle Rose required a great deal of technical know-how.

"My father was an engineer, and in Italy it would be enough to describe him like this to understand what kind of person he was," Lorenzo Rosa explains. "He was a very precise, detailed person, and very organised. An engineer in an almost German sense of the word. Except for this small vein of craziness that led him to want to build a platform for himself, and then make it a state outside of territorial waters, which kind of made him the prince of anarchists."

  • In 1967, Italian engineer Giorgio Rosa designed and financed the construction of a 400 sq m platform which was suspended 26m above the seabed by steel pylons.
  • The structure was built 12km off the coast of Rimini, just beyond Italian territorial waters, which meant it was outside the control of the authorities.
  • Rosa made himself the president and declared it an independent state - the Republic of Rose Island.
  • Authorities were unhappy that Rose Island had been built without permission and was benefitting from tourism while simultaneously avoiding tax laws.
  • As well as claiming the island was being used for drinking and gambling, some politicians even suggested the island posed a threat to national security and could be providing cover for Soviet nuclear submarines, in an effort to damage its reputation.
  • Just 55 days after the island's declaration of independence on 24 June 1968, the Italians sent in military forces to assume control. They destroyed Rose Island on 11 February 1969 using dynamite.
  • Days later, a storm submerged the structure entirely. Today, its remains rest on the seabed of the Adriatic.

Rose Island is fundamentally "a story about freedom, about how resilient Giorgio Rosa was against the government," explains Rovere. "He didn't want to surrender against the law, because the law in the 60s was that if you were more than six miles from the coast, it's nobody's land, so you can do what you want - just like if you were on the Moon.

"And so he built the island, which was incredible because it was very complicated. He built it with four friends and a very small group of workers, in six months. He invented the technology to do it, and he was very proud of it. In fact, when we spoke to him [about making a film] he was not very interested in the story, but he was enthusiastic to tell us about the technology he had invented to build it."

Once it was completed, Rosa's platform quickly attracted the attention of Italian newspapers, and against a backdrop of worldwide unrest with the Vietnam War and civil rights protests, young people flocked to Rose Island for fun and freedom.

Efforts to try to shut it down only made it more popular. The Italian government tried to discredit it by claiming the island was being used for illegal activities like gambling and drug-taking.

"They did and said all of that simply because they wanted to ruin its reputation," says Rosa's son. "They even suggested there were Russian submarines beneath the island. And then another accusation was that the island was dangerous because it was unstable, and yet it took three rounds of dynamite to destroy it."

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