Monday, 1 October 2012

Sorrento | Sweet Melodies Embracing a Ravishing Peninsula.


Sorrento is an unique,enchanting and unforgettable destination,a place of sweet melodies embracing a ravishing peninsula,it is enough to think about that so famed and classic Neapolitan songs and one in particular titled  Torna a Surriento dedicated to that magnificent place which lies on that poetic and sublime headland called Peninsula Sorrentina,a magic land which always gave the most deep inspirations to an incredible wide list of artists.

When you visit that coastal resort all immediately appears and full of a charming and sunny atmosphere. atmosphere.Frequented by Emperor Augustus and Tiberius who found there a sort of golden haven,that town of Campania received distinguished and famed guests including Goethe,Wagner,Lord Byron ,Keits,Caruso,Pavarotti and Ibsen the notorious Norwegian playwright who inspired by such outstanding place wrote one of his masterpieces: The Spectra.

Since long time ago,Sorrento is one of the most important and prestigious tourist centres on the Tyrrhenian Sea,a place which today with its 17,000 inhabitants is known throughout the world for its stunning natural landscapes around a marvellous gulf and simply the name makes many people fall in love.In literature and history the town also gained fame to be the birthplace of the famous and talented  poet Torquato Tasso,
and the town dedicated him a monument in the square which bears his name,the artist was born there in 1544.The house where the poet was born is now one of the oldest and most beautiful Hotels of the town.
Situated to southeast of the end of the Circumvesuviana rail line,the resort lies on a poetic promontory overlooking the Gulf of Naples with many viewpoints from which to admire the Capital of Campania visible across the bay and with a spectacular view of one of its emblematic symbols the Vesuvius.

The history of the ancient Sorrentum is so rich of legends and historical events.The name of that beautiful town evokes one of the most mysterious and fascinating figure of the most classical mythology : the Siren.According to ancient legends,the current town was developed in a sacred place dedicated to the cult of those capricious creatures and the word Surrentum derives from those characters who were half women and half fish,which forced the shipwrecked sailors against the rocks with their songs and enigmatic charm.

The ancient Greeks indicated,the movements by sea of them in a close connection between Lipari in Sicily and the local peninsula,also according to the Latin historian Diodorus Siculus, Sorrento was founded by Líparo,son of Ausonius,who was King of Ausonia and son of Odysseus and Circe.The ancient settlement was probably linked to the Ausones,a tribe of the oldest Hellenic ethnic groups in the area.In pre-Roman times,naturally all was influenced by Greek civilisation and that also is confirmed by the presence of Atenaion, a large shrine, according always to legends founded by Ulysses and originally dedicated to the cult of the Sirens.

The former Greek colony in the past, and even during the Roman Empire remained largely a settlement populated by Hellenic populations or descendants of the first colonists who founded the most important temple of Surrentum,the only one devoted to them in all  the Greek world, and they gave the name to the promontory.In ancient times,that place was also famous for its wines,fishing and its red-figure vases, furthermore the discovery of coins of Massalia,Gaul and from the Balearic Islands indicates a very large trade business.

Before the Roman supremacy,that ancient centre was one of the settlement under influence of Nuceria the actual town of Nocera in proximity of Naples and they shared their fate in the famous Social War. Controlled by the Romans in 89 B.C,the two towns joined forces in the revolt of the 90 B.C,but they were defeat by the powerful Roman legions.The original settlement,apart from some sporadic traces of prehistoric presence,was mainly developed during Roman times and still rate the streets reflect the ancient urban roadway.Its prosperity dates from the imperial period, when Capreae the island of Capri was the favourite residence of the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius and Sorrento was an important transit and also favourite resort for pleasant stays before to reach that amazing island. (I wrote a post about Capri).

Numerous sepulchral inscriptions of Imperial slaves and free men have been found in the territory and an inscription shows that Titus in the year after the earthquake of the 79 restored the town and its architectonic decorations,a similar restoration of an unknown building of Naples in the same year is recorded in an inscription of Surrentum.

