The Amalfi Coast
While staying at Sorrento for a week in October, my wife and I went on an Amalfi Coast excursion, a memorable nine-and-a-half hour day. We very rarely book excursions via a holiday rep, preferring to explore on our own or use public transport, but it was the most convenient option on this occasion. We took the slightly more expensive tour which used a 20-seater bus rather than a larger coach and lunch was included. Luckily our bus was only three-quarters full so it was possible to swop from side to side for photos as the views changed. Our guide for the day was local lad Karmine who was not only enthusiastic and knowledgeable but also quite entertaining.
The best side to sit on en route to Amalfi from Sorrento is the right but, even with a polarising filter attached to the camera lens, glare and reflections on the bus windows spoiled most of the shots. Due to time constraints and the volume of traffic our driver didn’t make any stops at the roadside pull-overs so photographing from a moving bus was an additional challenge. The above slideshow features shots mostly taken from the bus at various locations throughout the day.
This guy has created a model village of terracotta buildings which is right next to the main coast road close to Amalfi town.
Although this visit was towards the end of the holiday season, the traffic queuing to get into Positano, our first stop, hinted at how much of a nightmare this route could be at the height of summer. Parking availability in all of the Amalfi coastal villages is very limited and expensive with many locations subject to short stays only. Consequently the main road on either side of the settlements can be lined with parked cars for a mile or more. You can also reach the village by ferry from Sorrento which would be the most relaxing option if Positano was the only place you wanted to visit.
With only an hour here, my wife and I didn’t bother walking downhill to the beach, opting instead for a table outside one of the cafes on the road in, and enjoying a coffee as we watched the constant procession of buses, cars, scooters and pedestrians manoeuvring past one another, often with only an inch or two to spare.
One of the most expensive hotels on the Amalfi Coast is the Grand Hotel Tritone Praiano which sits in a spectacular clifftop location between Positano and Amalfi town. I only managed a couple of shots as we drove past but the hotel`s website, which has some larger images, is worth a look: www.hoteltritonepraiano.com.
Above right: The smaller pillar, likened to woman holding a bouquet of flowers, is known locally as the Virgin Mary rock formation.
Amalfi lies at the mouth of a deep ravine, at the foot of Monte Cerreto, 1,315 metres, (4,314 ft), on the Gulf of Salerno. The town was the capital of the maritime republic known as the Duchy of Amalfi, which was an important trading power in the Mediterranean from 839 until the early 13th century.
Like many towns in the region, Amalfi is known for its quality ceramics, hand made writing paper and Limoncello.
It looks as though this driver, who only has a limited grasp of Italian, is asking the policemen for directions to the fountain in the main square!
This statue of Flavio Gioja or Gioia (circa 1300) on the waterfront was sculpted by Alfonso Balzico in 1900. Gioja was reputed to be an Italian mariner, marine pilot and inventor, who has traditionally been credited with perfecting the sailors’ compass. His birthplace is alternately given as Amalfi, Positano, Naples, and, Gioia, a town in Apulia, hence the derivation of the reputed surname. As well as the Amalfi statue, a local pizza and even a crater on the moon have been named Gioja in his honour.
The magnetic compass was first invented as early as the Chinese Han Dynasty (c. 206 BC and later adopted for navigation by the Chinese during the 11th century. The first usage of a compass recorded in Western Europe and the Islamic world occurred around the early 13th century.
A couple of cruise ships, Star Pride and Star Legend had dropped anchor and most of their passengers were ashore adding to the throng on the village’s main square and adjacent streets.
As soon as our driver found a space to park on the bustling waterfront, we boarded a boat for a 45 minute cruise which took in the coastal scenery on either side of town. Seeing Amalfi and its neighbouring communities that cling to the mountain slopes from the water here is thoroughly recommended and a holiday highlight for many. Celebrities who have or have had villas here include Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Roger Moore 007.
