Our Insider's Guide to Capri
The Gulf of Naples - and Capri above all - is more achingly beautiful and more profound than love itself or women could ever be. With love, you work it all out right at the beginning. Here, I'm not sure it is even possible to discover all there is to know."
“One of the magnetic points of the earth". That is how writer and painter Alberto Savinio described Capri.
The marine grottoes, the Faraglioni, with their extraordinary shapes, the incomparable scenery, the mix of nature, art and culture, all contribute to make Capri one of the most dreamed of and celebrated island in the world Throughout the centuries it has enchanted writers, poets, musicians, painters and filmmakers.
Known in Greek mythology as the isle of the sirens, Capri was a favored resort of the Roman emperors. Most notoriously, the emperor Tiberius had his villa on the island. But the worldwide fame of Capri began with the rediscovery of the Grotta Azzurra (#1), or Blue Grotto, in the first half of the 19h century, when it entered into orbit of the German romantic literature because of its unworldly light blue light. The island then became a favorite destination, and often a source of inspiration, for writers, poets and painters.
The Blue Grotto is a sea cave where sunlight passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater creates a beautiful and unusual blue reflection. The cave extends some 50 metres into the cliff at the surface, and is about 150 yards deep, with a sandy bottom.
At the beginning of the 1900s Capri was also refuge for Russian writers and political exiles, including Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Lenin.
From via Marina Grande, opened in 1874 by Neapolitan engineer Emilio Mayer, one reaches the Chiesa di San Costanzo (#2), the oldest and the most significant religious structure of the island.
The church was built in the late 5th century and expanded around the middle of 14th century in an area where the remains of first century B.C. Roman baths were found.
Only the bell tower was part of the original structure. The façade, with its Gothic portal, was altered in the beginning of the 19th century. The interior is notable for its Byzantine basilica layout and the Greek cross plan that rests on 12 Roman columns.
To get to Capri from Marina Grande one can hop on the funicular railway (from Piazza della Vittoria) or follow the walking paths, remarkable for the beauty of the landscape and the architectural structures.
The Piazzetta (#3) has been considered the center of the town since the 30s.
It is the nickname for tiny Piazza Umberto I, the traditional launchpad for a visit to the rest of the island.
The Baroque Chiesa di Santo Stefano (#4) dominates the square, with its arabesque cupola and priceless Roman pavement, moved here from Villa Jovis.
To the right of the church is Palazzo Cerio (#5), dating back to 1372.
Via Ignazio Cerio leads to the Certosa di San Giacomo (#6), a monumental complex and one of the finest examples of Caprese architecture(visits: 9-2, closed Mon, tel:081-837-6218).
Certosa di San Giacomo
It was built in the middle of the 14th century by local nobleman Giacomo Arpili and greatly expanded by the Certosini monks in late 16th and early 17th century.
The church, in baroque style, stands at the end of the driveway. The ogival portal is decorated with in bas-relief figures of St. Bruno and St. James and by a fresco of Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Nicholas Thomas (1371-74).
The church leads to the Small Cloister (15th century), with Roman and early medieval columns and capitals, and to the Capitol Room, or Sala Capitolare, where the Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach Museum (visits: Tue-Sun 9-14 hours) contains large paintings and unique interpretations of Capri landscapes by the German painter.
The Certosa also includes the Great Cloister (late 16th century) and the Clock Tower, with its great Baroque vaults.
The garden leads to a lookout with views of the Port of Tragara, the three Faraglioni (#7).
The first, Stella, nearest to the coast, is 109 mt high, the middle one, Faraglione di mezzo, is 81 meters, and the third, known as Scopola, is 104 meters high and inhabited by the rare blue lizard.
Also visible is Marina Piccola (#8). Located on the southern side of the island of Capri and near the Faraglioni, the port of Marina Piccola was used by Augustus and Tiberius before Marina Grande.
From the Certosa di San Giacomo, viale Matteotti leads to the Giardini di Augusto (#9), or or Gardens of Augustus, a public park whose terraces offer another superb view of Capri, the Faraglioni and Marina Piccola.
Giardini di Augusto
On a side terrace there is a sculpture of Lenin, who in 1908 lived in the villa above Blaesus, now the Villa Krupp Hotel.
Continuing under the garden’s overpass one arrives at via Krupp (#10), a tortuous street that descends to the sea with enchanting glimpses of views onto the sea and the Faraglioni.