After the fall of the Roman Empire,the land was dominated by the Ostrogoths and in the year 552 moved under Byzantines influence.The Lombard, who conquered much of southern Italy in the second half of the 6th century besieged the coastal town several times but without luck.As in the following centuries the authority of Byzantium fell far,it was in the 9th century an autonomous Duchy,which fought with the neighbouring towns of Amalfi and Salerno against the Ottomans.

The Normans led by Roger D´Hauteville conquered that Duchy in 1133 incorporating the town in the their Kingdom.In the 16th century the town was sacked by Saracen pirates and from that event a new line of walls was therefore erected.The most striking event of the following centuries it was the revolt against the Spanish domination in 1648 led by Giovanni Grillo.In the course of its history after that Sorrento was annexed to the Neapolitan Republic in 1799 and some years later it was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicily living long time under Bourbon rule until 1861 when it was officially annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy,although the town was released one year before,

The beauty of the place on a plain at the foot of the  Lattari Mountains,overlooking the Mediterranean sea and with a mild climate all year have made the resort one of the most relevant holiday destinations in Campania and in Italy.Considered an amazing place to enjoy sun and art,it is also one of the most charming and romantic site,for many absolutely unforgettable.

The historical core still shows the shape of the streets of Roman origin,while towards the hill,it is surrounded by the 16th century walls,the only exception to its natural protection was 275 metres southeast which were defended by walls,whose lines was discontinued in later times.The layout of the existing streets of the city keeps the old one and the arrangement of walled roads which divide the plain to the east seems to date,in some form since the Roman times.

Have not been preserved ruins in the city itself, but there are many remains in the neighbourhood of the east of the city on the road to the ancient Stabiae corresponding to the current Castellamare di Stabia a town very close to Naples,of which there are still traces in the direction of the current way, much higher,across the mountain.The place of one of the longest walls possibly belonging to the imperial houses is currently occupied by the Hotel Victoria under whose terrace was found,a small theatre in 1855,and an old tunnel dug into the rock falls there to the sea.Remains of other villas may have,but the ruin is the most important reservoir of underground aqueducts just outside of town to the east,which had no less than twenty seven chambers, each of which, about 27 metres by 6 metres have been found some Greek tombs.


The centre with its monuments is mainly developed around the square  Piazza Tasso which is the heart of the municipality and it rises during the 19th century in response to some urban changes which took place there.It was formerly called Largo del Castello because, where today there is a statue of Sant´Antonio (St.Anthony), there was a former Aragonese castle. 

In 1844 the 16th century walls were torn down,they were built around the valleys as a defencive system against raids,but later knocked down the door which gave access to the town on the eastern side and called Porta del Piano (Gate of the Plain),to the top of which stood the statue of Sant 'Antonino removed from the author Torrese and it was placed on a pillar at the Hotel Rispoli. In the year 1870 was inaugurated the monument dedicated to Torquato Tasso and it was at that time,thanks to the opening of a new road, which arose the series of the 19th century buildings which surround the current avenue Corso Italia.

Le Antiche Mura the Ancient Walls arise in correspondence of the Porta di Nuova Parsano, opened in 1745, in that area,where there was already an access to the town dated the 16th century and witnessed by the presence of two ramparts and cannons placed at their sides.Under the road at the door there is a defencive wall, as shown by the blocks of a stoned arch and placed the long head, dating back the Greek times.During the excavations made in 1921 uncovered remains were found,probably dated at the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus.Those walls were also used in medieval times as a defence of the town from attacks invaders.The renovation begun in the mid 16th century and concretely ended in 1558, after an intense attack by the Ottomans.

Porta di Nuova Parsano mentioned before was built in 1745,although the two bastions near the door show that in the 16th century was possible to access to the centre of the town via the port on Sersale. With the excavations of 1900 came to light that under the current gate of the 18th century,there were remains of a gate dating back to the Greeks and in the year 1925 were built parapets and new walls to protect those ruins.


