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My Private Island: Billionaire Heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva's Skorpios Island

National Land

Lately we've been spotlighting private islands owned by some of the world's richest (shameless plug). And how could we explore such a subject without discussing the island that started it all? Today's Skorpios Island belongs to the daughter of billionaire Dmitry Roblovlev, but its history is its best feature.

Referred to as "Onassis Island," the Greek property was purchased by none other than the beloved Greek billionaire and shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis (statue pictured), which ties the island right back to US royalty. Add to that the fact that this island put owning private islands on the map, and this is a must-see.

Skorpios Island is a 74-acre island in the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece. Shipping magnate Ari Onassis purchased it for somewhere between $10k and $20k back in 1963 as a place to entertain his then-girlfriend, opera singer Maria Callas. Onassis brought in utilities, over 200 types of trees, and sand for beaches—including the popular east beach, which features sand imported from Salamis Island.

He also built three homes and several smaller buildings to accommodate almost 50 guests, 30 servants and 18 gardeners; tennis courts; a pool; a greenhouse; a farmhouse with livestock; a helipad; a boat quay; and harbor facilities for his beloved yacht "Christina," where he slept every night.

The island's water comes from a mountain on a nearby island that Onassis owned as well. Jackie O's favorite spot on the island was a small Cyclades-style house on the south side called the Pink House, which sits near a tiny beach and a cove with clear water. (It's in this spot that she was famously photographed nude by Greek paparazzi.)

Onassis hosted many parties on the island. Its most famous event was his wedding to Jackie O on Oct. 20, 1968, in a small Greek Orthodox chapel. This not only put Greece on the map as a vacation destination—drawing international attention to the island—but it also marked the beginning of the trend of the wealthy owning private islands as a status symbol.

After Ari Onassis died in '75, he passed the island down to his daughter Christina. When Christina died of a heart attack, Skorpios went to her daughter, Athina Onassis Roussel. Roussel apparently had little interest in the island, only visiting it once on the 10th anniversary of her mother's death.

(The chapel where Ari and Jackie wed has a gravesite for Ari, Christina, and Aristotle's son Alexander who died in a plane crash in 1973.) Some people who have spent far more time on the island are its armed French and American bodyguards, who patrol 24/7 with high-tech equipment.

Athina was rumored to have been trying to sell Skorpios Island for years, garnering interest from potential buyers like Giorgio Armani, Bill Gates and Madonna. She finally sold the home in 2013 to billionaire heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev. 

Rybolovlev is the 79th-richest man in the world with a net worth of roughly $9.1B, largely thanks to his ownership of Uralkali, the largest potassium fertilizer producer in Russia, which he sold in 2010 for $6.5B. Rybolovleva acquired Skorpios and accompanying island Sparti (which may or may not be the island that supplies the water), for an undisclosed sum, rumored to be around $150M.

However, the island actually still belongs to the Onassis family, because Ari Onassis wrote in his will that the island would stay in the family for as long as they could afford to maintain it, after which it would be donated to Olympic Airways or to the state. So Robolovleva is technically leasing the island for 100 years.

Skorpios Island isn't the only mega real estate purchase for Rybolovleva. She also bought a 6,744 SF condo at 15 Central Park West for $88M, one of America's most expensive sales ever. Her father, Rybolovlev, is also a collector of properties, which has landed him in hot water with Rybolovleva's mother, Elena Rybolovleva, who thinks he may have purchased property for his daughter to hide money during their divorce.

As for Ekaterina, she's thrilled about the island and says she expressed an interest in buying it to Athina years ago. She calls the place her "personal refuge" (must be nice) and says it's a "sacred" and "special" place "full of history."

That history, of course, refers to the original Onassis, and it's probably not a coincidence that Rybolovleva married her husband, Juan Sartori, on the island on Oct. 21 of last year—almost 47 years to the day after Onassis and Jackie's nuptials.

Rybolovleva's future plans for the island include turning it into a retreat for the rich and famous, but she intends to maintain the integrity of the island, a surefire relief for many Greek residents.