Pearl of the Universe Amalfi Coast
Ayfer Selamoğlu- When Amalfi is mentioned, the words are lined up in my heart, my brain, my tongue. But words are not enough. Then, saying “this magical geography cannot be told, it can only be experienced”, I fall on the roads with the taste of ‘Dolce Vita’…
Surrounding like a pearl necklace between Sorrento and Salerno in the south of Italy, the Amalfi coast is a beauty route that makes you feel love at first sight. Some of them wrote poems, some songs, and some stories for these beauties, which are on the Unesco’s “Values of the Universe” list. When we think of the deep blue sky, fragrant lemons, olive groves, vineyards, turquoise sea, multi-colored towns, tunnels that open to a different world, and generous gardens and flowers, the timeless beautiful lines do not seem to end.
Amalfi was once a region that competed with Venice, Pisa and Genoa for power championship. The influence of Amalfi, which continued its existence as an independent, wealthy and affluent trading port, was so strong that Tavola had the Amalfitana’s maritime laws written. Having printed its own gold and silver coins and embroidered the Amalfi cross on it, Amalfi began to rule over a very large region. Amalfi, which has a trade network stretching as far as Alexandria and Constantinople, surpassed Pisa, Venice and Genoa as Italy’s first maritime republic. As William of Apulia said in the 11th century, “No city is richer in gold, silver, and textiles… It has become a city where whoever goes all over the world will always find something to buy.” In Amalfi, which was plundered by many different groups, especially the Lombards, different cultures shaped the architectural structure of the region. In the region where many churches and monasteries were built in the 10th century, an Arab-Sicilian atmosphere prevails in the whole city, as a result of its close relations with Tunisia, Tripoli and Algeria. With mosque-like cathedrals, bustling squares and ancient mills, Amalfi brings the spirit of the time to the present with all its nobility. The earthquake in 1343 buried most of the city in the sea, but could not touch its beauty.
After seeing the Naples sign on our drive, we passed through cobblestone squares, the tramway, and by Mount Vesuvius. Finally, we entered a path that winds along the coast. A steep mountain rose on one side of us, and a steep slope descended on the sea on the other. We were walking slowly along narrow paths. When we encountered large vehicles, we had to pull over and let them go. We finally arrived in the land of dreams.
The first stop was Sorrento, which has maintained its attractiveness since ancient Rome with its perfect climate and location. After parking our car in the city built on the top of the cliff, we started walking. We came to Piazza Tussa, passing through pastel-colored buildings with the scents of orange, lemon, limoncelle. We had booked a hotel near the square. We left our stuff and went to explore the city. Sorrento was mesmerizing with its steep cliffs, crystal clear waters, giant rose trees, olive groves and lemon farms. We could laze on the beach. But I wanted to enjoy this quaint town.
We loved the crowded Bar Ercolano, right in the middle of Piazza Tussa. After we ate spaghetti with mussels and oysters with our Tenuta Madre wine, we started to wander the streets of Sorrento. After absorbing the glow of the square and the streets, we went down to the Marina Grande fishing port, close to the Sorrento coast.
Then we went to Villa Vomunale Park not to miss the sunset. The panoramic view of the harbor was magnificent. The sunset was romantic. The Romans called it the land of the Serens.
It was normal for such a fascinating place to have fascinating epics. After eating our pizzas at a restaurant close to the square, we went to our hotel. The next day, after having breakfast at Bar Ercolano, we set out for Positano.
“It’s the kind of dreamy place that can’t be real,” I screamed as I parked the car on the hill, like John Steinbeck. It was built on steep cliffs. Among the tiered gardens of lemon and geranium, houses in white, pink, peach and apricot hues stretched downwards like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. We started walking down the steep slope towards the beach, following the endless blue, the beach and the picturesque houses on the opposite steep slope. In the narrow streets leading down, local boutiques, shops selling local ceramics, cafes where you can drink all kinds of coffee with limoncello, shops selling souvenirs, and charming hotels were lined up. We often came across ceramic tiles with yellow lemon or sun patterns on dark blue.