Built shortly after 1901 by engineer Emilio Meyer on behalf of Baron Gustav Bohlen und Halbach, the husband of Berta, daughter of German steel magnate Friedrich Krupp, via Krupp is a unique example of a road happily inserted in its natural context, and therefore rightly called "a road as a work of art."
Villa Jovis (#11, open 9 until 1 hour before sunset, 081-837-4549) is the best preserved Roman villa on the island and one of the best examples of palaces from the initial imperial age.
Built by Tiberius, and remembered by Svetonius and Pliny the Elder, is commonly called the Palazzo di Tiberio. During the first excavations, in the Bourbon period, it was stripped of its inlaid marble floors. The villa itself covers the entire top of Mount Tiberio, a large area between the lighthouse tower and the summit of the promontory whose vertical drop of 40 yards is eluded by a series of terraces connected by stairs. The various quarters are arranged around a central square with four cisterns dug into the rock for the collection of rainwater. To the south are the baths; to the east a large chamber with an apsidal room leaning onto the mountain; to the north the imperial quarter, and to the west the servants’ accommodations. Behind the ticket office, on the right is the base of the lighthouse, which served as lookout tower for the nearby Sorrentine Peninsula. Quadrilateral at the bottom and a cylindrical at the top, it was originally 20 yards high (now only 16).
Further down is the so-called leap of Tiberius, a 300 yard high drop above the sea, from which legend says Tiberius threw his victims.
From the entrance to the ruins of the Roman villa, there is a ramp to the main entrance of the building, where one can access a vestibule that initially housed the guards and in the Middle Ages was turned into water tanks. Walking along a wide corridor there is a second vestibule. From there one can go up to the floor of the upper baths. They consist of five rooms, arranged along the corridor in contact with the tanks that fed them. Following the second vestibule hallway and climbing a ladder flanked by rooms one comes to the imperial quarter, located in the highest part of the villa. It consists of an imperial hall - the square in front of it probably served as a lookout terrace - and two areas with the remains of beautiful floors with polychrome marble inlays.
A wide corridor and a ramp encased in the rock takes one down to the Imperial Lodge, the most original and grandiose part of the villa, which runs straight for almost 100 yards along the slope of the mountain. In the open air and without any marble facings, it served as a lookout or ambulatio, for its extraordinary view. The lodge widens into a small quarter consisting of three rooms. The floor of the central room was later moved to the church of Santo Stefano.
On the way to Marina Grande (#12), an ancient fishing port at the foot of Mount Solaro used by the Romans during Augustian times, are the remains of a massive building with thick walls, perhaps a pecularium that served both for an astronomical observation and a lookout post.
From Villa Jovis you can hike to via Matermania - a beautiful route with remarkable panoramic views of the center of Capri.
Via Dentecala will lead to a Belvedere with the extraordinary view of the islands of Li Galli and the gulf of Salerno.
Via Arco Naturale will then take one to a square facing the sea from where a set of stairs opens into the Arco Naturale (#13), a natural arch on the mountain cliff.
Caused by erosion of the limestone, the arch forms a landscape of wild beauty due to.
A steep flight of steps goes to the Grotta di Matermania (#14), or Cave of Matermania, on the left.
Grotta di Matermania
It is an impressive natural cavern, held sacred to the cult of Cybele (Magna Mater, hence the name of the grotto) or to the god Mithras, which was made into an apsidal hall, or nympheum, by the Romans and was once covered with mosaics.
The Belvedere di Tragara (#15) is in a shady, small square with a splendid view on the Faraglioni and Marina Piccola.
Belvedere di Tragara
To the left is Villa Vismara, which was built in the 30s and later converted into the Punta Tragara Hotel. Descending along via Faraglioni, on ones right, is via Pizzolango and then, through a pine forest, to the small Tragara seaport, which has traces of an ancient Roman harbor. On the right you will see the Faraglioni.
The other center of the island is Anacapri, a smaller and a quieter town, with gracious streets, white houses immersed in green, elegant hotels and the ruins of another imperial villa, Damecuta.
Via Orlandi, closed to traffic, goes through the entire center of Anacapri, widening soon after it starts onto piazza della Vittoria. From there, following the steps on the left after the picturesque via San Michele, one arrives at Villa San Michele (#16).