Il Vallone dei Mulini (The Valley of the Mills) is part of a system of valleys which crossed the Sorrentine Peninsula until the beginning of the century and it was the natural boundaries.It extended from Piazza Torquato Tasso to Marina Piccola,the maritime harbour forming a picturesque port whose name derives from a mill whose ruins are still visible.Among the five valleys which characterise the headland, and that in ancient times were used to divide a land to another,the only best preserved, and escaped to changes in various eras is the Valley of the Mills,which draws its name from a mill used until the early 900 to grind the grain.

The waters descending from the hills and spring fed a sawmill adjacent to the mill,which was useful for processing different types of wood used for the art of marquetry and another feature of the Valley was the presence of a public laundry where women washed clothes.After 1866 the Valley was abandoned and the only evidence of its activities are the prints and the images left by artists and visitors in those days.

The Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine (Church of Maria del Carmine)e dated 230,was built when in the settlement there was a persecution against Christians.The Church was rebuilt in baroque style stands out, as well as the facade,the old image of Our Lady, the Virgin Brunette copy of Naples.

Another highlight is Via delle Grazie a famous street along which is situated Palazzo Ferola a Palace dated the first half of the 15th Century.The portal of that building is adorned with a relief decoration on the bezel and a crest on top.In the same way even a mullioned medieval presents a pattern decorated with a double row of teeth in the arcade in the interior.The street Via Pietá is the ancient Roman Decumanus of Sorrento,equivalent to the more ancient urban point in that adopted plan by the Romans during the development of their settlements,anf it is the street which links up Piazza Tasso to the Cathedral's main entrance.

The Cattedrale di San Filippo and San Giacomo (Cathedral of Saint Philip and Saint James) situated in Corso Italia was built in the 15th century and completely restored in the 18th century it is a beautiful building rich in works of art and religious furnishings of great value.The former Romanesque Cathedral, houses the baptistery where Torquato Tasso was baptised.The current religious building stands for the base section of the Romanesque previous construction erected around the 11th century with trunks of columns of various orders.In the raised arches and columns placed at the corners there is a clear emphasis of Byzantine influence.Other relevant local buildings contain  fine examples of medieval architecture are Palazzo Veniero,Palazzo Correale and Loggia di Vico Galantario.

Museo Correale di Terranova is a splendid 17th century villa with a beautiful garden,arranged as Museum where there are works of Classical and medieval paintings and other masterpieces by Neapolitan school with a collection of applied arts.The exhibition collections consist in Greek and Roman findings and Capodimonte porcelain, while another section displays paintings of the 17th and 19th century and another highlight in its exterior are the gardens from where you can enjoy a magnificent view over the gulf.
From there you can enjoy a wonderful boat trip  reaching Punta del Capo,a stunning promontory approximately 3,0 km west of the resort where there are ruins of an ancient villa called Villa Pollio Felice or in Latin language Polio Felix,supposedly that area was the town of Polio Felix a friend of the poet Statius,during the 1st century.

Under the Hotel Sirena substructures,a tunnel is excavated in the rock and to the northwest,at the Cape of Sorrento there is another village, called Bagni della Regina Giovanna ,enclosed by walls of rock.The water, penetrating through a cleft in the rocky section,takes the effect of light striking colours green,purple and blue a view you can consider absolutely magnificent.Further to the west there are other villas and farther still there is the place of the temple of Athena or Temple of the Sirens on a promontory with the same name,on the tip of the famous peninsula Punta Campanella.Unfortunately there is no rest of the famous temple of the Sirens,but it is great to learn where it was originally erected,it is also part of the great history to know the exact geographic point.Pay a visit also to the avenue in the park behind the building which leads to the lookout which offers a breathtaking panoramic view.

