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Historical background of the Amalfi Coast
The Apennine spur stretching between Positano and Salerno gives rise to a very jagged coastline which does not allow for the construction of large towns .
Only at the end of certain ravines do the cliffs taper off and form beaches by diacritic accumulation caused by streams flowing into the sea. Despite the
ruggedness of this landscape, traces of prehistoric settlements do exist . the archaeological finds in the upper strata of the grotto at La Porta near
Positano date back to the Mesolithic age ( approximately 8.500 years ago) While those in the lower strata can be traced to the so-called Romanelli
culture of the Upper Palaeolithic age ( approximately 11.000 years ago) .There is no evidence of established settlements along the coastline from that
period until Roman times , although the neighbouring areas to the south were home various people on a sporadic basis . In late Bronze age mythology
the islands opposite Positano , nowadays know as “ Li Galli “ were believed to be home to the Sirens . In this small archipelago , ancient Aegean sailor
imagined the outlines of the bodies of the three Sirens , Ligea , Leucosia and Partenope who committed suicide when Odisseum did not fall their
enchanting song . The episode , which was recounted by Homer , shows that Aegean sailors were aware of the dangers in this area and how this fear was
passed down by oral tradicion personifying danger as hostile divinities . From the 15th century B.C.onwards , this part of the coastline became
an obligatory crossroads for Aegean sailors who had set up business activities in the Campania region .
(Paestum, Polla, Sala Consilina , Ischia , Vivara) . These people were actualy Bronze Age Greeks knows as Achaeans , who scholars incorrectly termed
Mycenaens ( after the name of largest city) .The Mycenaean presence in the South of Italy is sometimes referred to as the “ precolonisation “ of the area
In that it predated the real “ colonisation “ by the Greeks . from the 8th century B.C . onwards , the Campania coastline was a meeting
point and times a battleground for the different cultural groups that had settled there . Archeologist have documented the presence of these cultures by their
funeral rites. In the northernmost part of the coast , the indigenous people who were Oscan in origin , favoured burial ( as testified by the Vadabillo necropolis
near Massa Lubrense and the Sarno plain ) while in the south the Villanovian settlements cremated their dead ( Fratte near Salerno , Pontecagnano , Capodifiume ) If the Etruscan town of Marchina actually does correspond to present-day Vietri sul Mare , the Villanovian settlements would have constituted the outer fringes of an Etruscan element which was present on the coast .
Not only was the Greek influence felt by the local populations but so too was that of the Etruscans who by the second half of the 6th century B.C , had already
established many settlements in the Campania region . Although the coastline was perhaps not under the exclusive control of any one
of these people , if constituted a rocky and inhospitable demarcation line between two highly sought after plains one located at the mouth of the river
Sarno to the north and the other at the mouth of the river Sele to the south . But the Etruscan influence was destined to wane in the light of Hellenic
Expansiuon , and the battle of Cumae in 474 B.C. marked the end of their thassalocracy . After the Greeks is was the peoples from the Apennines
(Sannites and Lucans ) who predominated : Sorrento surrended to the enemy at the end of the 5th century B.C. and Poseidonia which later became Paistom
surrendered at the end of the following century . The conflict between the Sannites and the increasingly strong Romans
deported the rebellious Picentes to line area which corresponds to the modern -day province of Salerno .Once the property of the Lucans this land was home
to the cities of Eburnum ( Eboli) , Salernum ( Salerno) and Picentia (Pontecagnano )
The latter, which was the largest of the cities , gave its name to the province . The Romans were the first to recognise that the coastline was not a mandatory
maritimes crossroads , but that it had potential as a highly sought-after place lo live where the aristocracy could idle their time away in luxury .
Thus , some time around the 1st century A.I. sumptuous villas were constructed in Positano, the Li Galli islands and Minori . The ruins of these dwellings as well
as the sarcophaguses , urns and marble relics uncovered along the coastal and mountain areas would seem to indicate that important members of the patriciale once lived here .
It appears that either slaves or freedmen and women were the first to work the land next to their masters houses and successfully reclaim small areas of arable land from the once barer rocky countryside .
After Tiberius demise , Capri was no longer in vogue with the Roman nobility indeed , it became an outpost for confining convicts or suspected criminals.
The increasing lack of interest in these coastal properties ultimately led –to their decline and ruin , to which the famous eruption of Vesuvius in the 79 A.D. also contributed.
In the 5th century A.D. the Barbarian invasions in Campania caused many people to seek refuge in the inhospitable but safe recesses of the coastline .
Consequently , the population of the coastal towns grew and an environment where “Latinias “, or a civilisation governed by Roman laws still flourished .
Later on Campania was to became the backdrop for the final battle between the Goths and the Byzantines for the dominion of Italy ( 553 A.D ) .
The Byzantine victory was short-lived as a few years later they were forced to bid a hasty retreat when they came face to face with the Lombards ( 568 A.D).
