Travelers and poets have often rhapsodized about the Mediterranean’s spectacularly capricious geology in this area, but for those living in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, the end came swiftly and cruelly. As we followed our guides through the silent, deserted streets (save the 21st century tour groups jostling for position in the Forum), the three dimensionality of the buildings and frescoed scenes painted on the walls of the houses allowed us to connect with the city’s doomed citizens in a way that is not possible at ordinary archaeological sites. All too soon, we had to return to the ship for an Italian buffet, and then it was on to Ravello. The enchanting views of the Amalfi Coast and the late fall gardens from the terrace of a villa were certainly worth the trip through the mountain switchbacks!
Amalfi is an intriguing mix of sophistication and simplicity. A harbor full of super yachts, expensive boutiques, and five-star hotels clinging to the cliffs above the town greeted us this morning, but as we scanned the hillsides above the town as we anchored, we could still witness the rural reality of this stunningly beautiful region. Hillside villages precariously perched on steeply terraced mountain sides, where farmers still cultivate small plots of lemon trees, vines, and vegetables, and tiny fishing communities still make a living from the sea. Given the diminutive size of the town nestled at the entrance of a steep sided ravine, it was hard to conceive that this was once one of the great Italian medieval maritime republics that rivaled Pisa, Genoa, and Venice in wealth. From the 9th to the 12th century, Amalfi traded salt, grain, and slaves with Egypt in exchange for silver to buy silks in Constantinople, which it then traded to its European neighbors. We started our tour in the Piazza Duomo at the foot of a flight of 60+ steps leading up to the Cathedral of St. Andrew, which is literally the heart of Amalfi. The cathedral dates to the 11th century, but its interior was extensively rebuilt in the late Baroque style. In 1206, the relics of St. Andrew were brought to Amalfi from Constantinople by Pietro Capuano following the sack of that city at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade. We also visited the magnificent, frescoed crypt containing the relics and the Cloister of Paradise that is surrounded by 120 overlapping arches in Arabic-Norman style. As Sunday mass started, we left the church and walked through the narrow alleys of the town to visit the newly restored maritime museum that is in the last two vaulted halls of the original 12th century Arsenali della Repubblica. We learned that the original hall contained 22 vaults, but twelve have been lost due to coastal erosion. After the tour, many of us chose to stay in town for a few hours to browse the shops or sit in one of the many cafes surrounding the Piazza Duomo for a coffee, gelato, or a glass of their famous limoncello. Back aboard, the chefs brought out the legendary “pasta wheel”–a full round of parmesan in which they scrape the sides of the cheese and toss in the hot pasta for a sinfully delicious meal. The swim platform appeared after lunch for a few hours before we repositioned to drift off Capri for the Captain’s cocktail party, the guest slide show of our trip, and one final Mediterranean sunset!