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UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana

UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana

From the World Heritage inscription:

Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution. The area covers 11,231 ha in 15 [16?]communes in the Province of Salerno. Its natural boundary is the southern slope of the peninsula formed by the Lattari hills which, stretching from the Picentini hills to the Tyrrhenian Sea, separate the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. It consists of four main stretches of coast (Amalfi, Atrani, Reginna Maior, Reginna Minor) with some minor ones (Positano, Praiano, Certaria, Hercle), with the mountain villages of Scala, Tramonti and Ravello and hamlets of Conca and Furore behind and above them.

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic materials have been found at Positano, and the area was favoured by the Romans, judging from the villas of Positano, Minori and Gallo Lungo. However, it was not intensively settled until the early Middle Ages, when the Gothic War made it a place of refuge. Amalfi was founded in the 4th century AD. A new Roman colony in nearby Lucania came under barbarian attack and the inhabitants moved to the fertile and well-watered hilly area around modern Scala. In the first written reference to Amalfi (596) it was already a fortified town and the seat of a bishopric. It resisted Lombard attacks until 838, when it was conquered and looted by Sicardo. However, after his death the following year the town declared its independence. The new republic was governed by a ruler whose title had become Doge by 958. This political autonomy enabled Amalfi to become a maritime trading power between the early 9th and late 11th centuries, when the sea power of Byzantium was in decline and a free market developed. Amalfi had a near-monopoly of trade in the Tyrrhenian Sea, with vast networks of links, selling Italian products (wood, iron, weapons, wine, fruit) in eastern markets and buying in return spices, perfumes, pearls, jewels, textiles and carpets to sell in the West. The layout of the settlements showed eastern influence: the closely spaced houses climbing up the steep hillsides, connected by a maze of alleys and stairs, are reminiscent of the souks of the Levant. A distinctive Arab-Sicilian architecture originated and developed in Amalfi.

With the eclipse of the mercantile importance of Amalfi by Genoa, Venice and, above all, Pisa, and its conquest by Spain, it fell into an uninterrupted decline. The only significant change to the landscape was the reinforcement of the system of watchtowers along the coast, to give warning and protection against Turkish attacks. The towns and villages of Costiera Amalfitana are characterized by their architectural monuments, such as the Torre Saracena at Cetara, the Romanesque Cathedral of Amalfi and its ‘Cloister of Paradise’, with their strong oriental influences, the Church of San Salvatore de’ Bireto at Atrani, where the Dogi of Amalfi were elected, and Ravello with its fine cathedral and the superb Villa Rufolo.

Inland the steep slopes rising from the coast are covered with terraces, revetted with drystone walling and used for the cultivation of citrus and other fruits, olives, vines and vegetables of all kinds. Further inland the hillsides are given over to dairy farming, whose roots are ancient in the area, based on sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo. In some parts of the Costiera the natural landscape survives intact, with little, if any, human intervention. It supports the traditional Mediterranean flora of myrtle, lentisk, broom, euphorbia, etc. Elsewhere there are stands of trees such as holm oak, alder, beech and chestnut. Other biotopes shelter pantropical ferns, butterwort, dwarf palms and endemic carnivorous species. The Costiera is also rich in wildlife. The higher mountain areas are noteworthy for the characteristic mule tracks (mulattiere ). There are many small streams which in places drop over impressive waterfalls. There is an immense diversity of landscapes, ranging from the coastal settlements through the intensively cultivated lower slopes and large areas of open pastoral land to the dramatic high mountains. In addition, there are ‘micro-landscapes’ of great scientific interest resulting from topographical and climatic variations, and striking natural formations in the limestone karst at both sea level and above.

The Amalfi Coast is one of the highlights of Italy and is considered by some to be a world wonder.

The houses and towns along the coast seem to defy gravity by perching on cliff faces and hills that no sane person would ever want to live on. The effect, however, is absolutely stunning.

There are several ways to explore the coast. There are water taxis available that will go between the cities of Amalfi and Positano. This is a great way to see how the cities look from sea. There are also buses that run between the cities, which are an experience in themselves.

Another great thing to do is hike the Walk of the Gods from Bomerano to Positano. It is approximately a 4-6 hour walk, mostly downhill. Part of the path is paved but most of it is rocky trail. It provides some of the best views of the entire coast.

There are no trains on the Amalif coast due to the terrain. You have to arrive by car, bus or boat. Evenings are the best time to explore the cities as the tour buses and cruise ships have left by then.

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