Vietri sul Mare
Vietri was originally an Etruscan city. It was subsequently occupied by the Samnites, the Lucanians and then by the Ancient Romans. The art of ceramic production dates back to ancient times and has been perfected through the ages to create objects which are truly works of art, appreciated worldwide. Ceramics are everywhere. You can wander for hours reading and observing the history of everyday life of the Vietresi – the people of Vietri – (and about the Marinesi as the people who live in Marina di Vietri are known) depicted in ceramics.
The many ceramics shops sell all types of pottery. They are all worth visiting as each has its own workshop, its own style and its own colours: as well as the classic souvenir plates, floor tiles, vase holders, little cups, limoncello glasses, lamps, lanterns and ashtrays, there are also coccetti profumati, small ceramic shapes impregnated with the scent of the Amalfi Coast. And there is still more: coloured crucifixes, lucky eggs, match holders, amphorae and ornaments but also mozzarella drainers and Neapolitan tea and coffee pots.
Pottery can even be found on the beach if you dig: multicoloured fragments of riggiole – tiles – of plates, small statues, the remnants of a tradition which dates back to the construction of Roman kilns. Many talented ceramic artists were born along the coast. Between the 1920s and 1940s, they worked with German artists who had been drawn to the area by the quality of the light, by the sun, by the scent of lemons and by Richard Dolker, master of the Kunstwerbeschule of Stuttgart. The Neo-romantic tastes of this settlement of German artists led to the popularity of the small donkey which has been the bestselling ceramic ornament ever since.
From the ceramic factories of Vietri sul Mare, Cava de’ Tirreni and Amalfi there flowed a stream of ceramic products which reached its peak around the 15th century, spreading across a vast area: they were mostly objects for domestic use or containers for transporting and selling local produce such as oil, wine or rose water produced in Amalfi. In around 1600, ceramics started to be used for flooring and we have several famous examples such as the hand-scraped terracotta floor in the library room of the Charterhouse of Padula. Between the 18th and 19th centuries artisan production began to acquire certain characteristics in terms of quality and size and these are today protected with a specific denomination which is a guarantee of qualityand tradition: ceramics from Vietri. Vietri sul Mare has two museums dedicated to ceramics.
The Museo della Ceramica Vietrese (Museum of Vietri Ceramics), housed in the complex of Villa Guariglia in Raito, the luxurious summer residence of Raffaele Guariglia, Italian Ambassador, member of the Order of Malta and Foreign Minister in the first Badoglio government. The Museo Cargaleiro, created in 2003 thanks to a collaboration between the Province of Salerno and Portuguese artist Manuel Cargaleiro. Inside the museum, housed in Palazzo dei Duchi Carosino on Corso Umberto I, are works by artists from every country of the Mediterranean which tell the story of their respective cultures and provide a modern reinterpretation of the ancient art of ceramics. However, since the times of the old city ofMarcina, Vietri has always been primarily a seafaring town.
The old nautical maps marked the roads of Vietri as a safe haven from the libeccio winds, and even today in houses and churches you can find small clay vessels, ex-votos for shipwreck survivors. Today the ancient Etruscan city of the sea which developed between the 7th and 4th centuries BC and was subsequently destroyed by the Vandals and then abandoned, boasts a long stretch of well-equipped beaches. From the Due Fratelli, the twin rocks which are a symbol of Vietri, to the beaches of Crestarella with its 16th-century tower, to Bagnara, Marina d’Albori, Acqua del Fico and Fuenti. There is no shortage of historical, artistic and architectural evidence of Vietri’s splendid past.
We have already mentioned the extraordinary cupola of the Collegiate Church di San Giovanni Battista. Inside is a series of richly decorated ceramic altars and precious paintings by Andrea Sabatini, Francesco Solimena, Pietro De Rosa and Lorenzo Fiammingo. The church has undergone numerous restorations, resulting in a wonderful mix of styles, from Romanesque to Renaissance to Baroque. Between the cupola and the tall bell tower can be seen Palazzo della Guardia, the Archconfraternity, which has a beautiful majolica floor. The building is an example of Baroque art which can also be seen in the palaces of De Simone, Del Plato and Punzi.
The area of Vietri sul Mare is divided into sixredistricts. We have already written about Marina di Vietri. The others are: Albori, Raito, Benincasa, Dragonea and Molina. Three kilometres from Marina di Vietri stands Albori, a cluster of houses suspended on the slopes of the Amalfi Coast, most of which have Arab-style cupolas, facing the natural amphitheatre created by the Falerio gorges. A small triumph of urban planning, included in the Touring Club Italia list of the most beautiful towns in Italy. On a summer’s evening, on one of the many terraces overlooking the magical Divine Coast you can enjoy a typical bruschetta (slices of toasted bread dressed with local produce), with a glass of fresh young wine and let yourself be enchanted by the beauty of the surroundings.
The church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia (16th century) is particularly attractive and an excursion to the San Cesareo Spring is also not to be missed. At the entrance to the village of Raito stands a ceramic sign, made by Giancappetti, which informs visitors that the air here is particularly clean. Situated on a hill two kilometres from the centre of Vietri, this typical village has ancient origins and is home to two beautiful churches. One is dedicated to the cult of Santa Maria delle Grazie; it has Romanesque and Baroque interiors and houses the chapel known as Monte dei Marinai, decorated with frescoes of the Solimena school.
The small church of San Vito is part of the complex of VillaGuariglia. There is an enchanting view of the Gulf of Salerno from the luxuriant park of the ambassador’s residence. Benincasa, another hill village, is less charming than Albori and Raito but nonetheless offers a breathtaking view of the entire Amalfi Coast. A dozen or so votive shrines scattered along the small streets bear witness to the inhabitants’ devotion to San Francesco di Paola who is reputed to have stopped to pray in the 17th-century church of Madonna delle Grazie during his pilgrimage in southern Italy. Inside the church is a painting believed to be a sort of self-portrait of the saint, although this has never been proven.
On the main altar is a particularly fine paliotto (altar-covering) with a bas-relief depicting the Visitation. Dragonea is the highest of the villages. Gabrieli Fasano, who translated into Neapolitan Torquato Tasso of Sorrento’s ‘La Gerusalemme Liberata’ (Jerusalem Delivered), was born here in 1689. The town began to develop during the period of the Barbaric invasions of Marina di Vietri. Its name derives from its geographical position beyond the River Bonea, which crosses Vietri. The11th-century church of San Vicenzo is worth visiting.
The parish church of San Paolo, re-consecrated only thirty or so years ago, still has the original 18th-century altar with two canvases depicting the conversion of Saint Paul and the Pentecost; the entrance steps are made from volcanic stone from Vesuvius and the ceiling decorations are in gold. The town offers the possibility of healthy nature excursions through the gorge of San Cesareo, the mountain path which leads to the sanctuary of the Avvocatella in Cava de’ Tirreni. Molina owes its name to the old watermills which were fed by the many tributaries of the River Bonea.
It still has the remains of an ancient aqueduct (Ponte del Diavolo – Devil’s Bridge) and below this is the typical church of Madonna dell’Arenella. Otherwise the town was almost completely rebuilt following the great flood of 1954 in the Salerno area, which caused huge damage.
Imagini: Ro2c2, Jensens, Samp1946, Liberotag73