London, March 24 : Monte Cristo, one of the most isolated, mysterious and fabled islands in the world, is to be opened to the public for the first time in decades.
The diamond-shaped island, which is approximately four square miles in size, was commemorated by Alexandre Dumas in 'The Count of Monte Cristo' as the site of an enormous buried treasure.
The island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Italian mainland and Corsica, is an unpopulated, state-protected nature reserve and bird sanctuary, which can be visited only by academics and researchers who apply for special permission.
For the past 40 years, private boats and swimming has been banned in Montecristo's waters.
However, the Park Authority for the Tuscan Archipelago has now decided to allow up to 1,000 tourists a year to visit Montecristo, which lies 22 miles south of Elba and 40 miles from the coast of Italy.
Visitors will be allowed from April 1 to July 15 and then from August 31 to the end of October each year. Trips for 2009 have to be booked with the authority by the end of January next year. Mario Tozzi, head of the commission, said that visitors, who can apply to join the tours online, would have to attend a daylong course on environmental education.
"Those who visit it must be educated enough to understand what treasures they are being allowed to see," Times Online quoted Tozzi, as saying.
He added that the move to allow visitors was part of a policy of opening up reserves to "environmentally compatible and sustainable tourism", and the numbers might be increased if it was successful.
The island was made famous by 'The Count of Monte Cristo', an adventure novel written by Dumas in 1846.
The book revolves around a treasure supposedly hidden on the island by an Italian cardinal. After escaping from a jail in which he has been unjustly imprisoned, the book's hero Edmond Dantes finds a chest divided into three compartments in a cave within a cave.
The first section contains gold coins; the second, gold bars; and in the third "handfuls of diamonds, pearls, and rubies, which, as they fell on one another, sounded like hail against glass".