The city was built in the 9th century on an ancient Etruscan site by Sicardo, prince of Salerno, and named ‘Reghinna Major’ so as to distinguish it from the smaller city of Minori, known as ‘Reghinna Minor’. Both cities maintained these original names until the start of Swabian rule. A territory of Amalfi and coparticipant in her history, Maiori managed to resist for some time the fall of Amalfi to the Normans. It was sacked by the Pisans in 1268, rivals of the Maritime Republic.
It had a flourishing commercial navy and was able to build vast ships on its long and wide beach. On 26 October 1954, the main inhabited centre was destroyed by a violent flood: the Reghinna Major river burst its banks, causing the adjacent houses to collapse. The small city lies on a plain and in ancient times was surrounded and defended by walls and towers which began to be built from the 9th century onwards. On the Ponticchio hill stand the ruins of the castle of San Nicola, built under Piccolomini rule in 1468. The castle is in the form of an irregular polygon with eight towers and it extends to over 7,500 square metres. Here too religious architecture, at one with the extraordinary natural beauty of the landscape, manages to give the best representation of community life.
The history of city life can easily be recounted by the many churches dotted throughout the region. The first place of worship we come across, before entering the town, is one of the oldest: the abbey of Santa Maria de Olearia, so called because of the nearby oil mill, was founded by the Benedictines in 973. It has a small apse with a barrel vaulted ceiling and 11th-century frescoes. A little further along is the Torre Normanna or Norman Tower, originally called Delle Formicole, whose construction was started in 1535 and completed around 1590.
The church of Santa Maria a Mare dates back to the 12th century: its large majolica cupola dominates the building. The façade is clearly 18th-century and has three doors; the central one has bronze half shells and is framed by a lunette. The interior has a nave and two aisles divided by marble pilasters and there is a richly decorated coffered ceiling in gold by Neapolitan artist Alessandro Fulco. The sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, just outside the centre of the village of San Pietro has an 18th-century bell tower and façade. Inside there are several valuable works of art: a 15th-century painting depicting the Visitation, a Crucifixion attributed to the school of Andrea Sabatini, and a marble baptismal font from the late 13thcentury. The church attached to the convent of San Francesco, which dates back to the early 17th century is near the cave of the Annunziata and has precious Baroque elements both inside and out. The 4th-century church of San Pietro Apostolo was built in the small square of the town with the same time, on the ruins of the Temple of Vertumnus, destroyed by the citizens of Maiori after their conversion to Christianity. Queen Joan II of Anjou attended mass here in 1416 when she came to Maiori after her second marriage to James of Bourbon, Count of Marra.
The statue of the apostle inside the church is of particular artistic value. The 7th-century church of the Madonna del Principio is at the heart of the town of Ponteprimario. It has been rebuilt several times following the floods which have affected the whole area around Maiori over the years and has recently been restored. Remains of the original building can still be seen under the floor and on the left-hand side of the clearing in front of the church and it is still possible to make out the arch of an old apse with a fresco of a flower. For those seeking a holiday out of season, the picturesque Maiori Carnival is not to be missed: for two weeks before Shrove Tuesday the seafront comes to life with masks, jugglers and street artists. Be sure not to miss the procession of allegorical floats which takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday and is then repeated the following Sunday and of course on the last day of the carnival.
Over the centuries, the people of Maiori have developed a unique skill: driftwood washed up on the beaches after high tides is collected and cleaned and then cleverly modelled into small sculptures such as shapely mermaids or birds in flight, or finely inlaid small tables which are then sold in the small shops along both sides of the Corso Reginna, now a pedestrian area. Undoubtedly one of the most delightful ways to travel is by sea. From the attractive beach which runs the entire length of the town, you can reach the promontory of Capo d’Orso.
Shortly afterwards, before reaching the small beach of Salicerchie, we find the Grotta Sulfurea (the Sulphurous Grotto). Inside the grotto, a constant stream of sulphur and magnesium rich water pours from an opening. After a relaxing bathe you can continue to Pandora’s Grotto where the emerald blue water frames the numerous stalactites and stalagmites. The journey continues towards Cala Bellavaia, known to the people of Maiori as the beach of the Dead Horse.