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The Amalfi Coast The Amalfi Coast (Italian: Costiera Amalfitana) is a stretch of coastline on the southern coast of the Salerno Gulf in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy. The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination for the region and Italy as a whole, attracting thousands of tourists annually, and in 1997 was listed as a cultural landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History First mentioned in the 6thC, Amalfi acquired importance as a maritime power, trading grain from its neighbours, salt from Sardinia and slaves from the interior, and even timber, in exchange for the gold dinars minted in Egypt and Syria, in order to buy the Byzantine silks that it resold in the West. Grain-bearing Amalfi traders enjoyed privileged positions in the Islamic ports. The Amalfi tables (Tavole amalfitane) provided a maritime code that was widely used by the Christian port cities. Merchants of Amalfi were using gold coins to purchase land in the 9thC, while most of Italy worked in a barter economy. In the 8th & 9thC, when Mediterranean trade revived it, Amalfi and Gaeta (between Naples and Rome) were the main Italian traders with the East, while Venice was in its infancy, and in 848 its fleet went to the assistance of Pope Leo IV against the Saracens. An independent republic from the 7thC, Amalfi extracted itself from Byzantine vassalage in 839 and first elected a duke in 958. It rivalled Pisa and Genoa in its domestic prosperity and maritime importance, and in spite of some devastating setbacks it had a population of some 70,000 to 80,000 reaching a peak about the turn of the millennium, during the reign of Duke Manso (966–1004). Under his line of dukes, Amalfi remained independent, except for a brief period of Salernitan dependency under Guaimar IV. In 1073 the republic fell to the Norman countship of Apulia, but was granted many rights. A prey to the Normans who encamped in the south of Italy, it became one of their principal posts. However, in 1131, it was reduced by King Roger II of Sicily, who had been refused the keys to its citadel. The Holy Roman Emperor Lothair, fighting in favour of Pope Innocent II against Roger, who sided with the Antipope Anacletus, took him prisoner in 1133, assisted by 46 Pisan ships. The Pisans, commercial rivals of the Amalfitani, sacked the city; Lothair claimed as part of the booty a copy of the Pandects of Justinian which was found there; and the city rapidly declined in importance, though its maritime code, known as the Tavole amalfitane, was recognized in the Mediterranean until 1570. In medieval culture Amalfi was famous for its flourishing schools of law and mathematics. Flavio Gioia, traditionally considered the first to introduce the mariner's compass to Europe, is said to have been a native of Amalfi. A tsunami in 1343 destroyed the port and lower town, and Amalfi never recovered to anything more than local importance. The Amalfi Coast lies in a Mediterranean climate, featuring warm summers and mild winters, located on the relatively steep southern shore of the Sorrentine Peninsula, leaving little room for rural and agricultural territories, except that the area is a known cultivator of lemons, known as sfusato amalfitano, which are typically long and at least double the size of other lemons, with a thick, wrinkled skin and sweet, juicy flesh without many pips, grown in terraced gardens along the entire coast between February and October. These are used in the production of Limoncello liqueur. The coast comprises 11,231 hectares between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno. The only land route to the Amalfi Coast is the 25 miles long Strada Statale 163 which runs along the coastline from the town of Vietri sul Mare in the east to Positano in the west.
From Sorrento, Positano is the first town on the ‘Amalfi Coast Tour’. Positano is serviced by only two roads that are open to automobile traffic and therefore, most touring of the city is done on foot. For a photographer, there could not be a better subject - Positano is a picture postcard from almost every angle, with vertiginous houses tumbling down to the sea in a cascade of sun-bleached peach, pink and terracotta colours. No less colourful are its steep streets and steps lined with wisteria-draped hotels, smart restaurants and fashionable boutiques.