However , they did manage to hold on to certain areas including the land between the Gulf of Gaeta and Salerno with Naples as the administrative and
military base .The city of Salerno itself remained firmly in the hands of the Lombards and acted as the natural strategic base from which to combat the
growing power of maritime towns such as Amalfi and Sorrento , which still depended on Byzantium . This dependence which was more formal than substantial gradually came to an end as Sorrento declared itself a free dukedom
and Amalfi grew to acquire the status of maritime republic. With their strong sea-faring skills and acute business sense, Amalfi people
succeeded in re-establishing links between the east and the west via the stretch of water which , thought once familiar to the local people and affectionately referred to as” mare nostrum “, had became treacherous due to Saracens incursions .
the political and military chessboard that was the south of Italy –a precarious balance of power-sharing between the Lombards , Byzantines and Arabs –was upset once and for all in the 11th century by a new race of people from northern Europe: the Normans .
By the first half of the 12th century , Naples , Amalfi and Sorrento had lost their independence status and had became part of a vast kingdom encompassing the
entire south of Italy .Amalfi had also lost its own commercial stronghold to the advantage of the other maritime republics , in particular to Venice , which had appropriated its trade links with the Orient Pisa , on the other hand plundered and burnt Amalfi during
the raids it carried out in 1135 and 1137 , but despite this , the valiant coastal town managed to conserve its own sphere of commerce , albeit less extensive than before .
In the meantime , the dynastic crisis of the Altavilla family linked the destiny of the house of Normans to the largest political power in mediaeval times :the German empire . The marriage of Henry VI ( the son of Frederick Barbarossa ) to Costance d’Altavilla (the daughter of Ruggero II ) led to the Normans handing over the southern Italian state to the Swabians . This changes was not a smooth one and conflict flared up throughout the Kingdom .Its was not until 1220 that the south of Italy came firmly under the control of young emperor .
Frederick II , who succeeded in re-establishing central power . But the larger cities desire for independence –especially Naples –which had temporarily been
Appeased by imperial absolutism , violently exploded again upon the Emperor’s death in 1250, thus paving the way aided and abetted by Pope Innocent IV –for the advent of the Angevins in 1266. Under the latter , Naples became the capital of the Kingdom and the coastal town , in particular Amalfi and Positano and supplied the royal navy with ships and sailor in exchange for important privileges. Following their war with the Vespri , the Angevins needed alarge naval fleet in their vain attempt to reconquer Sicily , which was ruled by the Aragonese . The dynastic disputes between the French Angevin branch following the death of Queen Joan I (1382) had a major effect on the town along both the Sorrento and Amalfi coast which though
often in conflict among themselves –supported either one or the other pretender to the throne . These controversies came to a head when Queen
Joan IIdied in 1435 , leading to the definitive ascent of the Aragonese who under Alphonsus the Magnanimous took over naples in 1442 .
The debts initially incurred by the Angevir court and later by the Aragoneseas a result of various difficult situations led to numerous coastal towns losing their independence and being granted to various noble families as fiefs.
Amalfi was given to Venceslao Sanseverino ; Salerno to the Colonna family Then later to the Orsinis and finally to the Sanseverinos ;Angri , Gragnano , Lettere ,Pimonte , Le Franche , the Li Galli islands and Positano to Raimondo Orsino , then later to Giovanni Miroballo ; Massa and Vico were granted to Giovanni Sanchez De Luna in 1467 . However Sorrento , apart from a few brief periods always remained Crown property . The practise of creating fiefdom because widespread an indication of the enormous power the nobility gained as a result of the battles which led to the alternating of the Aragonese and Angevins in power. This state of affairs plunged both dynasties into debs . The attempt to recover the Crown’s prerogative sparked
The 1485 rebellion of the local aristocracy against King Ferrante , which was backed by Pope Innocent VIII . This episode know as the Barons’cospiracy was instigated by the Sanseverino family the Princes of Salerno , and many feudal barons from the Cilento region and the south of Italy .
The rebel barons urged King Charles VIII to return to Italy and restore the privileges which had been removed from the nobility by the Aragonese .
With the help of Ludovic the Moor , Lord of Milan , the French were given free reign and after settling in Naples they instigated , among other things , the conflict with the Spanish monarchy over the division of the Italian territories. The dispute between Louis XII, successor to Charles VIII, and
Ferdinand the Catholic of Spain was settled by the treaty of Lyons ( 1504) Under the latter was granted the Kingdom of Naples .
Soon afterwards it would became an offshoot of Charles V’s great empire.During the first of the 16th century the entire coastline was fortified several
Times as a protective measure against increasing harassment by Barbarian pirates . However , Spanish rule was characterised by the excessive fiscal rigidity of an arrogant and parasitic aristocracy which , when governing
honestly , spent the money obtained through taxes on pointless age-old conflicts such as the Thirty –Year War , the culminated in the 1647 Neapolitan insurrection led by Masaniello whose family originally came from the Amalfi cost .