Villa San Michele
It was built by Swedish physician Axel Munthe at the turn of the 20th century on the grounds of an ancient Roman villa. The gardens have a great views of the island, the Sorrentine Peninsula and Mount Vesuvius. The villa and its grounds sit on a ledge at the top of the so-called Phoenician Steps (Scala Fenicia), built between Anacapri and Capri very probably by the first Greek settlers (the stairs are very steep and not for everybody). There is a small entrance fee, but it's well worth it (More information at: www.sanmichele.org).
Further down, on the right, a brief detour on via San Nicola will lead to the Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo (#17).
San Michele Arcangelo, interior
Built in the baroque style, it is known for its tile floor, which is a mosaic depicting the expulsion of Adam & Eve from paradise (by artist Leonardo Chiaiese).
Back on via Orlandi, there is a little square, piazza Materita, with a small church built between the 16th and 18th century. Behind the church is the ancient urban center of Anacapri, which preserves many of the features of the traditional architecture of the area.
Continuing along via Orlandi, one reaches piazzetta di Caprile, a small square from where a street by the same name passes through the old neighborhood of Starza. At the end, on the left, is Villa il Rosaio (#18).
Villa Il Rosaio
The villa was built by Edwin Cerio, a prominent writer, engineer, architect and historian born to an English artist mother and a well-known physician from Capri.
A vacation on Capri is not complete without a visit to the Blue Grotto, or Grotta Azzurra, whose enchanted cavern attracts visitors from all over the world.
You can arrive by boat from the Marina Grande or by land from Anacapri, where you can transfer onto little boats able to penetrate the very low and narrow entrance to the grotto.
Known to the Romans, and rediscovered in the 1800's, it owes its fascinating aspect to a geological phenomenon that caused its lowering by about 20 meters, bringing the entrance to the cave to almost below sea level.
The light, filtered by the crystalline water, fills the cave with an exceptional color: an intense blue with silver reflections that covers everything it shines on.
Almost 60 yards long, 15 wide and 30 high, the grotto goes inwards through the Pillar Gallery, rich with stalactites. Various boats will take you there from Marina Grande.
Blessed with enchanting coves and imposing cliffs, Capri has lovely bathing establishments on its rocky shoreline and some on white sandy beaches. Some of the establishments on the rocky shore are at the Faraglioni (easily reached descending on foot from Tragara crossing a lovely stand of pines), and the Grotta Azzurra and Faro at Anacapri. Sandy beaches are to be found at Marina Grande, Marina Piccola and the Bagni di Tiberio (#19), or Baths of Tiberius (see below).
Bagni di Tiberio
Hiking in Capri
Capri to Faraglioni and Arco Naturale - A beautiful 1 hour path between Arco Naturale (stone arch) and i Faraglioni (sea stacks): From the Piazzetta in Capri town, go down via Vittorio Emanuele to via Camerelle to via Tragara, which leads to the Belvedere Tragara looking over the Faraglioni. Head down the nearby walkway (via Faraglioni will turn into via Pizzolungo); you will soon pass the steep beach access road (you can detour here if you want to go to water). Continuing past Villa Malaparte (a famous pink-red villa built on Punto Massullo at the end of the 1930's for Italian writer Curzio Malaparte, it is both eccentric and extraordinarily modern), up and down several stairs to the Grotta Matromania (a cavern/Roman temple). Keep on heading up the stairs to the Grotelle restaurant. At the restaurant, head right, where stairs lead down to the Arco Naturale (going left, down via Matermania, takes you back to the Piazzetta). You can also turn off via Matermania to via Tiberio, to head up to Villa Jovis. Alternatively, you can do the hike in reverse, which is easier (as it spreads out the climbing): from the Piazzetta head down via Le Botteghe, following signs for the Arco Naturale; once you reach Grottelle restaurant just do the loop in reverse.
Anacapri to Migliara - 45 min, easy walk through the countryside to a beautiful lookout; from via Caposcuro near Monte Solar chair lift, head south; the street turns into via Migliara and ends at the cliffs. Magical at sunset.
Anacapri to Marina Grande - Heading the other way on via Caposcuro leads to a series of 881 stairs (the Scala Fenicia) hugging the cliff, leading down to the Marina Grande.
Monte Solaro (#20) - Anacapri has a chair lift that takes you to the highest point on the island (open Mar-Oct 9:30-4:30, Nov-Feb 9:30-3, www.seggioviamontesolaro.it).
View from Monte Solaro
You can also hike up and/or down, passing the 14th century hermitage of Santa Maria Cetrella (the hike up begins at via Capodimonte, near Villa San Michele)
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