It is believed that the town, the original nucleus of which developed around a Benedictine abbey, was founded in the 9th century. The town grew considerably following the arrival of inhabitants from Paestum, fleeing Saracen incursions. After it was pillaged by Pisa in 1268, Positano increased its defences, becoming similar to its powerful neighbour, Amalfi: with steep narrow roads, massive fortified walls, and a series of all-important watch towers. The fortunes of Positano, like its roads, have continually risen and fallen: in 1343 the town was destroyed by a terrible tsunami and in the 15thC it was the victim of continual attacks by Ottoman pirates. It prospered during the 16th & 17th centuries, however following the unification of Italy and the opening of a number of new commercial routes, the town's importance began to decline so by the mid 19th century, the town had fallen on hard times - more than half the population emigrated, mostly to America. Positano was then a relatively poor fishing village. With the construction of the SS163 road (a much needed alternative to the mountain paths which had, until then, formed the only link between the Amalfi Coast and the rest of Italy), Positano once more began to flourish. The new road united the town with Sorrento and Naples and allowed the first tourists to reach Positano. These were no ordinary tourists, but rather an elite group of travellers, comprised of intellectuals, artists, and celebrities who, from the early 1900s onwards, elected Positano as their preferred holiday resort, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper's Bazaar in May, 1953: "Positano bites deep", Steinbeck wrote. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."
Here Italian engineers have truly mastered cliff-side construction, while the fashionista history runs deep – moda Positano was born here in the '60s and the town was the first in Italy to import bikinis from France. Look beyond the facades and the fashion, however, and you will find reassuring signs of everyday reality: crumbling stucco, streaked paintwork and even, on occasion, a faint whiff of drains. There’s still a southern-Italian holiday feel about the place, with sunbathers eating pizza on the beach, kids pestering parents for gelati and chic women from Milan checking out the boutiques. There certainly is something special about the place and this is reflected, predictably, in the prices, which tend to be higher here than elsewhere on the coast.
Spiaggia Grande is the heart of sea edge Positano. 300 meters long, the beach, of small smooth pebbles and coarse sand, is one of the largest on the Amalfi Coast, and one of the most glamorous too, attracting a fashionable crowd of artists, actors and celebrities, but also swimmers, fishermen and water sport enthusiasts. Those looking for a more peaceful spot in which to bask in the Mediterranean sun will love Positano's Fornillo beach, which can be reached via a coastal path commencing on the Spiaggia Grande. The Ancient Romans built a number of sumptuous villas on the coast of Positano, the ruins of which can be seen in the vicinity of the Church dell'Assunta. The majolica tiled dome of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta can be seen from every corner of the town and the church is one of the most popular in the area for exchanging marriage vows.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta Within the church of Santa Maria Assunta is a 13thC Byzantine icon of a black Madonna. According to local legend, the icon had been stolen from Byzantium and was being transported by pirates across the Mediterranean. A terrible storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano and the frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying "Posa, posa!" ("Put down! Put down!"). The precious icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm abated. However there is no documentation to support this,
rather, given that there is a small parchment that remembers the dedication of the Church to the Blessed Virgin Mary by John II Archbishop of Amalfi at the end of the 11thC, it is assumed that the abbey was founded in the second half of the 10th century. Abbot Liborio Marra, in 1777, started restoration works of the Church which lasted about five years and at the end, the Church had returned to its ancient splendour. Inside, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta has pillars topped with gilded Ionic capitals and winged cherubs peeking from above every arch. There are three naves with five arches, each with a chapel. From the entrance towards the high altar, on the right are those of Saint Blaise, the Immaculate, Saint Anthony and Saint Anne, with the altar of the Circumcision; and on the left, the chapels of the Crucifix, of the Annunciation, of Saint Vitus and Saint Nicholas of Bari. Above the main altar is the black Madonna and Child and to the right is the chapel of Saint Stephen whith the 18thC statue of the Madonna with Child. Outside, near the Church, there is a bell tower built in 1707 on the door of which, in medieval bas-relief, is a memorial plaque (of 1902) dedicated to Flavio Gioia from Positano, the compass inventor. Positano has been featured in several films, including Only You (1994), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), as well as more recently in Kath & Kimderella (2012) and being mentioned in the 2009 musical film Nine in the song "Cinema Italiano". It also hosts the annual Cartoons on the Bay Festival, at which Pulcinella Awards for excellence in animation are presented. From July 1967 and through most of the 1970s, Positano was home to singer-songwriter Shawn Phillips and where most of his best-known work was composed. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones wrote the song "Midnight Rambler" in the cafes of Positano while on vacation. Renowned director and producer Franco Zeffirelli owned the Villa Treville in Positano, where he took up residence over a 35-year period and hosted a coterie of literati and stars of the stage and screen. He hired his friend, Renzo Mongiardino, who collaborated on many of his theatre and opera projects, to design the exquisite interiors which reflect the local design sensibilities and craftsmanship. The Villa Treville has since been converted into a five-star boutique hotel.