During the 17th and 18th centuries the entire coast underwent a complete architectural overhaul. With the advent of Giuseppe Bonaparte , followed by his brother in law , Gioacchino Murat , in the next century , the coastline became an increasingly sought –after destination by foreign visitors, paving the way for the international tourism market which today represents one of the area’s main sources of income .
Architectural features of the Amalfi cost
The long isolation of the Amalfi coast which until the last century could only be reached by sea, has meant that numerous traditions have stood the test of time . this is evident in the field of architecture where the most characteristic
Feature is the vaulted roof structure . This singular building technique which is found not only along this coastline but also in other parts of southern Italy , has been the subject of much study . Despite the different interpretations suggested by scholars , the main controversy is whether or not there flattened dome-shaped roof were “imported “ from Islamic culture.
Those in favour of the Arabic-Byzantine origin theory point to parallel examples in places like Tunisia , Algeria ( in particular , the town of El Qued,know as “the thousand cupolas “) , the Lebanon coastline and the Assuan region in Egypt . However , those against it point out that there was no need to wait for the expansion of the Arab word to learn a technique which had already been widely consolidated in the western Roman tradition given the lack of suitable material on the Amalfi Coast to make tiles and weathering material for roofs , it had simply became a necessity .
These contrasting opinions include further evaluation on the more or less “spontaneous” character of the constructions versus their rural and /or civilian origin . Facing out over the sea yet firmly rooted in agricultural traditions , they actually seem to characterise a hybrid form of civilisation i.e. that of a sea-faring people who also worked the land with developed along the Coast thanks to the sound business sense of the people of Amalfi
Heritage and Cultural Centre( Centro di Cultura e Storia Amalfitana ) , it would appear that numerous buildings in several coastal towns date to the period of the Duchy of Amalfi . Without entering into the dispute over the origin of flattened dome-shaped vaults , it is possible to summarise the most important stages in the development of this architectural model I.Barrel Vault . This is the oldest type and can be traced back to the techniques adopted by the Romans , illustrated by the Roman villa in Maiori.
2. Cross Vault This is present throughout the Coast Between the 12th and 13th centuries.
3 Cavetto Vault . This replaced the preceding design and became common between the 16th and 17th centuries .
4 Coister Vault . This was the most common vault built in the 19th century , under certain circumstances replaced by a dominical vault .
Unfortunately in the last few decades the foolhardiness of local administrations coupled with the boom in illegal construction work have wreaked havoc with the architectural heritage of the Coast , replacing the
traditional style of houses with buildings of dubious aesthetic value . Now the roofs of the houses non longer gently arch towards the sun , but have reluctantly given way to the flat covering and the cement of prefabricated constructions.
AMALFI COAST ATTRACTIONS
Amalfi - The panorama of Amalfi is wonderful, with white houses clinging on the rocks, which is in contrast to St. Andrew Church, which dominates the centre of the village.This church, built in the 12th Century, is reached by climbing 57 steps and the historical religious past of the Amalfi church can be discovered. The streets of Amalfi hide squares, on which rests old smith's shops, the Valiendola quarters, a 13th century monastry and a museum, where one can view the rudimental machines and instruments from the past 4 centuries.
La Grotto dello Smeraldo - It is placed in one of the best bays of the Coast and the cave is called "emerald" because the sunlight comes in through a tunnel under the water ( the tunnel connects the cave to the open sea) and makes the water emerald in colour. Four metres below the water, you can see a special ceramic Christmas crib given to the locals. You can reach the cave by boat, which leave regularly from Amalfi harbour.
Santa Monica de Olearia - This monastic complex was built during 950 and 1000 AD and holds Middle-Age monastic remains. It has three different chapels with different architecture with the oldest of these, holding many religious frescoes.
The isles li Galli - The isles feature in the Odyssey poem, where Ulysse met the Syrens and where Nureyev lived for many years. During the Amalfi Republic, the Dukes were exiled to the castle, especially built for them. The stretch of sea is dangerous here, with many wrecks from the Roman Empire are still being discovered.
AMALFI COAST PARKS & GARDENS
Natural Reserve of the Ferriere - Situated in the north of the Amalfi Coast and created in 1972, the reserve has an area of 455 hectares, including the Canneto river. It is protected by the cold winter wind and has a high level of humidity, which is important for some rare plants, like the pre-glacial giant fern. The area is also home to a forest of beeches, ilexes, pines and limes as well as the bodgerm fox, salamander and birds, such as the red woodpecker and kestrel.
Punta Campanella - One of the many marine reserves in Italy, this covers about 1128 hectares and not only protects many sea creatures and fish, but many other forms of marine life as well. It is run and looked after by a local organisation, which also organises educationals, to showcase the importance of the preservation of this and other reserves.