Renowned for its rugged terrain, scenic beauty, picturesque towns and diversity, the Amalfi Coast was featured in Positano (1953) by American writer John Steinbeck.
Amalfi is the main town of the coast on which it is located, named Costiera Amalfitana, and is today an important tourist destination together with other towns on the same coast, such as Positano, Ravello and others. Amalfi is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the 1920s and 1930s, Amalfi was a popular holiday destination for the British upper class and aristocracy.
Amalfi is first mentioned in the 6th century, and soon acquired importance as a maritime power, trading grain of its neighbors, salt from Sardinia and slaves from the interior, and even timber, for the gold dinars minted in Egypt and Syria, in order to buy the silks of the Byzantine empire that it resold in the West. Grain-bearing Amalfi traders enjoyed privileged positions in the Islamic ports.
An independent republic from the seventh century until 1075, Amalfi extracted itself from Byzantine vassalage and first elected a duke in 958; it rivalled Pisa and Genoa in its domestic prosperity and maritime importance, before the rise of Venice. In spite of some devastating setbacks it had a population of some 70,000, reaching an apogee about the turn of the millennium, during the reign of Duke Manso (966–1004).
In 1073 it 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.
In 1135 and 1137, it was taken by the Pisans and rapidly declined in importance, though its maritime code, known as the Tavole Amalfitane, was recognized in the Mediterranean until 1570. A tsunami in 1343 destroyed the port and lower town, and Amalfi never recovered more than local importance.
In medieval culture Amalfi was famous for its flourishing schools of law and mathematics. Flavio Gioia, who is traditionally considered the first to introduce the mariner's compass to Europe, is said to be a native of Amalfi.
At the top of a staircase, Saint Andrew's Cathedral (Duomo) overlooks the Piazza Duomo, the heart of Amalfi. The cathedral dates back to the 11th century; its interior is adorned in the late Baroque style with a nave and two aisles divided by 20 columns.
In 1206 Saint Andrew's relics were brought to Amalfi from Constantinople by the Pietro Capuano following the Sack of Constantinople (an event of the 4th Crusade) after the completion of the town's cathedral. The cathedral contains a tomb in its crypt that it maintains still holds a portion of the relics of the apostle. A golden reliquary which originally housed his skull and another one used for processions through Amalfi on holy days can also be seen.
The Amalfi coast is famed for its production of Limoncello liqueur and the area is a known cultivator of lemons. The correct name is “sfusato amalfitano”, and they are typically long and at least double the size of other lemons, with a thick and wrinkled skin and a sweet and juicy flesh without many pips. It is common to see lemons growing in the terraced gardens along the entire Amalfi coast between February and October.
Ravello was an important town of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi, an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 839 and around 1200.
Ravello was a diocesan town from 1086 to 1603; after that the bishop's see was moved to Scala. Situated high above the coast it has breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast. The town has served historically as a destination for artists, musicians, and writers, including Richard Wagner, M. C. Escher, Giovanni Boccaccio, Virginia Woolf, Gore Vidal, André Gide, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Graham Greene and Sara Teasdale who mentioned it in her prefatory dedication in Love Songs, one of her many books of poems.
Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times, and prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. But by the mid-19th century, the town had fallen on hard times. More than half the population emigrated, mostly to Australia.
Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, 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." The houses of Positano almost seem to be built ontop of each other as they climb up the cliffs of the Amalfi coast. From a distance it is impossible to see how any access can be gained to the houses which are connected by a narrow winding road and tiny alley ways.
Positano has been featured in several films, including Only You (1994), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), as well as 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 of singer-songwriter Shawn Phillips and was where most of his best known work was composed. Also, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones wrote the song "Midnight Rambler" in the cafes of Positano while on vacation. Today, tourism is by far the major industry in Positano. Positano is also very popular for L"Albertissimo", an alcoholic tipple that can only be found at a small stall at the main harbour called "L'alternativa".
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