German pianist Wilhelm Kempff made Positano his summer retreat and there he taught a summer course on the Beethoven piano sonatas and concerti. Since his death in 1991, the Beethoven Kurse has continued under the organization of the Wilhelm Kempff Kulturstiftung, having had as teachers Gerhard Oppitz and John O'Conor.
Today tourism is by far the major industry. Positano is very popular for Limoncello and "L'Albertissimo", an alcoholic tipple that can only be found at a small stall at the main harbour. Legend has it that the three islets of Li Galli, just off the shores of Positano and often referred to as the "Sirenuse", were inhabited by Sirens who attempted to seduce with their song all those who sailed nearby. Among those to have been enchanted by the islets' mysterious beauty, the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who spent the last years of his life here, is, perhaps, the most famous. The mountain districts above Positano From Positano paths lead to Montepertuso. A seemingly endless flight of steps, or a carriageway which winds its way up the hill, unite Positano with Montepertuso, in the Monti Lattari. A footpath leads to the 'Oasis of Vallone Porto, with its waterfalls and numerous species of fauna and flora indigenous to this valley – wild orchids, ferns, falcons, owls, amphibians (including to this yellow-eyed salamander). Legend has it that this hole in the mountain was created by the Virgin's index finger. Also the Fontana Vecchia offers wonderfully fresh drinking water.
Bomerano, a small village close by Agerola, at the foot of the mountains between Sorrento and Amalfi, is the starting point for excursionists (especially German and British) to reach the “Sentiero degli Dei” (the Path of Gods) towards Arienzo di Positano. Just beneath the summit of Montepertuso is the tiny hamlet of Nocelle and one of the most beautiful views on the Amalfi Coast, extending as far as the island of Capri and the Faraglioni rocks, can be seen from the main square.
Until recently, Nocelle could only be reached via a pathway winding its way around the mountain or a flight of 1500 steps starting on the beach of Arienzo, with the top entering the village through an arch in the cemetery wall. Sentiero degli Dei You need strong legs and a head for heights to walk the legendary Path of the Gods, which offers dizzying sea views. True to its name, the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) presents a God-like canvas of southern Italian landscapes, with tremendous views of the rugged, densely wooded Lattari mountains that swoop down to the glittering Mediterranean and distant glimpses of Capri. Following an elevated, often rocky mule trail linking Positano to Praiano, the path unzips some of the area's least-developed countryside. You'll traipse past terraced hillsides, lemon orchards and macchia (scrub) of rosemary and holm oaks. A flight of 1500 steps unfurls down to Arienzo, where you can pause for a refreshing dip. The name, quite rhetorical, is due to some aerial exposed stretches (made much more comfortable thanks to recent layouts), the magnificent views of
the sea and splendid hamlets of Vettica Maggiore and Furore located just below the path. From above you can admire the extremely steep and wild slopes of “Sant’Angelo a Tre Pizzi”, the highest summit of the Sorrento Peninsula. In spite of the name, the Path of Gods is an extraordinary monument to the work and exertion of Man who, throughout the ages, has been able to colonize even the most impracticable places on the Amalfi Coast. Today the path is still used by farmers, woodsmen and shepherds, as it touches old vineyards clung to the mountain: the species of grape cultivated in the area is called “ped’e palomma” (the most ancient vine in Campania) Beside the path, you’ll find caves and terraces dropping from the cliffs to the sea and deep valleys. The caves are used as pens, folds, and stores. Peregrine and kestrel falcons soar overhead. Note: Starting in Bomerano and finishing in Positano, you can cut the walk short and stop for lunch in Nocelle and catch the local bus down to Positano. The whole walk will take you around 4 1/2 hours but if you don’t stop in Nocelle it should take around 3 hours. You will need good walking shoes, water, hat and camera, of course. The Path of Gods crosses, halfway up the hill, one of the most spectacular and wild gorges of the Amalfi Coast. Once reached the small village of Nocelle, you will have two options, take the bus or continue towards Montepertuso, where the path plunges along an ancient paved alley to Positano.
