Friday, July 15, 2011

la dolce vita

Here I am, ensconced in a small village on the Amalfi Coast, enjoying real summer: temperatures in the low 30 degrees, sunshine, sea, everyone chilling out in casual clothes, drinking wine, eating gelato...ahh...

Gran Caffe, Amalfi
I am staying in a small village just around the headland from Amalfi. It is called Atrani, and has a population of about 900, and an area of about 1 square kilometre. It si the smallest village with an independent local government in the whole of Italy. I can walk to the centre of Amalfi (the Big Smoke, with about 6,000 residents) in 5 or 10 minutes - depending on how energetic I feel. There are 147 steps up and 153 steps down to cross the headland to Amalfi's Piazza Municipale.

My hotel is the Palazzo Ferraioli, a lovely place just opened in May last year, a renovation of an old family palazzo. The manager is Carmine (Car-min-E), and I have a great deal for a few weeks chilling here.

Great transport for the Coast
Down in the town square of Atrani there are a few shops and a large number of bars, and a nice restaurant where I can get fresh fish or pizza. In front of the square, through an archway that supports the famous Amalfi Coast Road, is Atrani's beach, set out for the season with lounge chairs and beach umbrellas. During the week it is patronised by local Italian families - the bambini are on school holidays. I'm told that at the weekend it goes crazy with tourists. In the mornings I walk over to Amalfi to buy the International Herald Tribune (and today I even found the Guardian) and have a cup of excellent cappuccino looking out over the Mediterranean.

The Amalfi Coast

Amalfi was the first born among the Four Maritime Republics of Medieval and Renaissance Italy, and reached its maximum splendour during the 10th and 11th centuries, with merchant colonies in the main harbours of the Mediterranean Sea: Byzantium, Alexandria, Beirut, Cyprus. The Maritime Laws of the city, explained in the famous (around here) "Tabula Amalphitana" were for centuries the international mercantile code accepted and taken as a model. In the 12th century, after the Norman conquest (dang those Normans) Amalfi lost its importance in Mediterranean commerce and had to be content with a modest local role. (Hard, very hard, for Amalfiani). New dynasties ruled over Naples and southern Italy
and the rival maritime republics of the north, especially Pisa and Genoa, supported the conquerers of the south in return for trade favours.
Amalfi's Duomo

Amalfi's duomo (cathedral) is rather spectacular. It was founded in the 9th century and retains its original bell tower, which duly chimes ever quarter hour. It's present facade dates from the 19th century but is based on the original. It also has a charming cloister, called around here the 'Cloister of Paradise'.

Atrani is described int eh hotel's brochure as "a small enclave only as big as one square kilometre, its houses and churches (there are 5 or 6) well adhering to the cliffs of the valley a if they were small baroque cream pastries, one on top of the other, interconnected by a network of narrow walkways and steep stairways, partly covered by arched porticos." This I find rather poetic for a hotel brochure. I especially like the reference ro 'baroque cream pastries', whatever they are. As to the narrow walkways and steep stairs, I can attest to the accuracy of the description. In the Middle Ages Atrani was part of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi and was where the local aristocracy resided. Doges were crowned in the church of San Salvatore de Birecto. The centre of the village is Piazzo Umberto I which is, according to the brochure "the heart of all the activities of the town". Certainly , since I have been here, there has been live music and fireworks, as well as crowds of genial diners and drinkers.  The brochure encourage its readers to explore the churches of Atrani, and tells us that in medieval times there were more than 300 churches in the village. The mind boggles.

Narrow alleyways of Atrani

As you can see from the pictures, the Amalfi Coast is deservedly famous, and comes close to being paradise on earth. Remember that here they grow lemons, peaches, olives, figs in abundance and fishermen bring back fresh local fish every day to the restaurants. Vines and the wine produced from them is also in much evidence. And add to that the classical music festival of Ravello - the village up on the hill that I can almost see from here....excuse me, la dolce vita calls....

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