One of the busiest streets packed by very interesting shops is Via San Cesareo who at any reminder of the swarms of tourists looking for souvenirs to take home.The road is accessible from several points,it was once used as main street to organise the defence from the incursions of enemies,a sort of hallway as meeting point of the troops before to reach the check points and the walled fortified perimeter.You can enjoy a pleasant walk,to buy traditional souvenirs with a wide choice of hand-painted shepherds,Sorrento music box inlay, hand-embroidered dresses,many other articles and local products.Along that relevant artery, there are different 16th and 18th century buildings which have undergone the influence of the Neapolitan Baroque. Baroque visible by ancient portals,characterised by simple designs with rounded arches.

In the heart of the town you can see the evidence of the ancient seat of the noble city called Il Sedile Dominova. an elegant Angiovin French building built in the 14th century under the rule of the Angiers Dynasty,which is one of the remaining testimony in Campania.The monument dated the 16th century,shows a quadrilateral form with two corner arches in Piperno,permitting the view of the dome and the end of the walls with frescoes dated 18th century.The pillars and arches,clustered,are in archaic style and the 17th century dome is made by yellow and green majolica tiles.

The seat derives its name from the Domus Nova (New Dome) and it was built by the nobles who were freed from the initial group of the seat holder.The crest is a wolf pass,present on small pillars which are located along the balustrade and from the architectonic point of view reflects a renaissance type.Very interesting are the frescoes of the two end walls which create a vision perspective that opens up space,a scenic crest of Sorrento is supported by a group of angel while in the dome are depicted the heraldic sign of aristocratic families who were part of the seat.

Porta di Marina Grande is the end of a dirt court which in the past it was open at the foot of a tower,it is the oldest preserved gate after the demolitions dated 19th century.At the beginning of the road Via del Mare there is the entrance which leads to the picturesque village of Marina Grande.That area, made famous in the movie by Dino Risi  Pane Amore e.."(Bread ,Love and..) starring Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica.

Marina Grande has managed to keep intact its characteristics and image of a fishing village and thanks to its sensitive inhabitants,the harbour and surroundings are still well preserved and along the beach you can admire the colourful fisher men's houses along with boats and nets pulled on the shores of the sea.The area is very well organised during summer season you can swim or sunbathe,as well,in addition there are some restaurants where you can taste the real local cuisine based on fish,pasta and fresh seafood.

Porta di Marina Piccola was a gate with a direct road to the beach, the harbour was barred by a door which was originally the only landing on it,it was located next to the Church of St Antonio, and it was surmounted by a tower.On the right side there was a garden of the Religious Order of the Teatini,while on the northern side there was a lookout from which it is possible to admire Marina Piccola.It is an open space purchased by the municipality in 1835 to give visitors a chance to admire a stunning maritime view and it is of course another of the numerous great view points of that enchanting placeThe Port  of Marina Piccola apart is natural beauty all around is also important because it served by hydrofoil services to Ischia, Capri and Naples.


 The ancient Basilica di Sant´Antonio also called Sant´Antonino (St. Anthony Basilica) is dedicated to St.Anthony Patron Saint of Sorrento and the local diocese,it was built  over a Chapel containing the tomb of the Saint who was buried in a crypt dated 9th century.The interior consists in three naves divided by twelve marble columns.At the centre of the ceiling on canvas,painted coffers,there is a painting by Giovanni Battista Lama dated 1734, which depicts St.Anthony which frees people from the devil's daughter Sicario Duke of Benevento.On the side walls of the transept there are two large paintings depicting Sorrento freed from the plague of the intercession of St. Caetan and the siege of Sorrento in 1648.

The monumental main altar inlaid marble coming from the suppressed Monastery of the Holy Trinity and through a double staircase there is an access which leads to the crypt with a vault supported by columns of perusal and the six ovals on canvas with the patron saints of Sorrento to Amalfi Charles,in 1778. Remains are preserved in the altar of St. Anthony, the numerous ex-vote of silver testify to the great popular faith for the Patron.In the crypt is also preserved an ancient wooden crucifix which was carried in procession on the occasion of grave calamities.A Byzantine influence is found in the bell tower which accompanies it, with the original base with raised arch,composed of columns,capitals and Roman reliefs. Inside the religious building, down the central aisle, there is a marble pulpit and the bishop's chair, both dated 16th century and furthermore a relevant choir.