You should depart from the main square in Bomerano following the road to Furore. You then continue through the bizarre rocky cliffs of Grotta del Biscotto. Here you’ll need a camera if you want to capture the magnificent scenery and mesmerizing views of Capri and the Bay of Naples. Having passed the ruins of a farmhouse, the walk continues along the valley floor through vineyards, to the foot of a craggy rock, over which the members of Napoli CAI (Club of Italian Alpinists) have placed a tombstone, in memory of Giustino Fortunato, the economist who named the Path.
Uphill you will find the pass of Colle La Serra (580m), with, going left, a path to Praiano, and to the right, a route marked by the Italian Hiking Federation. Following a winding route, with several ups and downs, cross the imposing Vallone Grarelle and reach the tiny village of Nocelle (440m). From here you can walk down to Montepertuso or via an ancient lane to Positano.
It is hard to grasp that pretty little Amalfi, with its sun-filled piazzas and small beach, was once a maritime superpower with a population of more than 70,000. For one thing, it’s not a big place – you can easily walk from one end to the other in about 20 minutes. For another, there are very few historical buildings of note. The explanation is chilling: most of the old city, and its populace, simply slid into the sea during an earthquake in 1343. Today, although the permanent population is a fairly modest 5000 or so, the numbers swell significantly during summer, when day trippers pour in by the coach-load. Just around the headland, neighbouring Atrani is a picturesque tangle of whitewashed alleys and arches centred on a lively, lived-in piazza and popular beach.
The town lies at the mouth of a deep ravine, at the foot of Monte Cerreto (1,315 metres, 4,314 feet), surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery, and has a long history of catering for visitors, with two former monasteries being converted to hotels at a relatively early date, the Luna Convento between 1810-20 and the Cappuccini Convento in the 1880s. Celebrated visitors to Amalfi included the composer Richard Wagner and the playwright Henrik Ibsen, both of whom completed works whilst staying in Amalfi. Author Gore Vidal was a long time resident. In the 1920s and 30s, Amalfi was a popular holiday destination for the British upper class and aristocracy. Three traditional events now draw numerous visitors to Amalfi. First are the feast days of Saint Andrew (25–27 June, and 30 November), celebrating the city's patron saint. Then there is "Byzantine New Year's Eve" (31 August) celebrating the beginning of the New Year according to the old civil calendar of the Byzantine Empire. The third event is the Historical Regatta (on the first Sunday in June), a traditional rowing competition among the four main Italian historical maritime republics: Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. This event is hosted by a different city every year, so it comes to Amalfi once every four years.
Amalfi is also a known maker of a hand-made thick paper which is called bambagina which is exported to many European countries and America and has been used throughout Italy for wedding invitations, visiting cards and elegant writing paper. The paper has a high quality and has been used by artists such as Giuseppe Leone, who described it: "There is a whole world that the Amalfi paper evokes and an artist who is sensitive to the suggestion of these places is aware that it is unique and exciting".
Other renowned local products are a particular kind of anchovies (local Italian: alici) from Cetara, and the colourful handmade ceramics from Vietri. The city of Amalfi was founded as a trading post in 339 and its first bishop was appointed in 596. In 838, the city was captured by Sicard of Benevento with help from traitors within the city, who led him in through the waterward defences. In 839, Amalfi freed itself from Lombard domination and elected a prefect. Nearby Atrani participated in these early prefectural elections. Subsequently, Amalfi helped to free Siconulf to oppose the ruling Prince of Benevento. In 897, the self-governing republic, still nominally tied to the Byzantine Empire, was defeated in a war with Sorrento, supported by Naples, in which her prefect was captured, later ransomed. In 914, the prefect Mastalus I was appointed first judge. In 958, Mastalus II was assassinated and Sergius I was elected first duke (or doge). From 981 to 983, Amalfi ruled the Principality of Salerno. In 987, the Amalfitan bishopric was raised to archiepiscopal status. The Arab traveller Ibn Hawqal, writing in 977 during the great reign of Manso I, described Amalfi as:
“. . . the most prosperous Lombard city, the most noble, the most illustrious for its conditions, the most wealthy and opulent. The territory of Amalfi borders that of Naples; a beautiful city, but less important than Amalfi.”
