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Vietri sul Mare is the nearest town on the Amalfi Coast to the city of Salerno . The Bonea stream divides the town into two areas : one that extends to the westernmost borders of Cetara and part of Cava dei Tirreni , and the other to the east , bordering on Salerno and the rest of Cava dei Tirreni . It only obtained independence from the latter in 1806 , and the modern –day municipality now encompasses the vi
llages of Molina , Marina, Raito, Benincasa , Albori and Dragonea , in addition to few districts such as Fonti. The toponymy of the town shows that the name “ Vietri “ derives from the mediaeval word Veteri , from the Latin “vetus” meaning “old”, thus indicating the site of an ancient settlement . Tradition has it that the Etruscan settlement of Marcina originally stood here , thus the term
Veteri would refer to the conglomerate of neighbourhoods successively built over the years . The modern –day town is therefore what was developed on top of the ruins of Marcina , which was destroyed by the Vandals led by Genseric . However , the original settlement may even pre-date the Etruscans , if what the historian Stephen of Byzantium maintains is actually true , i.e. that the Ausonian town of mamarchina existed before the Etruscan Marchina . Vietri can be linked to Marchina not only because of the topographical indications provided by the historian Strabo , but also because tombs and numerous clay –ware objects dating from the 6th century B.C. have been found there . Another highly singular find –dating , howe
ver , from Roman times – is the central part of a building in opus reticolatum lying approximately 15 meters below sea level in the Fonti area .
This discovery along with others , would seem to support the hypothesis that there once was a small city here. If this is not the case there was at least a major port structure , which now lies buried underwater . Indeed , archaeologist W. Johannowsky belives that in classical times Vietri may have been one of the ports of the powerful city of Nuceria Alfaterna .
Although the historical reconstruction of Vietri is full of gaps and lacking in concrete evidence , what is certain is that during the Lombard period , it was a suburb of Salerno , or rather a foria (foris hanc Civitatem Salernitanum )
Later on in history ,
it became know as a base for the emerging power of the Benedictine Abbey of the holy Trinity (Abbazia Benedettina della SS. Trinità ) in Cava , which considerably affected its fate . On the whole , it would appear that Vietri has never played a mayor historical role but gravitated first around the city of Salerno , then Cava , before finally obtaining administrative autonomy in 1806 . At present the local economy is based on tourism and artisan ceramic-ware as well as the production of tiles on an industrial level .
The town is dominated by characteristic majolica –tiled dome standing beside the Church of St John the Baptist (Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista) . Inside are 16th century painting of the Madonna and Child , St John and St. Andrew , and the Deposition of Christ . Down near the sea-front there are three 15th century watchtower (Crestarella , Vito Bianchi and Marina di Albori ) which testify to past battles .
Nowadays , their only role is to keep a watchful eye over the peaceful invasion of tourists.
The Ceramics – Museum of Vietri
The Belvedere Tower ( Toretta Belvedere ) of Villa Guariglia in the village of Raito has been the permanent home of the Ceramics Museum of Vietri since 9th May 1981. The exact reason why this craft became popular here is unclear , although ancient chronicles from S
alerno mention that in the year 889 there was substantial trade in ceramic –ware between the Taranto coast and Amalfi and Salerno . However , this does not provide any real proof that at that time Vietri was already manufacturing ceramic . The first mention of the presence of local master ceramist can be found in documents dating from the 15th and 16th centuries .
Furthermore , archaeologists have shown that the ceramic-ware produced in Vietri during the 16 century was highly skilled and examples were commonly found far outside the town . With the arrival of craftsmen from the Abruzzo region in the 18th century, the local ceramics industry was supposedly given a new breath of live.
This theory , which not everyone agrees on, concerns the old votive tiles to be found throughout the town that date from the same period . It is not always easy to distinguish the various influences in Vietri ceramic-ware given that around the same time as the supposed arrival of the Abruzzo ceramists there is also mention of craftsmen from Naples in Raito .the term “roba siciliana “(literally, Sicilian stuff) refers to the very basic ceramic-ware made especially during the 19th century which was exported in bulk to Sicily . As the different quality of clay in Sicily was ill suited to certain ceramics , the ceramic –ware from Vietri was much appreciated.
At times ceramist abandoned the naïve local designs in favour of a touch of cutting irony , whilst still maintaining the usual popular production style .
Important political figure were generally the “victims “of these sporadic changes : for example Crispi was depicted in the act of squashing the top hats of Giolitti and Zanardelli with his bare hands . The politicians “names have been written in the way the local people pronounced them , i.e. “Giulitta “and “Zanardella”. In the early 20th century , Vietri ceramics were characterised by the innovations brought by foreign craftsmen , notably from Germany , who lived and worked there between 1920 and 1947 and gave birth to the so called “German period” .
Vietri reappears before my mind’s eye like a dream. I envy those who , after having seen a place remember it exactly as it was , its shapes , its colours , and every minute detail . My mind is like a blackboard . All the images it contains are wiped away with the passing of time . What survives is a hazy imprint , with no precise profile , hardly any colours :a mere will o’ the wisp roaming the memory . And so Vietri reappears before my mind’s eye like in a dream , rising high above the sea ;white above the dazzling enamel like sea. Its name sparkles : it too seems enamelled. I recall lots of maiolica tiles on the doors of Vietri , lightly coloured, a whitish background on which stands out the green or blue motifs of plants and flowers . The colours of Vietri are those of its earthenware .
When I passed by , many many years ago , I too decided to order tiles for my bathroom , whitish tiles with a decorative motif of green leaves : a freshness of style of which I have yet to tire : a piece of Vietri implanted in my 16th century Florentine home , where it lives in perfect harmony with the architecture of Baccio d’Agnolo .
The real Vietri , the one down there in the south , in the blinding light of the gulf of Salerno ( geography hope I’ve got that right ) comes back to my mind as in a dream , white on the green sea, but might it not be just a kind of mirage , evoked by these beautiful tiles which in so many years have miserably failed to make me weary of them ? Tasted in matter of decorations are wont to change in time , even when the decorations are beautiful , sober and discreet . How comes it then that my Vietri maiolica tiles resist in time both in terms of material and in terms of taste? Is it perhaps because they carry with them the clear , limpid , fresh remembrance of the land where they were born , on the enamel –like sea ? That land that I recall as if in a dream , reflected on the walls of my bathroom , luminous and fragrant ,every passing day, in my home in Florence.