Ravello, Italy: Loft of the Literati

Ravello, Italy dominates the Amalfi Coast from an altitude of 365m, sitting atop a rocky spur dividing two deep valleys.  Situated thus, the town serves as a terrace perched high over the sea, from which you can enjoy a stupendous panorama of the entire coastline as far as Calabria in the south and Capri to the north.  From early in its history, Ravello became a symbol of the ideal place to live, work and play, with famous artists, writers, musicians, and the idle rich choosing it as their preferred haunt.  The list of distinguished residents and visitors is seemingly endless: the Renaissance writer Boccaccio features Ravello in his Decameron; John Ruskin, Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg, D. H. Lawrence, André Gide, M. C. Escher, Joan Miro, and Graham Greene received inspiration for some of their finest works from her gardens; the English Impressionist painter Frederick Turner painted here (you can find his Ravello works on display at the Tate Gallery in London).  More recently, Greta Garbo and Gore Vidal lived here, while Jackie Kennedy visited on various occasions.

The History of Ravello: Italy’s History in Miniature

Ravello’s history likely began during the 6th century AD with the arrival of Roman colonists seeking refuge from the Vandal invasions.  The first documented evidence of the town comes from the 9th century when the various villages and towns in the area were being incorporated under the Amalfi city-state. Around the year 1000, a group of aristocrats fleeing the authority of the ruler of Amalfi settled here.  The town prospered under their leadership, and soon became a noted center of production of a particular type of woolen cloth called Celendra.

During the 11th century, the Ravellesi (inhabitants of Ravello, Italy) sought to liberate themselves finally from all ties to Amalfi.  They erected fortified walls around the town and began building the various patrician villas, parts of which are still in existence today.  The town rose to such importance that it was granted a bishopric, like Amalfi.  With the invasion of the Normans during the next century, the town lost its sovereignty and began a long decline, punctuated by the arrival of a Pisan army which devastated the town over a three day period during 1137.  Nevertheless, the town retained some commercial distinction, and had some 36,000 inhabitants as late as the 13th century.

The population was drastically reduced with the arrival of the plague in the 17th century.  A century later, the Vatican rescinded Ravello’s bishopric, and the town returned once again under the archdiocese and leadership of Amalfi.

The town counts among its many treasures a 13th century Duomo; Villa Rufolo, the origins of which stem from the 11th century, boasting lushly flowered terraces; Villa Cimbrone, famous for its Belvedere offering one of the most breathtaking vistas in the world; a picturesque central piazza; and a maze of alleys and tiny streets offering much to explore and discover.  Last but not least, Ravello provides the setting for the prestigious Festival of International Music, held annually in the cool gardens of Villa Rufolo.

If you’re on the Amalfi Coast, a visit to Ravello, Italy’s loftiest town of art, is not to be missed.