A town of little more than 5,000 inhabitants, Amalfi is one of Italy’s most beautiful and characteristic places.
Its history began in the Roman era: in the 4th century A.D., a group of Romans coming back from Constantinople founded the city of Melphe, near Palinuro. Then, they moved to the north and founded Amalfi, which means “coming from Melphe”.
In 553 A.D., Amalfi became part of the Byzantine Duchy of Naples and its importance grew, especially thanks to its close contacts with Constantinople.
In the following centuries, Amalfi emancipated itself from the influence of Constantinople and flourished thanks to its maritime trade and its great fleet. The ships were built in the Arsenale della Repubblica (Arsenal of the Maritime Republic), a huge structure in a somewhat Arabic style. Today it is one of the city’s most important monuments and often hosts exhibitions and shows.
The Amalfitans were great seamen: one of them, Flavio Gioia, is thought to be the inventor of the compass. Actually, the compass was invented in the East, but the Amalfitans were the first to use it in the Mediterranean area.
The Amalfitans became the masters of the Mediterranean Sea: they traded with various eastern cities, where they founded several enclavi: here, many Amalfitan traders lived with their families, in order to follow their business more closely.
There were Amalfitan enclavi in Constantinople, Cyprus, Cairo, Alexandria, Tripoli, Jaffa, Latakia, Jerusalem and many other cities. In Jerusalem the Amalfitans built important buildings, such as the Saint John of Jerusalem Church: here, the Amalfitan Gerardo Sasso founded the Order of Saint John, which later became the famous Order of Malta.
From those cities Amalfi imported precious goods – clothes, precious stones, carpets, perfumes and spices – and exported other valuable wares, such as the wood from the mounts of the Amalfi Coast.
However, Amalfi’s flagship was actually paper. In the cartiere (paper factories) advanced techniques were employed: instead of bark or cellulose, cotton wool taken from white linen and cotton clothes was used and transformed by water mills into thin paper sheets. The result
was a very refined kind of paper, a precious alternative to the popular parchment. Today, only the Amatruda family’s cartiera is still working.
Amalfi hosted colonies of foreign traders, especially Arabs. Their influence is particularly felt in the architecture of the city, as many monuments were built in an Arab-Norman style: the most famous is the impressive Cathedral, the Duomo di Sant’Andrea.
The Maritime Republic of Amalfi was the first Italian maritime power to rule over the Mediterranean Sea, followed by Pisa, Geneva and Venice. These cities fought for the supremacy in the Mediterranean area and this rivalry is still felt today: each year the traditional Regata Storica takes place in one of the four cities.
Amalfi also produced the most famous maritime code of the Middle Ages, the so-called Tavole Amalfitane (Amalfitan Laws). It defined the rights and obligations of the seamen, explained what to do in case of storms or pirate attacks, and regulated all aspects of maritime trade. The
original code was lost, but a manuscript copy is still kept in the Museo Civico.
Today Amalfi is definitely one of Italy’s most attractive places for tourists, and the amazing Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
Here you will find unique landscapes, with the Monti Lattari rising sheer from the sea, and the ancient villages on the Coast (Vietri, Cetara, Maiori, Minori, Atrani, Furore, Positano).
Amalfi offers breathtaking views (for example from the Albergo dei Cappuccini and the Torre dello Ziro), wonderful beaches, striking ancient alleys and a great tradition of wine and food:
the Amalfitan liquor sfusato is thought to be the forefather of the famous limoncello, whose origin is disputed among Amalfi, Sorrento and Capri.
Citizen Salerno will soon present in detail the exceptional cultural attractions – as well as the problems – of this area.
Italian source text available at: http://www.citizensalerno.it/le-meraviglie-di-amalfi-inarrivabile-storia-arte-eccelsa-e-paesaggi-mozzafiato-2/ (original article by Michele Piastrella)