Legends of the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast sits on a peninsula sticking out into the Tyrrhenian Sea like a tongue mocking the rest of the world. Few places on earth are as magical as this region. Quaint hotels hanging on high cliffs dipping into the cobalt blue water. Windy, narrow roads offering a new spectacular seaside view with every turn. And have you tasted the limoncello?
The region’s past also adds a mysterious air that hangs over the ports and boutiques and trattorias overlooking the sea. Immortal nymphs. Statues leaking milk. The ghost of a spiteful monk. They’re all legends of the Amalfi Coast.
Are any of them true? Does it matter? Read some of the tales below and ponder them next time you’re at a harbor-side table enjoying Amalfi-style scialatelli pasta with prawns.
Hercules’ Nymph: How Amalfi Got Its Name
According to legend, the Roman god Hercules fell in love with a nymph named Amalfi. When she died, Hercules wanted to bury her in what he considered the most beautiful place in the world: the Amalfi Coast, surrounded by sea and rocks. On her tomb Hercules built the town of Amalfi to associate its sense of beauty and immortality with her soul. That beauty surely persists to this day.
The Miracle of Milk
Above Amalfi sits the small town of Pogerola. In the 15th century, Pogerola received a wooden statue depicting the mother Mary. It wasn’t just any statue. This one had a unique characteristic: On the right breast stood a small gray stone. According to tradition, it was proof that a drop of milk came from the breast of the Virgin during the lactation of Jesus, falling right on that point.
To the same town came another related mystery in 1500. On Aug. 14 at 2 p.m., the bells of the church of Our Lady of Grace suddenly began ringing by themselves. The pastor and the inhabitants were confused: who could it have been? The church was closed and one could only access the bell tower from the inside. Their wonder grew into astonishment when they entered the church. From the breast of the statue came a substantial quantity of milk. The archbishop was called to confirm the miracle, and he locked the gray stone in a special ampoule.
From that day, every year, on the same day, a celebration is held in honor of Our Lady of Grace, during which it’s said you can observe the little stone passing from gray to white.
The Legend of Our Lady
Another religious legend comes from 300 years earlier in the 12th century. A ship carrying a picture of Mary sailed into the Tyrrhenian Sea near a beautiful nook on the Amalfi Coast. However, the ship struggled against a weak wind. Suddenly, the sailors heard a voice saying “Stay. Stay.” Who said that? No one onboard knew. The captain interpreted this as a manifestation of the Virgin’s will to urge them to stay in that place. He decided to turn toward land.
At that point, the ship mysteriously began moving again. On shore the sailors delivered the icon of the Virgin to the people of Positano, who chose her as their protectress. Inside the church of Santa Maria Assunta, on the right of the altar, a painting depicts the icon’s blessing. The icon can be seen through the arch on the left. Even today, every year on Aug. 15, Positano celebrates the Assumption Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The city celebrates its patron saint with processions recreating the arrival of the icon in the city with fireworks on the beach illuminating the Positano night.
The Legend of Poseidon and the Two Brothers Rocks
Another legend says that Poseidon founded and shaped Positano. The Greek god of the sea wanted to show his love for a nymph named Pasitea. Walking along the coast, you can see several places associated with myths or simple beliefs of the past. Take Vietri sul Mare with its two rocks called the Two Brothers. They hide a very special story. Legend says that Poseidon placed these two magnificent rocks as a testimony to the courage of two shepherd brothers who sacrificed their lives trying to save a young woman from drowning. Unfortunately, they didn’t succeed, and their faithful sheep, following the brothers into the sea, drowned as well. Poseidon, the king of the sea, was unable to save them. Instead, impressed by their brave generosity, he transformed the brothers into the two large rocks and the sheep into the bluffs surrounding them.
Today, you can admire these cliffs that characterize the splendid scenery of Vietri sul Mare, the gateway to the Amalfi Coast.
Monaciello: the Spiteful Monk
Ravello is in the heart of the Amalfi Coast, located inland among lemon and cypress trees. It’s a town of peasants, not fishermen, and has several legends with slight variations. One of the best tells of the little monk, il monaciello, who resided in Ravello but was hostile toward his neighbors so they drove him out of the region. No one knew anything about him except that he died in poverty in a nearby land.
Shortly after, however, the monk began appearing to people in the form of a spirit. He appeared every day to those who had been good in life, or who were doing well. He showed up at the same time and in the same place, bringing coins or food. Each time, he warned them not to tell anyone about their meeting or else he would take revenge.
It’s said he also appeared to a child by giving her coins every day and making the usual demand. However, the child revealed the secret to her mother, who asked about the money. That same night, the monk appeared and tried stifling the little girl who managed to escape. Fortunately, she didn’t see him ever again.
To those who act badly with him, or who kept acting badly, he cast spells and spites of all kinds such as suspending houses in the air and making items disappear.
The Werewolves of Ravello
Another Ravello legend is that of the lycanthrope or werewolves. Some local singers wrote that on full moon nights, on roads leading into the countryside, inconceivable acts of nature occurred relating to folkloric lycanthropes. Those who ventured out on dark nights sometimes had strange visions of being chased by werewolves.
However, as soon as they turned to the right or to the left, these evil beings continued their race alone, as if they were blind. Since then, the people learned that if they were chased by werewolves, they had only to turn to one of the two sides of the road — a good tip to remember if you ever find yourself being chased by a werewolf on the Amalfi Coast!