World famous actress Sophia Loren`s villa is the one with green shutters and up until fairly recently she made regular visits here, usually by helicopter. Loren, who was born in September 1934, began her film career in 1950, aged 15. She appeared in several bit parts and minor roles in the early part of the decade, until her five-picture contract with Paramount in 1956 launched her international career.
Notable film appearances during this period include The Pride and the Passion, Houseboat, and It Started in Naples. In 1962, she received a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Cesira in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women, the first artist to win an Academy Award for a foreign-language performance.
This pink pad with green shutters belongs to Gina Lollobrigida. The Italian actress, born in 1927, was starred in numerous movies in the 1950s and early 1960s, a period during which she was regarded as an international sex symbol. In 1950, Howard Hughes invited Lollobrigida to work in Hollywood, but she refused, preferring to remain in Europe.
This decision prevented her from working in American movies filmed in the USA until 1959, though not from working in American productions shot in Europe.
Her best known roles included the wife of Humphrey Bogart`s character in John Huston`s Beat the Devil (1953), the principal female lead in the circus drama Trapeze (1956) co-starring with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, and Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956) with Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo.
As her film career slowed, she established second careers as a photojournalist and sculptress. In the 1970s, she achieved a scoop by gaining access to Fidel Castro for an exclusive interview. She has continued as an active supporter of Italian and Italian American causes, particularly the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF).
Lunch was at Pontone, one of the oldest villages in the region, before heading on to Ravello, our last stop. You can reach Pontone by car, or walk from Amalfi by going up the Via delle Cartiere followed by a steep path with 750 steps. There are some superb views on the way and after working up an appetite there are some good restaurants in the village.
Pontone was a nobles' retreat in the Middle Ages and you can still see some of the residences they built on the rocky bluff plus a few medieval watch towers scattered around the terraced hillsides. The poignant ruins of the Basilica of Sant' Eustachio, one of the finest churches in the Republic of Amalfi in the Middles Ages, can also be seen towering above the village.
Pontone was home to the prominent D’Afflitto family who constructed this church in the 12th century and dedicated it to Saint Eustace, an early Christian martyr in the 2nd century AD. The site chosen for the church was a small promontory that juts out between the Dragone and Canneto valleys which lead down to Amalfi and Atrani. The unique architectural style that existed in Amalfi during the Middle Ages incorporates Sicilian, Arab and Norman influences amongst others,
Workmen were busy repairing a stretch of road on the approach to Pontone and our bus couldn`t cross a shallow ditch due to the steep gradient, which isn`t obvious in these shots. We waited for around 10 minutes until tactics were discussed and the channel was filled with earth, finally reaching the village for a well-earned lunch.
The town has historically been a sought after destination for musicians, artists and writers with a long list to boast of including Edvard Grieg, Virginia Woolf, Greta Garbo, Truman Capote, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams and Jackie Kennedy. The 1953 film Beat the Devil, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, and Gina Lollobrigida in her English language debut, was shot here.
The plaque on the right below, fixed to a wall in the main square, honours Francis Nevile Reid, a wealthy Scottish botanist who fell in love with the villa when he visited in 1851. He subsequently purchased the property and financed a major restoration utilising the skills of the local population. Reid spent much of his time at Ravello and he died there in 1896 at the age of 66.
Since 1953, the annual Ravello Festival takes place during the summer months in homage to Richard Wagner. During July, August and September a stage is constructed on an open-air terrace where world famous musicians and artistes perform with the sky, mountains and ocean combining to form a spectacular natural backdrop. A tunnel leading to the viewpoint is lined with large colour photographs of just some of the numerous performers who have played at Ravello. The shot on the right, also on a tunnel wall, shows how the stage is set up for performances.
Heading back along the coast road at the end of the day: The brown gully above the town in the above shot is an area devastated by forest fires earlier in the year. Much of the hillside was ablaze above other Amalfi Coast communities but, as I far as I know, there was minimal damage to property and no loss of life.