BAY OF NAPLES & AMALFI COAST History
Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast in Campania, have had a
long and eventful history and abound with archaeological,
historical and cultural treasures, some of the richest to
be found in southern Italy such as ancient Pompeii,
Herculaneum and Paestum.
Inhabited since very early times, these coastlines became
mandatory crossroads for Aegean sailors who had set up businesses
in the Campanian region, from the 15th century BC onward.
However, the first Greek colony to be founded in Italy was
Cuma (Cumae) around the 8th century BC. While the Greeks were
colonising the coastal regions, the Etruscans were expanding
inland, which eventually led both sides into conflict, with
the Greeks repelling the Etruscans. After the Greeks and Etruscans,
came the Samnites and Lucans (Italic tribes from the Appennines),
and then eventually the Romans.
The first and one of the greatest Roman emperors, Augustus,
reorganised the Roman Empire in regions, so that Lazio and
Campania became the Prima Regio. During the 1st century AD,
the Roman aristocracy built villas along these coastlines.
The emperors Augustus and Tiberius built magnificent villas
on the island of Capri, from which Tiberius ruled the Roman
Empire for the last ten years of his life. However, after
Tiberius' demise, the increasing lack of interest in these
coastal properties as well as the famous eruption of Mt Vesuvius
in 79 AD, led to their decline and ruin. The last Roman emperor
died in the 5th century and with the Barbarian invasions in
Campania, many Romans sought refuge in the safe mountainous
areas of the coastlines.
The following years proved to be turbulent, consisting of
short periods of independence to hundreds of years of foreign
domination by the Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Swabians,
Angevins, Aragonese, Bourbons...
In the 11th century, Amalfi was a major maritime trading
city and became capital of the powerful Amalfitan Republic.
It comprised of the territory between Cetara and Positano,
the inland towns of Scala, Tramonti, Agerola, Lettere, Pimonte
and Gragnano as well as Capri and the islands of "Li
Galli". They were connected to each other by carefully
designed fortified lookouts in the mountains. The Saracen
watchtowers, which abound on the coastline, are evidence
of the importance of this period in its history.
Following the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the
mid-18th century, the Neapolitan Riviera became popular with foreign
visitors; earlier travellers on the Grand Tour tended to prefer
the volcanic phenomena of Vesuvius and Solfatara near Napoli.
Amalfi Coast remained relatively isolated until recent times,
and could only be reached by sea. It was made more accessible
to visitors from the construction of the Amalfi Coast road
(the Amalfi Drive) which was started in 1815 by Ferdinand
II of Bourbon. It is the only road that runs along the coast,
and connects all the main resorts from Positano in the west
to Vietri sul Mare in the east. Today, a trip along the coastal
road, now known as Highway 163 and referred to as the "Nastro
Azzuro" (Blue Ribbon) because of the colour of the sea,
which is always in sight, is a highlight of any visit to the
Amalfi Coast. The road clings to the cliff-face, climbing
past headlands and dipping down to the sea to reach tiny fishing
The Amalfi Coast remained the preferred haunt of explorers,
artists, composers, writers, celebrities, and poets, who were
still attracted by its relative remoteness, until the 1950's.
It was then popularised by John Steinbeck, who wrote about
Positano that "it is a dream place that isn't quite real
when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you
have gone". Today it is popular with thousands of tourists
each year and has become one of Italy's major tourist attractions.