The Duchy of Amalfi (Italian: Ducato di Amalfi) or the Republic of Amalfi (Italian: Repubblica di Amalfi) was an independent state during the 10th & 11th centuries. It rose to become an economic powerhouse, a commercial centre whose merchants dominated Mediterranean and Italian trade for a century before being surpassed and superseded by the other maritime republics of the North, like Pisa, Venice, and Genoa. From 1034, Amalfi came under the control of the Principality of Capua and then, in 1039, that of Salerno. In 1073, Robert Guiscard conquered the city and took the title dux Amalfitanorum: "duke of the Amalfitans." In 1096, Amalfi revolted, but this was put down in 1101. It revolted again in 1130 and was finally subdued in 1131, when the Emir John marched on Amalfi by land and George of Antioch blockaded the town by sea and set up a base on Capri. In 1135 and 1137, Pisa sacked the city and the glory of Amalfi was past. The title "Duke of Amalfi" was revived in the 14thC as a title used within the Kingdom of Naples. Amalfi Cathedral (Duomo di Amalfi or Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea) The Roman Catholic cathedral, situated in the Piazza del Duomo, includes the adjoining 9thC Basilica of the Crucifix, which itself was built on the ruins of an earlier temple. Predominantly of Arab-Norman Romanesque architectural style, it has been re-modelled several times, adding Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque elements. The remains of St. Andrew were reportedly brought to Amalfi from Constantinople in 1206, during the 4th Crusade, by Cardinal Peter of Capua. In 1208, the crypt was completed and the relics were handed to the church. It said that later on Manna issued from the saint's bones. A golden reliquary which originally housed his skull, and another one used for processions through Amalfi on holy days, can also be seen.
The interior is adorned in the late Baroque style with a nave and two aisles divided by 20 columns. A wooden 13thC crucifix hangs in the liturgical area. Another crucifix, made of mother-of-pearl, was brought from the Holy Land and is located to the right of the back door. The High Altar in the central nave is formed from the sarcophagus of the Archbishop Pietro Capuano (Peter of Capua) who died in 1214. Above the altar is a painting by Andrea dell'Asta of The Martyrdom of St. Andrew. The gold caisson ceiling, dating from 1702, has four large paintings by Andrea dell'Asta.
They depict the flagellation of Saint Andrew, the miracle of Manna, the crucifixion of Saint Andrew and the Saint on the cross. The triumphal arch is held up by two Egyptian granite columns. There are two additional twisted columns and two pulpits that were part of the 12thC ambo. One of the pillars boasts a hidden column as an example of the ancient Romanesque structure. From the left hand nave is a flight of stairs which leads to the crypt. The bronze statue of Saint Andrew in the cathedral was sculpted by Michelangelo Naccherino, a pupil of Michelangelo; also present are Pietro Bernini marble sculptures of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence.
62 steps, wide and steep, lead up to the doors. Cast in Constantinople before 1066, and signed by Simeon of Syria, the cathedral's bronze doors are the earliest in Italy of post-Roman manufacture. The façade of the cathedral is Byzantine in style though rebuilt in 1891 after the original one collapsed. It is of striped marble and stone with open arches that have lace detailing not commonly found in Italian sacred architecture while the tiled cupola is quite common amongst churches of the area. The tympanum's mosaics portray “The Triumph of Christ” in a work created by Domenico Morelli and whose original designs are retained in the Town Hall. Begun in 1180, and completed over 100 years later, the Romanesque style bell tower is off-centre. The structure includes four small towers of Arab architectural type that are adorned with arches and are covered with majolica tiles. During times of war, the bell tower was used for defence.
The Chiostro del Paradiso ("Cloister of Paradise") The Chiostro del Paradiso was built by Filippo Augustariccio in 1266-8 and was used as a burial ground for noble families of Amalfi. The white columns and pointed arches reflect the clear influence that the Arab world had on Amalfi, similar to those found in the courts of the palaces of the Middle East. It is a true open-air museum, with Roman and medieval pillars, sarcophagi depicting the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, another the Rape of Proserpina, a 14thC sarcophagus and fragments of the façade of the Duomo.
Arsenal of the Maritime Republic (Gli Arsenali della Repubblica) The structure of the arsenal consists of two large stone-built halls with vaulting supported by repeated pointed arches. The vaulting rests on 10 piers - originally there were 22 - the missing 12, and the structure they supported, having been lost to centuries of coastal erosion. The main function of the arsenal was the building, repair and storage of warships. Amalfitan war-galleys were among the largest to be found in the Mediterranean during the Early Middle Ages. The building now contains architectural and sculptural remains, a row-barge used in the Historical Regatta, a number of models of ships and it also acts as a venue for visual art exhibitions.
