We start our tour at the
coastal city of Salerno and go west along the shore to Salerno, Amalfi,
then Ravello which is just north, and continue along the coast to Positano
and finally to Sorrento across the Bay of Naples from Naples.
Salerno, population approximately
150 thousand, was settled well before Roman times. Its Schola Medica Salernitana
(Salerno Medical School) is said to be the oldest university in Europe.
By the Eleventh Century it was considered the center of medical knowledge
in Western Europe but by the Thirteenth Century it was on its way down.
Napoleon's brother-in-law Joachim Murat closed the school. The University
of Salerno went public in 1968. It includes a School of Medicine and Surgery.
The city was invaded by the Allies during World War II and briefly hosted
an Italian government that declared war on Germany.
The Duomo (Cathedral) was
built in the late Eleventh Century and restored on several occasions. Be
sure to see its bell tower, pulpits, and carved marble sarcophagi. In fact,
be sure to see the entire edifice with its Byzantine and Arab influences.
The Cathedral Museum is home to silver statues and historic medical school
documents. Other Salerno churches include St. Benedict, originally part
of a Seventh to Ninth Century Monastery destroyed by the Saracens and the
Baroque St. George Church.
If you like palaces visit
the Seventeenth Century Palazzo D'Avossa (D'Avossa Palace), the recently
restored Genovese Palace, the Giannattasio Palace, and the Copeta Palace
built on the site of an ancient cemetery. What about castles? The Castello
di Arechi (Arechi Castle) commanding the city is built on previous Roman-Byzantine
construction and is now used for congresses and exhibitions. The Eleventh
Century Terracena Castle was virtually destroyed by an earthquake early
in the Thirteenth Century and very little remains.
|Amalfi, population about
fifty thousand, was once a major trading center with schools of mathematics
and law. The Amalfi maritime code was widely used in the Mediterranean
area for centuries. It is said that an Amalfi native first brought the
mariner's compass to Europe.
The Duomo or Cattedrale di
Sant'Andrea (Cathedral of Saint Andrea), considered the most stunning cathedral
in southern Italy, was initially constructed during the Ninth Century and
has been rebuilt and expanded since then. Be sure to see the beautiful
Chiostro del Paradiso (Paradise Cloister) the burial ground for local big
shots. The chapels date from the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries and
are bedecked with magnificent frescoes. Stop by the Basilica Museum to
view many other historic treasures.
The Cripta di Sant'Andrea
(Crypt of St. Andrew), built in the Thirteenth Century, contains many the
relics of St. Andrew, St. Peter's younger brother.
A few miles northeast of
Amalfi lies the village of Ravello, population about twenty-five hundred.
Ravello is home to a major annual Italian music festival honoring a famous
visitor, the German Opera composer Richard Wagner, hosted in the Villa
Rufolo, described next.
The heavily Arab influenced
Villa Rufolo includes a 90 foot (30 meter) watch tower and gardens that
captured the heart of German opera composer Richard Wagner. This villa
was mentioned by the famous Italian author, Giovanni Boccaccio, in The
The nearby Villa Cimbrone
looks old but was actually built in 1905. It is now an upscale hotel. Whether
or not you stay in the hotel you really should stroll through the rose
gardens and see the Belvedere dell'Infinita (Belvedere of Infinity) overlooking
the Gulf of Salerno.
Positano, population under
four thousand, has gone from a major port in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries to a sleepy fishing village about fifty or sixty years ago to
the Amalfi Coast's number one tourist attraction. Beautiful Positano was
featured in the films Only You (1994) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) even
though it is definitely not in Tuscany.
