As mentioned in an earlier blog, I have visited the Amalfi Coast on two occasions before, once in 2009 and again in 2015. On both occasions we caught a commercial boat out to the Isle of Capri, on the first occasion the boat landed us on the southern side of the island at Marino Picollo. On the second occasion, we took a much larger ferry service from Sorrento, jam-packed with visitors and landed at Marina Grande on the north side of the island. Looking back, the boat trip we booked from Amalfi dock to Marina Picollo was a more preferrable manner for getting to and from Capri than the ferry from Sorrento.
The first example of the advantage of the boat we caught in 2009 is that it approached the island from the southern side and we were shown one of the famous landmarks off the coast of Capri. It is called Faraglioni and consists of a series of sea-stacks, the highest one being 109metres high. The smallest of the sea stacks has a perfect arch carved by the sea in the middle of it and our boat driver was a thrill seeker and so steered our boat through the archway.
From Faraglioni our boat took us to Marina Picollo where we were told we would be picked up at 4pm later that afternoon. From this Marina it is a solid walk up the hill to the town of Capri but the views were magnificent. I was with my daughter on this trip and her main target for the day was to visit the Grotta Azzura (Blue Grotto) on the north-west side of the island. We caught a bus from Capri to the other town on the island, Anacapri. It was at this point of the day that we made our first miscalculation when we decided that the Blue Grotto wasn’t too far down the hill from Anacapri; after all, it was only a ‘small’ island!
Our walk down hill to the Blue Grotto was very interesting for the first little while, particularly as we were impressed by the houses and gardens along the way, particularly the residence where the owner was an aficionado of pumpkins and melons and his entrance-way paid homage to as many of these gourds as he could find. It wasn’t long before we realised that the grotto was a lot further away than we thought but there was no turning back. We eventually found our way to the Blue Grotto but to our disappointment it was dependent on the tides as to whether you could enter the cave and marvel at the colours. At high tide, nobody gets inside the grotto. We had no choice but to turn around and wait for the next bus back to Anacapri.
Our next destination was the Villa San Michelle, the dream home of Swedish Physician Axel Munthe (1857-1949) who came to Capri in 1885. As can be seen on the map to the right, the villa is built close to the cliff face that drops down to the sea (Mar Tirreno) on the north side of the island. Compared to our tragic visit to Grotto Azzura, the visit to Munthe’s house was a wonderful experience ; the view over the Isle of Capri and on to the Sorrentine Peninsula was just one of the advantages of visiting this villa.
The Villa itself was built on two levels on what seems like one of the best real estate sites on the island. The villa is now a museum and it houses a series of ancient artifacts collected by Munthe from the island. Some were also given to him by friends. On the left below is one example of these ‘artifacts’ sitting next to a tourist, the Messenger of the Gods, Hermes, (the one on the right) which is a copy of a statue excavated from Herculaneum. It was given to Munthe by the City of Naples in recognition of his relief work during the cholera epidemic of 1884-5. On the right below is a sphinx in remarkable condition for a statue over 3000 years old. It sits on a podium at the edge of a verandah gazing out over the Tyrrhenean Sea.
When we look back on a visit to such famous places like Capri, there are always sites you realise you should have visited and failed to do so through lack of time or lack of information. One of these places that we failed to visit and lived to regret was the palace of the Roman Emperor Tiberius who governed the Roman Empire from this island through 26-37 CE. The ruins of his palace, Villa Jovis, is to be found on the eastern end of the island. One of the curiosities of visiting the Amalfi Coast is to note that Roman Villas built along this coastline were destroyed by ash and pumice spewed out by Mt Vesuvius in 79 CE. These villas were apparently built where they were so their owners could live close to Tiberius’s seat of power on Capri. However, Capri itself doesn’t appear to have been affected by the eruption of Vesuvius.
One of the disappointments about visiting ancient palaces is that it is often difficult to get a clear mental image of what these buildings originally looked like. In the case of Tiberius’s villa on Capri, a number of architect’s have attempted to determine what the original building looked like and and the image below right is by C.Weichardt which illustrates the opulence of Tiberius’s home on Capri (and this wasn’t his only villa on the island!)
However Tiberius’s villa wasn’t on our itinerary in September 2009. We decided after visiting Villa San Michelle that we would head back down to Matina Picollo to ensure we didn’t miss our boat home. In fact the boat was late arriving to pick us up and so we were able to have a swim in a sea pool near the Marina to pass the time.
I returned in 2015 to the Isle of Capri with my wife, catching a ferry from Sorrento. Unfortunately it must have been the height of the season as the ferry had every seat filled and when we arrived at the Marina Grande, the crowds got even worse. It would have been pleasant to ride the Capri Finicular up the cliff to the town but there were again too many people lining up for the privilege. We decided we would spend the time on the beach, probably just under the cliff where Villa San Michelle was located