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Positano, Amalfi and Sorrento

Sorrento Hotel and Restaurants

 

The West end of the Amalfi coast and the town of Positano (below) - complete with Santa Fe style Chillies

 

The Maritime Republic of Amalfi was founded in 840, making it the oldest Italian (maritime) Republic.  The Republic enjoyed it's greatest prosperity in the second half of the nine hundreds and the ten hundreds.  The Tavole Amalfitane (Amalfi Maritime Tables), the world's first maritime code*, controlled shipping in much of the Mediterranean, and there were colonies of Amalfians conducting trade in many port cities.  During the 10 hundreds Amalfi and the rest of Southern Italy (not to mention a large swag of coastal north Africa) fell increasingly under the control of Norman warlords, and by the early 11 hundreds (see map of Norman Lands in 1100) they were ruled by a Norman King - Roger II.  Though their previous position in the world of Mediterranean maritime trade was being taken over by Pisa and Genoa, this did not prevent Amalfi from benefiting from the opportunities of the Crusades, including the acquisition of the bones of the Apostle Andrew from Constantinople via the Venetian diverted 4th Crusade.

 

* This claim is disputed by the Puglian Norman port of Trani, whose Ordinamenta Maris of 1063 is claimed as the oldest. 

 

 

 

The town of Amalfi itself is dominated by the fascinating Norman / Arab / Other Things Duomo built in the early twelve hundreds to accommodate the bones of the Apostle Andrew (see below) which they had souvenired from Constantinople in the fourth crusade.  It was also on the Duomo steps that the last scene of "The Italian Connection" was played out.  The town has a nice feel to it and is relatively accessible.  Here's one lunch possibility!

The bell tower was originally built between 1180 and 1276.  The striking facade is a copy of the old one which fell down in 1891.  While we were there (November 2003), the cathedral was packed with representatives of community organizations, schools and (volunteer) emergency services (i.e. mainstream Italy) attending a very moving memorial service for young men of the Italian Carabinieri killed recently in Iraq.

 

 

 

The doorway to the cathedral is closed by a pair of bronze doors (with four silver inlaid panels though it is not obvious here) made in Constantinople around 1060 by Symeon of Syria and donated to the church by the merchant Pantaleone of Amalfi, who with his son Mauro ran a profitable Amalfi-Constantinople trading operation. 

 

Amalfi Cathedral Door - Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Dastinations

 

Between 1060 and 1076 Pantaleone and Mauro also gave bronze doors to the Abbey of Montecassino (1066), the major basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome (1070) and Monte Sant'Angelo in the Gargano (1076).   Nearby Salerno acquired some bronze doors from Constantinople in 1099 - don't know who paid.

 

MEDIEVAL BRONZE DOORS IN ITALIAN CHURCHES 1060 - 1200

 

 

The intimate "Cloister of Paradise", "combining Romanesque austerity with Arab fantasy", dates from 1266.  This now forms the access route to the first Cathedral, put up by Duke Mansone III in the second half of the Nine Hundreds, which parallels the main one and was known as the Basilica of The Crucifix.  It has recently been reopened after being stripped of all the Baroque "improvements" made in the early seventeen hundreds.  The resulting large and appealing whitewashed space hosts displays of items from the treasury, as well as fragments of old decorative mosaic works and frescos from the Norman Cathedral and the even earlier paleo-christian church.  All very appealing and well worth a leisurely wander.  The wall mounted exhibits include a marble panel with a mini cosmatesque inlay (below left).

 

 

Underneath is the large and extravagantly marbled crypt - the central altar containing the remains of the first Apostle - Saint Andrew (Sant'Andrea) (he who Jesus promised to make a fisher of men).  These were souvenired from Constantinople by the 4th Crusade* in the early 1200s, having previously been souvenired by the Byzantines from Patras. 

 

 

 

*It was the other famous Maritime Republic of Venice who starred in this event and who got away with the most spectacular loot.

 

Sorrento - La Tonnarella Hotel and Two Restaurants

Another memorable hotel bedroom (and notebook workstation) view - this time in the friendly and efficient three star La Tonnarella hotel overlooking Sorrento.  The hotel also has a good restaurant - as a starter try the marinated anchovies on a bed of rucola or one of the home made pasta and seafood combinations, and grilled calamari or prawns to follow.

 

Via Capo 31, Tel: 081-878-1153, Fax: 081-878-2169

www.latonnarella.com

 

The restaurants in the main part of Sorrento, a bland area catering mostly to English and American Tourists, are mostly uninteresting and overpriced, though there is some good food to be had (try for example il Buco which is said to be outstanding food wise though also fully priced)

 

However, a bit of random urban walking revealed le Macine ("the millstones" - presumably a vague historical allusion) - excellent home made pasta (try the chunky flat pasta, prawns and rucola; the grilled calamari or crustaceans; and the tomato salad made with Naples tomatoes that taste like tomatoes used to!).  Well away from the tourist drag, good food and not a rip off - and (thus) fun and full of Italians!  To get there from the Piazza Tasso (say 10 minutes) walk away from the sea up via Fuorimura, under the circular road, past the car park piazza to a T junction, turn left, and it's on the left.

 

 

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