Our second stop along the Amalfi Coast was Ravello, a hilltop town of about 2,500 permanent residents and another UNESCO World Heritage site. It was both a short journey, just 20 minutes or so by bus up the steep, steep cliffs from Amalfi, and a short two-night stop. To jump to the main point, in Ravello it’s all about the views. They’re something.
Once upon a time Ravello was relatively big and powerful. In the late 11th century Pope Victor III split the diocese away from Amalfi (to weaken Amalfi and its annoying alliance with the Moslem enemy) and made the city’s bishops subject directly to the Vatican. At it’s peak it held a population of about 25,000 which is pretty remarkable when you see just how hilly it is and how difficult it is to even imagine that many people up there. Its heyday was relatively short, though, as the maritime power Pisa destroyed the city in 1137 after which a long period of decline set in.
What remains today, though, is pretty remarkable. Some of the great buildings and even gardens from Ravello’s glorious past remain, giving the town a grandeur that far exceeds what you would expect from a town of that size. The result is that Ravello is elegant and refined, particularly in contrast to Amalfi’s more touristy brashness. To be sure, there are no beaches way up here and I like beaches as much as the next guy, but the views make up for it. And while there are certainly a bunch of tourists, most of them are making brief day-trips up to the town leaving it peaceful and calm in the evenings.
I loved our brief stop here. Mark was a bit bored, but for me it was obvious why someone like Gore Vidal – American political figure, novelist, and essayist – would spend years living here before he died. Two grand old residences – Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo, dating from the 11th and 13th centuries, respectively – are tourist destinations today with beautiful gardens and stunning views over the coast. For me, an afternoon spent reading in one or the other is a pleasant way to spend my life.
Two days was plenty for Mark, while Gore Vidal spent years here. I’m somewhere in the middle and I look forward to coming back for a longer stay, but from here it was back down to Amalfi to catch a quick boat further up the coast to Positano.