Our Insider Guide to Positano
The area of Positano was among the first to be inhabited on the Amalfi Coast.
On the main road toward Amalfi there is a large cave about 200 yards below the main road towards Amalfi, which gives evidence of the prehistoric past, including a stone with an animal on it, weapons going back to 15,000 years ago, and objects used by Mesolithic hunters 10,000 years ago.
According to tradition Positano was founded by the inhabitants of Paestum, after their city was destroyed by pirates. It was therefore called Pestano or Pesitano.
Most likely, however, the name derives from the Posidii, Emperor Claudius’ freedmen who owned property in the area.
The remains of a Roman villa show that the area was already inhabited back then.
Branching off from the Coast road, viale Pasitea dips sinuously through the town.
At the bottom is Piazza dei Mulini. From there, one can take via dei Mulini, a foot path in the direction of the sea to the a small piazza with the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (#1 on the map).
Founded in the 13th century, the church has the beautiful majolica dome, which is pictured in most landscapes of Positano. Under its surface lies a medieval church and below that the remains of a Roman villa.
The Collegiate had a Byzantine floor, traces of which can be found in the apse. On the main altar there is a Byzantine an oriental icon of the Black Madonna with Child (13th century), a panel in cedar believed to have arrived here by sea.
Inside, in the transept, there is a Circoncisione (Circumcision) by Fabrizio Santafede (16th century); in the apse, two niches with Maria Addolorata and a Christ (1798), a Cristo sulla croce (Christ on the Cross) (16th century); the reliquary of San Vito (1506), a great example of the Neapolitan goldsmith’s art. The lower half of the bell tower is decorated with a bas-relief (13th century) depicting imaginary animals.
The separate bell tower incorporates a medieval relief with a sea monster, fish, and a fox.
The wall and the pavement of the square in front of the church, piazza Flavio Gioia (#2), is decorated with mosaics by Neapolitan artist Mimmo Paladino.
Just next to the church are the remains of a Villa Romana (#3), an ancient Roman villa, discovered in 1758 by Carlo Weber, the archeologist in charge of the excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum.
Local records show that the remains were found at the end of 1600 when the some ancient pieces were found and sold in Naples by the local priest in order to raise money to enlarge the church.
Underground ruins of the ancient Roman villa
In his annotations of what he found, Weber writes about rooms with painted walls and two large columns covered with deep red plaster. He also found evidence of a quadrangular garden, surrounded by a corridor with plastered pillars and a large basin in the center.
At the time of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D the villa was probably covered with a blanket of lapilli, which was then hardened by the torrential rains that followed the eruptive process and by the debris that came downstream from the Lattari mountains above the area. The process of burial and destruction of this villa was similar to that of Herculaneum.
Some think that at least part of the villa could be traced back to the first century B.C. although, according to others, the villa was typical of the later Julio-Claudian period.
In the early Middle Ages, on the ruins of the villa, an abbey was built, the only remain of which is a slab that can be seen inserted in the bell tower of the Church.
From the piazza of the church one quickly descends to Marina Grande (#4), the main beach, with a beautiful view of the coast.
To the West (toward Sorrento) is Fornillo, a smaller but quieter beach (#5).
Arienzo is another nice beach, to the South-East of Positano (#6).
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