Since December 2010, the Ancient Arsenals of Amalfi host the Compass Museum in the two aisles of the building which were spared by the Amalfi seaquake of 1343. Museum of Handmade Paper (Museo della Carta)
The Museum of Handmade Paper, located in Mill Valley in the northern part of the modern town, celebrates the long-established paper making tradition in Amalfi. The town was one of the first centres of paper making in Europe, the skill having been acquired by the Amalfitans from the Arabs. The museum is housed in an ancient paper mill which was once owned by the Milano family, a family famous in Amalfi for its involvement in the production and manufacture of paper. In 1969 the building was converted into a museum as a result of the will of Nicholas Milano, the mill's then owner. The museum contains the machinery and equipment (restored and fully functional) that was once used to manufacture paper by hand.
Ravello Unlike the majority of towns on the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is not located by the sea. To get to this beautiful cliff top town you'll need to leave the SS163 between Amalfi and Minori, and head in and upland for about 3km. Wonderfully aristocratic, devastatingly beautiful, Ravello patiently awaits the traveller who, from the Amalfi Coast's seaside fishing villages decides to make his way up to the town, perched on a great spur of rock, some 350 metres above the sea.
Ravello was founded in the 5thC as a shelter place against the barbarian invasions which marked the end of the Western Roman Empire. In 1086, at the request of the Norman count Roger Borsa, who wished to create a counterweight to powerful Amalfi, Pope Victor III made Ravello the seat of a diocese immediately subject to the Holy See, with territory split off from that of the archdiocese of Amalfi. Early on, the bishops of Ravello all came from patrician families of the city, showing the church's municipalised character. Ravello soon prospered, thanks to the production of the town's "Celendra" wool that was dyed in the town, and was an important trading power in the Mediterranean. In the 12thC, Ravello had some 30,000 inhabitants, and it retains a disproportionate number of palazzi of the mercantile nobility, the Rufolo, d'Aflitto, Confalone and Della Marra. In 1137, after a first failed attack two years before, it was destroyed by the Republic of Pisa. After this, a demographic and economic decline set in, and much of the population moved to Naples and its surroundings. In 1800 it was aggregated with the diocese of Amalfi. However drastic, its change in fortunes failed to impair the town's charm and, if anything, conserved it, making Ravello the chosen destination of inspiration-seeking intellectuals, artists, and celebrities from every corner of the globe. The Cathedral of Ravello (Duomo di Ravello) Forming the eastern flank of Piazza del Vescovado, the cathedral was built in 1086 but has since undergone various makeovers. The splendid, triple arched marble portal facade is 16thC, but the central bronze door, one of only about two dozen in the country, dates from 1179, created by Parisano da Trani; the interior is a late 20thC interpretation of what the original must once have looked like.
The central nave contains the "Pulpit of the Gospels", on the right of the central nave, created in 1272 by Nicolò di Bartolomeo from Foggia. This striking pulpit, supported by six twisting columns set on marble lions, is decorated with flamboyant mosaics of peacocks and other birds. Note also how the floor is tilted towards the square – a deliberate measure to enhance the perspective effect. Entry is via the cathedral museum, displaying a modest collection of religious artefacts, including the splendid marble bust of Sigligaida Rufolo, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful works of 13thC art. Villa Rufolo
To the south of Ravello’s cathedral, a 14thC tower, Torre Maggiore, marks the entrance to this villa, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens. The initial layout dates from 1270 when the villa, overlooking the Amalfi Coast and the Gulf of Salerno, was built by Nicola Rufolo, one of the richest Patricians of Ravello - the powerful and wealthy Rufolo family excelled in commerce and a Landolfo Rufolo has been immortalized by Boccaccio in the Decameron. It then passed by inheritance to other owners such as the Confalone, Muscettola and d'Afflitto, being home to several popes as well as King Robert of Anjou. In the mid 19thC, it was sold to Scotsman Francis Neville Reid who undertook a general restoration and created the garden terraces.
