Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Naples and the Amalfi coast in autumn 2010

Awaiting US midterm election results in a grimly upbeat mood


Kristin used to hang out on Capri and the Costiera Amalfitana, in the old days, but we've never been, and it's time. So here we go for a couple of weeks in fall 2010 for the off-season prices.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Hike to Amalfi

We're installed in mountainside Ravello, 27 October, and setting out to hike down to Amalfi. This is probably what it's like when you leap out of an airplane, and your parachute doesn't open.

Kristin is plummeting down the ancient stairway path through the olive groves, with gardens of the Villa Rufolo up on the left, to meet our friends for lunch in historic Amalfi. And we're following along.

We pass the top of a church as we plummet.

Beautiful. Scenic. Straight down. Ouch. Ouch ouch.

Another scenic church. Lean and stringy worshippers hike up these lanes to get their grape juice and biscuit on Sundays.

Efficient olive harvesting -- hang out a net and let the little guys drop right into it. Take a nap, and come back in a week.

Following a succession of wrong turns in our plunge to the sea, now we need a long traverse over the coastline to get back into Amalfi range.

Descending upon the Amalfi suburb of Atrani, we're awaiting a British couple slipping through the barriers where the cliffside path has been condemned.

Past the condemned part now, we're about to reach sea level at last. Ouch.

The coast road through Atrani. To accommodate the flux of tourist cars and coachs along the twisty coast road between Sorrento and Salerno, in these parts they employ flagpersons at all the narrow turns to alternate the traffic.

We're wandering around in Atrani trying to find a walking route to Amalfi that doesn't require risking everything out on the narrow coast road.

On the way past Atrani, we're out on the coast road now.

And we're trudging into Amalfi at last. This is so exciting for me, because . . .

. . . my all-time favorite play is Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (c.1612), set right here. Webster got the tragic story of Giovanna d'Aragona (widow of the first Duke of Amalfi, who secretly married her chief of staff, Antonio Bologna, in despite of her powerful brothers, and then misjudged their capacities for mayhem and got herself and the kids murdered in 1512) from Matteo Bandello's Nouvelle (1554), by way of Belleforest's French version in the Histoires Tragiques and thence to Painter's Palace of Pleasure in 1567, the source for English writers of so many lurid tales of Italianate scandalous doubledealing and perfidy.

Lovely church. We once wrote an article demonstrating that the villain of the play, the assassin Daniel de Bosola, was actually a tragic hero on the order of Hamlet. But no one was convinced, it seems.

We're hurrying to meet our friends Aldo and Marilyn on the front steps of the cathedral, the Duomo di Sant'Andrea.

The Piazza del Duomo in a drizzly sort of rain. So far, no Marilyns and few Aldos. Amalfi, in the 800s, was a trading powerhouse, rivaling Pisa and Genoa, well before Venice, and its Tavola Amalfitana collection of maritime law became the standard for the medieval Mediterranean merchant fleets.

Bustling Amalfi at its peak had some 60,000-80,000 inhabitants, but vicious sackings by Normans and Pisans in the 11th and 12th centuries took their toll, and in 1343 an earthquake dumped a lot of the town into the sea. Today the population runs to about 5,000.

The Duomo of Sant'Andrea is old, 9th century, with a façade from about 1203, and it's got great elements of the "Arab-Lombard-Norman" style.

Much of the interior was restored in the baroque manner in the 18th and 19th centuries. The front steps date from the late 19th century. But where is Aldo? Where is Marilyn?

Marilyn and Aldo from Brookline, racing up the steps to join us, only ten minutes late, not bad for a transcontinental rendezvous, so we're ready to go in to see some Arab-Lombard-Norman wonders and, if convenient, St Andrew's heart.

The Cloister of Paradise, built in about 1266, was originally a cemetery for local VIPs, but now we tourists get to relax here without being dead first. The Basilica of the Crucifix alongside, dating from about A.D. 600, is a Romanesque vestige superseded by the Duomo alongside that.

In the crypt -- some crypt! -- St Andrew his very own self resides, "Jesus' first disciple" evidently, or his heart does rather. Following his miracle-encrusted Christianizing work in Greece and Russia, this gentleman was crucified, and his heart and bones were saved out and long venerated in Constantinople, until the Christian Knights of the Fourth Crusade looted that Christian city in 1204, and a holy cardinal of the church stole St Andrew's goodies and installed them here.

We're tiptoeing and whispering, lest we disturb St Andrew's heart. And bones.
(And, we're told, his head too! Reunited with the rest of him in 2008.)

Not very Romanesque, but that's all said to be stuck in somewhere underneath all this 18th century overstatement.

The Duomo di Sant'Andrea has fantastic symmetries. The little guide they give you when you pay to go in and visit (well, you pay, I get in free) includes welcoming pull-quotes like "Jesus is waiting for you in the Chapel of the Eucharist in the left transept. If possible, search for the silence and listen to IT!"

"If possible" . . . the first element of doubt.

And another: "Jesus said to him 'Come, follow me'. Andrew believed Him, left his fishing boat and nets and followed Him. If you wish, you can renew your act of faith in Jesus on his tomb." That sounds inviting, but it's time for lunch.

The best pizza I've ever et was in Amalfi.

The civil authority once glared down watchfully from the mountaintop, but it's gone now, and the cathedral remains. Thanks to us tourists.

This is disgusting.

Blessedly, Marilyn and Aldo have driven us back up to Ravello, and we're visiting the Villa Rufolo and its famous gardens. Built by the Rufolo family in the 13th century, it was all a great ruin until the Scottish Fortune-500er Francis Neville Reid rebuilt it in the early 20th century to his own tastes.

Our chauffeurs and Kristin, as we alight at the Garden hotel and go in to see the Rufolo Garden.

Into the Villa Rufolo, by the "Torre d'Ingresso" of course.

And its fabulous gardens. In late October.

The Torre Maggiore, amongst other ruins. The Villa Rufolo, and other venues in Ravello, host an astonishing list of cultural and musical events throughout the summers. But not now.

A last look from the Rufolo gardens. Marilyn and Aldo are off to Capri. We're off to happy hour in the Garden hotel. With hiking knees like basketballs with toothaches.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 24 November 2010.


Naples and environs, 2010