The real local architectonic jewel is anyway the Chiostro di San Francesco (St.Francis Cloister).The architecture of the cloister has crossed arches in tuff on two sides of the portico,a very stylish expression of the late 14th century,replaced the other two sides by round arches on octagonal pillars.Next to the Monastery there is the Chiesa di San Francesco (Church of St. Francis) erected in the 16th century but rebuilt in the 18th century.

It is a must for those who decide to visit Sorrento,to admire Il Deserto (The Desert) a former Carmelite Monastery,the former convent of the Bigi,which has a beautiful terrace where you can enjoy the splendid views of the gulfs of Naples and Salerno,Sorrentine peninsula and the island of Capri.The name desert because that area in the past was so aisled and no people came in the proximity of the Monastery.

Another excursion very suggested is to enjoy the natural scenery of the Monte Tore a hill at 530 m high and the Piccolo Sant´Angelo another hill at 465 m of altitude which are totally covered by a typical maritime pine forests and from both peaks is a great view of the coast and the entire peninsula.

Another place for art lovers is the Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea the Museum Shop of Wood Inlay, evidence of the long popular tradition linked those great local works managed by talented local artists.The exhibition is prepared in every detail and aspect offering opportunity to admire furniture,inlaid antique prints and old photographs,as well as tools and utensils used by master craftsmen.

Sorrento has always inspired artists and singers.The famous Neapolitan song Torna a Surriento (Come back to Sorrento) mentioned at the beginning, is one of the emblematic and iconic symbols of that beautiful town.The song was composed for the visit to Sorrento of Giuseppe Zanardelli, then chairman of the Council of Ministers on 15 September 1902.The Baron Guglielmo Tramontano,mayor and owner of the Hotel Tramontano where Mr.Zanardelli stayed,asked the brothers Giambattista and Ernesto De Curtis to compose a melody to honour such illustrious guest,hoping to get some assistance in exchange for Sorrento including opening a post office.

Ernesto De Curtis recovered an old song he had composed some years before and Giambattista at the time wrote a text appropriate to the situation: Torna a Surriento and from there the song was born.Some years later in 1903 with some modifications to the lyrics, the song was presented to the Piedigrotta Festival in Naples and from that time it began the success of that iconic song,which became one of the most famous Neapolitan masterpieces in the world.

Sorrentine Peninsula is also famous for its agricultural products,in particular olives and lemons.The local olive oil produced in the area is so special that it deserved a DOP a n original product,protected by law.
 Its origin dating back to the Phoenicians and according legends some Greeks colonists were convinced that those olives and olive oil were the invention or something creating by Minerva,Goddess of wisdom something magic and unique and along the road leading to the temple of Minerva in proximity of Punta Campanella, those products were purchased to offer them to the venerated Divinity.

Currently the olive producing that oil is a bit all over the territory only punctuated occasionally by vineyards and lemon trees and its flavor is pretty particular,intense and fruity with a spicy aftertaste.It  has a colour ranging from pale yellow to green and you get only from olives harvested directly from the plant by 31 December each year and pressed within 48 hours.The Peninsula apart that is also an ideal place for other cultivations,in particular raw vegetables and  tomatoes.

In that part of Italy  lemons are so famous to produce the great and prestigious Limoncello.They are called Sfusati Amalfi, famous for their elongated shape and a fragrance unique in the world,therefore protected by the mark of origin of the European Union.They have a thick skin,similar to that of the cedars,and they are particularly juicy.They mainly grow in terraced grounds overlooking the town of Amalfi (from there the original name) and particularly suitable for the production of Limoncello although some experts say that Sorrento has that kind of lemons in its area.There is always a sort of rivalry,between the two towns,for that product but both continue to produce a drink of sublime quality.