Joachim Murat resided in
Palazzo Murat during part of his reign as King of Naples and Sicily. As
you can well imagine, the Palazzo was hardly a little country getaway from
that hectic, hectic office. The gardens are beautiful and the Palazzo is
right near the beach. You too can stay there; it's now a hotel. The Thirteenth
Century Romanesque Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta (Church of Saint Mary of
Assunta) is most famous for its Byzantine wood painting of Madonna with
Child known as the Black Virgin. According to legend this painting was
stolen by Saracen pirates who fled right into a violent storm. A voice
cried out "Posa, posa" (set it down, set it down). They did and fled into
the calm. The painting was retrieved and that's how the city got its name.
Before you leave Positano
visit its main beach, the Spaggia Grande, and stroll on its walkway, Via
Positanesi d'America, named for the thousands of locals who immigrated
to the United States, especially to New York City, to seek a better life.
I'll let you decide where it is better to live today - Positano or New
York City. As you stroll along you'll see many sights including the Torre
Trasita, a historic defense tower transformed into a residence.
Sorrento whose population
is approximately sixteen thousand is located about 30 miles (50 kilometers)
south of Naples, across the Bay of Naples. It has been a resort town for
perhaps two thousand years. Its notable visitors included the British authors
Lord Byron and Keats, the German author Goethe, the Russian author Maxim
Gorky, and the Italian opera singers Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti.
Sorrento has excellent museums.
The Museo Correale di Terranova has an excellent collection of Sixteenth,
Seventeen, and Eighteenth Century paintings, furniture, and decorative
objects. Its grounds are beautiful as is the view. The Museo Bottege della
Tarsialignea (Inlaid Woodwork Museum) is devoted to the tradition of inlaid
woodwork so active in the Sorrento region. It includes a lovely collection
of these pieces surrounded by appropriately selected paintings, prints,
and photographs. Il Museo Mineralogico Campano (Mineralogical Museum) is
relatively new. Its international collection includes minerals from Mount
Vesuvius and Mount Somma. You'll find a dinosaur collection including baby
dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs plus a display of Permian reptiles that predate
the dinosaurs by almost countless millions of years.
|Sorrento is home to many
other fine tourist sites including its historic city center with what remains
of the protective walls of the Middle Ages, the Fourteen Century Il Chiostro
di San Francesco (Saint Francis Cloister) with its neighboring monastery
that predates it by perhaps seven hundred years, and the Eleventh Century
Basilica of Saint Antonio dedicated to Sorrento's patron saint. Here you
can see his crypt and two whalebones. According to legend they belonged
to a whale that swallowed a child who was rescued by Saint Antonio in his
most famous miracle.
What about food? As you have
seen in the other articles in this series, there is a lot to eat in Campania.
Lemons are a local specialty, especially when the rinds are made into a
sweet liqueur known as limoncello. Anchovies are another local specialty.
I do not recommend them together.
Let's suggest a sample menu,
one of many. Start with Spaghetti alle Vongole (Spaghetti with Clam Sauce).
Then try Spigola (Sea Bass). For dessert indulge yourself with Crostata
all'Arancio (Orange Tart). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by
including local wines with your meal.
We conclude with a quick
look at Campania wine. Campania ranks 9th among the 20 Italian regions
for both acreage devoted to wine grapes and for total annual wine production.
The region produces about 64% red and and close to 36% white wine, as there
is little rosé. Campania produces 17 DOC wines. DOC is short for
Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination
of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. The G in DOCG stands
for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly
superior. Only 2.8% of Campania wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation.
There are three DOCG wines: the red Taurasi, the white Greco di Tufo, and
the white Fiano di Avellino. I have tasted the Fiano which I found to be
top of the line.
There are two DOC wines produced
in this area: Costa d'Amalfi and Penisola Sorrentina. Both are made in
a variety of styles with a variety of local grapes. Try them. But you can
surely buy better Campania wine.
Coast Self-Catering Accommodation / Amalfi Coast Tours
Hotels / Sorrento Hotels
About the Author - Levi Reiss
has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but
he prefers drinking fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right
foods and people. He knows about dieting but now eats and drinks what he
wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language
community college. His new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website http://www.wineinyourdiet.com
links to his other sites.