If you have been to Amalfi or Positano, it is not difficult to imagine why the Italian southwest coast was inhabited by Sirens in times when history and legends intertwine. According to ancient Greek mythology, it was from the hidden caves of the Amalfi Coast, and the nearby island of Capri, where a powerful singing would emanate, which was able to mesmerize even the most insensitive human.
It has been a long time since this singing was last heard. But, the astounding landscapes, lavish in turquoise, are still there to seduce whoever goes along the bends of the busy Strada Statale 163. There, stuck between sheer cliffs, tunnels and sights of magnificent beauty lay the towns of the Amalfi Coast, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
Positano, Praiano, Furore, Conca dei Marini, Amalfi, Scala, Atrani, Ravello, Tramonti, Minori, Maiori, Cetara and Vietri Sul Mare. Every year top destinations for holidaymakers, the thirteen towns that form the Amalfi Coast are part of one of the world’s most beautiful panoramic routes. A car can be hired in Naples or Sorrento to travel on the curvy SS 163. However, it is wise to be aware before doing so, as the same road that has the UNESCO’s approval is not only sought by holidaymakers, but it is largely used by the locals in their commuting routine. As the Italian way of driving may be quite impatient, it is better to avoid stress and catch one of the buses that link the towns. Even though they have a reasonable timetable, especially in the high season, the perfect option of transport would be, however, to rent a Vespa moped, which is quite easy to do in Italy.
After experiencing the coast by land, the ideal thing would be to do the journey back in a boat. Besides seeing a totally new angle, which has been already appreciated from above, there is also the possibility of spotting caves, vineyards, lemon trees and the countless hotels and houses that have been built by excavating the rock. Especially during the summer, there are boats connecting the bigger towns on an almost hourly basis. In Positano, the closest Amalfi town to Naples, it is easy to catch a boat to go to glamorous Capri, the island of the Sirens.
Little is known of Capri’s early years as an inhabited island. Human signs from the Bronze Period (1800 BC) were found in the caves that abound throughout the island. In fact, the island’s ancient history is mainly based on legends and myths from the period of the Greek colonization. When Homer wrote about Ulysses’s adventures in Odyssey, he also mentioned the sirens of Sicily and the nearby rocky islands. Moreover, other Greek poets, such as Virgil, cited the island of Capreae as a place from where seamen would not return, once seduced by the singing of the sirens.
Nowadays it is believed that the Scoglio delle Sirene (siren’s rock), laid between two of the most beautiful beaches in Capri’s southern coast, is probably part of some 19th century scholar’s fantasies on Ancient Literature. It is dated from the same period of the discovery of the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Cave) and Capri’s reputation for tourism, which has taken many foreign poets, writers and artists to the island, in search of inspiration and pleasures to satisfy body and soul. Many of them, unable to resist the island’s enchantment, settled there, as the roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius had done centuries before. Incidentally, the ruins of Tiberius’s luxury villa are still sought out by tourists nowadays.
Capri has been seen for a long time as a hedonistic paradise of lost sensuality. It was the German poet Köpish, during one of his excursions to the island, who unveiled the famous Grotta Azzurra to the world. It is possible to visit the cave, although not in days when the sea is rough. The cave’s entrance is a challenge itself: only three feet high by seven feet wide. Nevertheless, any claustrophobic sensations are later compensated by the spectacle of the deep and bright blue caused by the refraction of the light in the water.
Before Köpish’s discovery, the Grotta Azzurra was already known by the locals, who avoided it because they believed it was inhabited by evil spirits. Were they right or, rather than spirits, was what they feared only the sirens of Capri?
Even with a small population of five thousand inhabitants, Amalfi has more than enough reasons to give its name to such a lavish region. Besides the typical beauty of a town formed between the sea and the rock, as if challenging the laws of gravity, and the central geographic location along the fifty kilometres of the Coast, Amalfi had also great importance to the Mediterranean trade during the C18th and C19th. Its Cathedral, which is from the same period, has a wonderfully embellished façade and tower, and it is also a shrine of Saint Andrew’s relics. Incidentally, churches and cathedrals are not easily missed in Italy due to their beauty and abundance.
As well as the splendid architecture and nature of the region, it is impossible to forget the famous Italian gastronomy. The dishes from the Amalfi Coast are simple: the secret lies in the good quality and freshness of the local ingredients. Mussels, prawns, lobsters and other seafood can be found in abundance on the menus, in addition to the huge variety of Italian pastas, risottos and pizzas. There is also the fish all’acqua pazza (cooked in vegetal broth with tomatoes) and the delicious aubergine alla parmegiana. Basil, tomato, mozzarella and olive oil are the ingredients for the Caprese salad, which has its origins in Capri, as the name easily suggests. To go along with these mouth-watering dishes, there are the excellent wines from the Campania region: Lacryma Christi, Costa d’Amalfi, Falerno, Taburno, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, amongst others.
Limoncello di Amafi
After an abounding Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo piatti, it is sensible to dismiss the dessert, for the sake of your own health. However, how to refuse an Italian ice cream, without doubt the best in the world? Throughout a wide range of flavours, the fruit can be felt in its most unchanged taste and texture, as an irrefutable proof of a high quality ice cream. There is also the granita, a kind of granulous ice cream made with water, easily mistaken for the French sorbet. Apart from the granita, many other things take the fragrant lemons grown in the area as a main ingredient: drops, candles, cosmetics, and especially the delightful limoncello liquor. According to the local custom, there is no better manner of finishing a true Italian meal – meanwhile the next banquet is awaited.
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