The Unique and Majestic Duomo of Amalfi
On the second day of our self-guided walking holiday on the Amalfi Coast, you descend on foot from the heights of Ravello into the town of Amalfi and soon find yourself in the central piazza, dominated by the world-renowned Cathedral of Saint Andrea, otherwise known as the Duomo of Amalfi.
Standing at the base of the broad, tall staircase, you’re likely to notice a number of odd features. First is the staircase itself. Very few churches in Italy boast such a monumental means of access. Typically, a temple or cathedral might have a few steps up to the central portal, the Duomo of Florence being a good example. Not even the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome has such a tall and steep stairway as does Amalfi’s Duomo. The reason is that the church was constructed on a relatively high hill (20m/65ft a.s.l.) overlooking the rest of the town. This was in order to offer shelter to the citizens of Amalfi during an era characterized by frequent pirate raids and attacks by rival city states. During that period, the staircase did not exist in its present form, and was added later once the threats had diminished.
Another notable feature is the intricately arched portico topped by a gable with a polychrome mosaic that looks distinctly Byzantine. Influences from the east don’t stop there. Topping the bell-tower on the left is a construction which, if you squint right, could easily stand in as a medieval church from the Levant. Inside, Moorish influences abound, especially in the exquisitely carved columns and interwoven arches of the Cloister of Paradise, which was originally established as a cemetery for the more illustrious citizens of the city.
Construction of the Duomo
The Duomo of Amalfi was built upon a 9th C. church that has been identified by the remains of the original foundations where the northern part of the basilica complex now stands and which comprised a large nave connected to a narrower one.
In 1176, the Duomo was reduced to a single aisle and in 1180 the ancient entrance was replaced with the bell-tower, Archbishop Filippo Augustariccio completed the bell-tower in 1276 with the addition of interlaced arches of majolica. Augustariccio was, in fact, responsible for much of look of the present day complex, in particular the Cloister of Paradise which he built between 1266 and 1268.
Over the centuries, the interventions never ceased. In the 14th century, the Amalfitani added Gothic pinnacles and dedicated a mosaic on the façade to St. Andrea the Apostle, from whom the church derives its name. Starting in 1931 and for the next 60 years, new works were undertaken to recover the original medieval structure of the Basilica of the Crucifix.
The Duomo’s Reason for Being
Arguably the most important part of the Duomo of Amalfi is the crypt of St. Andrea, the first disciple of Jesus and the Holy Protector of Amalfi, a portion of whose relics arrived in the region of Campania in 1208, rescued during the sack of Constantinople by Cardinal Peter of Capua, himself an Amalfitano. St. Andrea spent much of his career establishing the early Christian church in what was then Byzantium, which can help explain the remarkably eastern influences of the present day Duomo of Amalfi. Due to the presence of these relics, as well as its architectural interest, the duomo stands as among the most important monuments of both eastern and western Christianity.