The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is a 50-kilometer stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula, in the Campania region.  It’s a popular holiday destination, with sheer cliffs and a rugged shoreline dotted with small beaches and pastel-colored fishing villages.  The coastal road between the port city of Salerno and clifftop Sorrento winds past grand villas, terraced vineyards and cliffside lemon groves.   A kind climate, abundant resources and natural beauty have drawn people to this coast for many centuries, and the Greeks, Romans, Normans, Saracens, Arab-Sicilians and many others have left their mark.

Amalfi communities often cluster along cliffs, their terraces blending into the rock to add their own picturesque charm to the natural beauty of the coast.  Upon closer inspection, towns like Amalfi and Ravello are home to many examples of artistic and architectural excellence—not a surprise, since this stretch of the Sorrento Peninsula has long attracted famous artists of all stripes.

Amalfi itself thrives as a picturesque tourist centre, but in the 11th and 12th centuries the city was a maritime republic, a naval power to be reckoned with throughout the Mediterranean.  Amalfi’s ports also saw extensive trade with North Africa and the city retains cloisters of Arab-Sicilian architecture throughout, as well as the Arsenale—a partially preserved medieval shipyard from a glorious era.

In Paestum, columned temples to Poseidon, Hera, and Athena stand in what was, from the 7th century B.C., the Greek city of Poseidonia.  These breathtaking structures are among the best preserved of their kind to be found anywhere in the world.

 Until the 1800s the coast’s steep terrain meant that overland access to the region was possible only by mule.  While many oases of quiet can still be found here, particularly away from tourist centres, the Amalfi Coast has changed irreversibly since then.  But echoes of far more distant eras remain, including ancient cathedrals, gardens.  The stunning natural landscape and historical sites earned the Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast) World Heritage status in 1997.

The Cathedral of St. Andrew was built in the early 1200s.  The cathedral features a dramatic location atop a steep flight of stairs, an Arab-influenced exterior, and the relics of St. Andrew the Apostle (the patron saint of Amalfi) in its crypt.  The brother of St. Peter, Andrew was a fisherman and one of the first apostles.  According to tradition, Andrew spread the gospel in Greece until he was executed by crucifixion on a diagonal cross in Patras.  Andrew’s remains were transferred from Patras to Constantinople around 357 to be placed in Constantine’s new Church of the Holy Apostles.  During the Fourth Crusade, Cardinal Pietro Capuano took Andrew’s relics from Constantinople and brought them to Amalfi.  They arrived on 8th May 1208 and were placed in the cathedral’s crypt, where they remain today.

The cathedral looms impressively over the small Piazza Duomo from atop 62 broad stairs.  Its facade, an 1800s approximation of the original, is an Arab-Sicilian riot of stripes, arches and mosaics.  The bell tower on the left has a highly elaborate top, comprised of a central cupola surrounded by four turrets at the corners, all decorated with green and yellow tiles.  The cathedral’s central portal features a fine set of medieval bronze doors, the first to appear in Italy.  Remains of silver inlays depicting Christ, Mary, and various saints can still be seen.  The bronze doors are framed by a Romanesque portal, carved with vines inhabited by mythical beasts.

The interior of Amalfi Cathedral is sumptuously Baroque but the underlying architecture is Romanesque.  The paintings on the walls and ceilings depict the life and miracles of St. Andrew.  The high altar is made from the sarcophagus of Archbishop Pietro Capuano, decorated with fine bas-reliefs of the Twelve Apostles with St. Basil, St. Nicholas, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

The Cloister of Paradise, entered at the left side of the cathedral’s portico, is one of the highlights of Amalfi Cathedral.  Built between 1266-68 to house the tombs of Amalfi’s wealthy merchants, it features slender double columns and Moorish-style arcades made of pure white marble.  In the centre is a Mediterranean garden, the surrounding walkways of which are full of notable historic art.