The German opera composer Richard Wagner visited the villa in 1880. He was so overcome by the beauty of the location that he imagined the setting as the garden of Klingsor in the second act of Parsifal. In commemoration, every year the lower garden of Villa Rufolo hosts a Wagnerian concert. Both Moorish and Norman influences can be seen in the towers and cloisters, the latter characterized by a double order of loggias and pointed arches. The grounds of the villa are as famous as the building itself. Villa Cimbrone Villa Cimbrone stands on a rocky outcrop known as "Cimbronium", and it is from this landscape feature that the villa takes its name. The earliest references to the villa date back to the 11thC, when the villa belonged to the Accongiogioco, a noble family. It later passed to the wealthy and influential family, the Fusco, who are also recorded in 1291 as owning the local church of S. Angelo de Cimbrone. At a later stage in its history the villa became part of the nearby monastery of Santa Chiara, and during this period of the villa's history the papal arms of Cardinal Della Rovere were placed on the old entrance gate. From the 17thC the villa's history is uncertain, but by the second half of the 19thC the villa had passed to the Amici family of Atrani. It was visited by the historian Ferdinand Gregorovius, who described it thus in his Siciliana: Wanderings in Naples and Sicily (1861):
incomparable ... where the most beautiful flowers you can imagine flourished, coming from numerous plants of the South ... redesigned and enriched with countless ... ornamental features, small temples, pavilions, bronze and stone statues.
and referring to the belvedere (also known as the Terrazzo dell'lnfinito, the Terrace of Infinity)
While contemplating from those Armida's orchards, among the roses and the hydrangeas, that magic sea in which the blue colour of a very limpid sky is reflected, the wish of being able to fly comes out ... Right at the edge of the crag there was a terrace commanding an enchanting view; it was surrounded by horrible marble statues which, however, from afar, had a sort of appeal.
In 1904 Ernest William Beckett (later Lord Grimthorpe), purchased what was, by then, a long abandoned farmhouse and, with the help of Nicola Mansi, a tailor-barber-builder from Ravello whom he had met in England, he embarked on an ambitious programme of works, including the construction of battlements, terraces and cloisters in a mixture of mock-Gothic, Moorish and Venetian architectural styles, leaving little of the original structure visible. The gardens, strung out along the cliff face, were similarly redeveloped. Grimthorpe was reputed to be the father of Violet Trefusis; the connection with Violet brought Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson as visitors, and Vita is said to have given advice about the garden, though her own gardening ventures at Long Barn still lay some years in the future. Beckett died in London in 1917 and his body was brought to Villa Cimbrone to be buried at the base of the Temple of Bacchus in the gardens; apt lines of Catullus (translated here) are inscribed on the frieze:
Oh what is more blest than when the mind, Cares dispelled, puts down its burden And we return, tired from our travelling, to our home To rest on the bed we have longed for?
After Beckett's death, the villa passed to his son. Beckett's daughter Lucy (Lucille Katherine Beckett, 1884–1979) also lived at the villa, where she was a keen gardener and breeder of roses, including the "Rose of Ravello" in the thirties. The villa was something of a bohemian retreat in its early days, being a favourite haunt of the Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey. Other visitors included D. H. Lawrence, Vita Sackville-West, Edward James, Diana Mosley, Henry Moore, T. S. Eliot, Jean Piaget, Salvador Dali, Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The actress Greta Garbo and her then-lover, the conductor Leopold Stokowski, stayed at the villa several times in the late 1930s; a visit of 1938 is memorialized on a plaque. The villa was sold in 1960 to the Vuilleumier family, who used it first as a private family home, and for the past few years as a hotel, with the gardens open to the public. Other sights A cultural bridge between the past and future, Ravello provides the setting for the controversial Auditorium by Oscar Niemeyer, an international design legend. A powerful work of modern architecture bang in the heart of a UNESCO world heritage site, the 400 seat auditorium has been likened to a sheet of white paper blowing in the wind.
The church of San Giovanni del Toro (Saint John of the Bull) dating to before the year 1000. The church contains the Bove pulpit, dateable to 1200–1230. The small church of Santa Maria a Gradillo (11thC). It has a basilica plan, with an apse and two isles. Sanctuary of Sts. Cosmas and Damian (14thC) Camo This very special place is ostensibly a cameo shop – and exquisitely crafted, primarily in coral and shell – but there's a treasure trove of a museum beyond the showroom. Even more of a treat is if cameo creator and shop founder, Giorgio Filocamo, is there to explain the background to such pieces as a 16thC crucifix on a crystal cross, a mid 16thC Madonna, a 3rdC AD Roman amphora, gorgeous tortoiseshell combs and some beautiful oil paintings.