Do not miss to taste a typical Granita with the juices obtained by those lemons,excellent especially when they contain extracts of the skin,always extraordinarily aromatic.Apart the Citrus fruits,other products are of great as vegetables, and especially artichokes.The Pasta Gragnano is another of the most typical local products,which is ,the essence of the most traditional Mediterranean and local cuisine with a profusion of vermicelli with clams,mussels and the famous Pastiera a pastry pie stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese flavoured with orange.

About other typical specialities there are the famous Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, cooked with fresh tomato and Mozzarella, the Bebé di Sorrento (the baby of Sorrento,a mild cheese shaped like a baby in swaddling clothes,Ravioli all´Aragosta (Ravioli with lobster) and Lasagne Frutti di mare (seafood lasagne) Riso con zucchini e gamberi (Rice with shrimps and zucchini) and the typical Baba al Rhum a kind of bignet filled with Rum liquor.

The shopping scene in a place like Sorrento is always pleasant and extremely enjoyable.There are many good shops located to the west of Sorrento's central Piazza Tasso with many shops for clothing and accessories.and particularly along the avenue Viale Enrico Caruso.Close to Corso Italia and  Piazza Antica you can find lace sheets,pottery,furniture and souvenirs while in Via San Cesareo you will find pretty varied shops, offering a large range of articles from,jewelry,coral,silver,handicrafts,bags and shoes in elegant boutiques, liquors and typical gastronomical products as the popular Limoncello.

A recommendation in Sorrento is to wear sensible shoes, the streets are often covered in cobblestone. Nightlife in Sorrento is very lively in the area of Piazza Tasso The Fauno Bar  has always and worldly clientele and it is the meeting point for events, parties and cocktails.Other places in the area to spend your evenings and nights are Guarracino,Teatro Tasso and Frank the Music Bar.

 Sorrento is situated at 48,0 kilometres from Naples Capodichino Airport and it  is the terminus of the Circumvesuviana train to and from Naples.Sorrento has only one station and driving you can reach the resort  taking the SS 145 road at  Castellammare di Stabia near the junction with the A3 Motorway connected to Naples.The town of Sorrento is crossed by Highway 145 Sorrento,and the Motorway exit in Sorrento is not far from Corso Italia.The town has a small port in Marina Piccola,served by hydrofoil to Ischia, Capri and Naples.

The song "Torna a Surriento" is a right and splendid spot for that town..The Neapolitan lyrics say : "Vir 'o mare quant’è bello,Ispira tantu sentimento,Comme tu a chi tiene a' mente, Ca scetato 'o faie sunnà.Guarda gua' chistu ciardino;Siente, sie’ sti sciure arance: Nu profumo accussi fino.E tu dice: "I’ parto, addio!" T’alluntane da stu core…Da sta terra de l’ammore…Tiene 'o core 'e nun turnà? Ma nun me lassà,Nun darme stu turmiento! Torna a Surriento,famme campà!"

The translation is : "Look at the sea, how beautiful it is,it inspires so many emotions,like you do with the people you have at heart.You make them dream while they are still awake.Look at this garden and the scent of these oranges,such a fine perfume,it goes straight into your heart,And you say: "I am leaving, goodbye."You go away from my heart,away from this land of love,And you have the heart not to come back.But do not go away,do not give me this pain. Come back to Surriento,let me live!"

Of course listening that song and during your last day in that magnificent town on an unforgettable peninsula facing the Mediterranean,after a wonderful stay,the first sensation will be to stay there,but coming to the reality a holiday ends,but those lyrics for many people are magic,they transmit desire to come back there listening it admiring that marvellous site and thinking to the next time,returning of course once again.

 Francesco Mari


Recommended Hotels in Sorrento 

Hotel Prestige Sorrento 
Palazzo Jannuzzi Relais
Hotel Bellevue Syrene 
Hotel Maison Tofani 
Gran Hotel Excelsior Vittoria 
Hotel Antiche Mura 
Hotel La Minervetta 
Gran Hotel La Favorita
Grand Hotel Ambasciatori