We went up and down hundreds of steps. We passed the cramped cute buildings. Just behind the beach was a church with its interesting dome visible from everywhere. The domed roof of the church, which we learned is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, was decorated with colorful tiles. A little ahead, a sparkling turquoise sea stretched out with small boats bobbing. Positon fascinated me. “This must be the land of immortality,” I whispered. Then we entered the restaurant of a hotel overlooking the beach. While waiting for our oyster spaghetti and white wine, we ate the mozzarella suppli. Our pasta, in which the taste of the sea, Mediterranean-smelling olive oil, fresh basilica and garlic mixed together, was magnificent. As we were about to finish our meal, an old sun-dark old man in a large straw hat began to sing Neapolitan love songs in a hoarse and melancholy voice, accompanied by his guitar. Then we drank our expresso accompanied by tramisu. After leaving our stuff at our hotel, we went to the beach. Spiaggia Grande beach was full of happy, cheerful, glamorous people. We rented sun loungers and stretched out towards the magnificent sea and positano view. We swam with cheerful fish in lemon-scented waters. We enjoyed the warm windy sea with the view of the fascinating Positano. As I was swimming, I remembered John Steinbeck’s words, “When you’re there it’s impossible not to notice this magical place, but when you leave, you’ll always think about it and then you’ll feel its magic.” I was already starting to feel this magic…
The next day we set out for Amalfi. We opened the windows to enjoy every moment of this traveling symphony. We were walking through a poetic nature, inhaling the scents of peace released by the lemon trees. I remembered, with a smile, how Andre Gide was run over by a horse-drawn carriage while walking on narrow roads. We arrived in Amalfi, passing through high steep cliffs, charming villages perched on the slopes above the sea, multi-layered gardens dangling towards the sea, turquoise waters and green mountains. When I looked at the emerald waters from the road that curved down from Mount Cerreto and the coast along its shore, we were enchanted by another beautiful view.
After parking our car, we went to Piazza Del Duomo, the center of Amalfi. We sat on the stairs leading up to the San Andrea Church. By watching the activity in the cute square surrounded by fountains, cafes and restaurants, we inhaled the energy of peaceful people. After resting in the square of the San Andrea Cathedral, which bears the traces of Moroccan, Gothic and Norman architecture and attracts attention with its romanesque bell tower, we threw ourselves on the beach across the square. While enjoying the caressing light sea, I remember that Amalfi was once Italy’s most powerful maritime republic, and that Mediterranean maritime trade was governed by the world’s oldest maritime law, ‘Tavole Amalfitane’, enacted in the 11th century. After the sea, we went to Cennet Monastery, which carried us to the medieval period. Since Amalfi is also the trade center that introduced Europe to paper, we did not neglect to see the Mills Valley, where the paper museum is located on the hill and where the mill shafts used in paper making are located.
After having a snack accompanied by our Aperol Spritz in the cafe on the square, we went to Ravello, which is built on a steep slope, and which Andre Gide said, “It is closer to the sky than the sea”, among the vanilla-like scents of lemon trees. This charming town, very high above the sea, had a fascinating view with its clean air, perfect view, magnificent gardens and villas. It must be because of this that he inspired many people, from Boccaccio to Wagner. Founded in the 10th century, Ravello was rebuilt in the 18th century in the Neapolitan-Baroque style. Composer Richard Wagner’s compositions were echoing in the peaceful streets of Ravello, adorned with tiers of pools, statues and flowers, stretching out onto the sea like a terrace. Promotional posters of the Ravello Music Festival, which will start two weeks later, were hanging on the walls. Richard Wagner composed a part of his opera Parsifal here in 1880. A music festival was held for him every year in his memory.
This year, these demonstrations would begin in Rufalo, one of the town’s villas decorated with lemon trees, geraniums, hydrangeas, statues and fountains. We wandered through the narrow streets of timeless Ravello, admiring the festival programs hung on the walls.
Sea, sun, aesthetics, history, art, tranquility, fine food, great wines, warm Italians and plenty of peace, the phrase that best sums up our trip to the Amalfi coast was “My heart stayed on the Amalfi coast”. As Steinbeck said, we were mesmerized…