The Historic Charm of Amalfi
April 20, 2013 started with an early morning and breakfast with my Salerno hostess, Annarosa. I found out that she is an urban planner and has great knowledge of the surrounding area and travelled extensively in Italy as well as in other places around the world. Annarosa had already become my local expert and I was picking her brain to find out what to see and do today.
We came to the conclusion that since I only had another day and a half in Salerno, it would be a great idea to spend a full day to visit the picturesque town of Amalfi which is less than an hour’s bus ride from Salerno. Her insider tip was to also visit the mountain town of Ravello, her favourite place on the Amalfi Coast. Annarosa equipped me with information on where to buy the bus ticket and 20 minutes later I was on my way to Amalfi.
The bus itself was about 20 minutes late and rather crowded. I ended up having a great chat with an American nurse who is currently stationed with the US Army in Vicenza in northern Italy and was on a weekend excursion in Salerno. We also witnessed an interesting police check where two police officers entered our bus and interrogated two African street merchants as to what they were carrying. They asked “Che porti?” (“What are you carrying?”) and demanded to know whether they had any drugs on them. The incident was very brief but rather dramatic.
The winding coastline going west from Salerno offered one scenic vista after another. We passed by several historic villages such as Vietri sul Mare, Cetara, Maiori and Minori. The Amalfi Coast is known the world over as one of the most scenic stretches of coastline everywhere. Historic villages are patched up against the mountainside, surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean. The entire Amalfi Coast has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being a cultural landscape.
40 kilometers of State Road 163 run along the steep cliffs and slopes of the Sorrentine Peninsula between Vietri sul Mare and Positano, and our bus regularly had to stop and let other cars pass around the narrow corners. After this exciting drive along an extremely winding coastline, I arrived in the bus station in the port of Amalfi, one of the real jewels of the Mediterranean. I got off the bus, walked through a few narrow streets and arrived minutes later on the Piazza Duomo which is anchored on the eastern side by Amalfi’s stunning 11th century cathedral.
Amalfi was an important trading power from the 9th to the 13th century, rivaling cities such as Venice, Genoa and Pisa, and became a popular holiday destination for British aristocrats in the early part of the 20th century. The Duomo is the heart of Amalfi and dates back to the 11th century. The interior of this cathedral features lavish Baroque décor, and the imposing Arab-Norman Romanesque exterior with its striped marble and stone wall is an impressive sight. The bell tower of this large cathedral can be reached via 62 steps and once arrived at the top, you can enjoy a wonderful view over the town.
From Amalfi’s Piazza del Duomo I started a walk up the mountains through a labyrinth of narrow passageways that snake in between houses that look like they were built on top of one another. The layout of this old town feels very much like a medieval Arab town and there are very few streets that are actually large enough for a vehicle to pass through. In between the houses, I caught an occasional glimpse over the town, and the higher up I got, the more impressive the views became.
Half-way up the mountain above Amalfi is a historic cemetery which is actually housed in a longitudinal medieval structure with numerous wall niches where graves are stacked vertically. The historic cemetery of Amalfi overlooks the city from its eastern slopes and is one of the most unusual cemeteries I have ever seen. And the panorama from above the town is phenomenal.
After visiting the outdoor cemetery grounds farther up the mountain, I hiked down the eastern flanks of the mountain until I arrived in the port area of Amalfi again. It was definitely time for lunch now and I enjoyed a delicious salad overlooking the Mediterranean.
Amalfi had truly enchanted me, and now it was time to catch another local bus into the mountain, to visit the scenic town of Ravello.