Minori, Atrani, Pontone, Minuto, Scala
( Originally Published 1909 )
WITHOUT entering into the history of the neighbourhood, where each town had its own in-dependent life, a brief reference to some of the places closely connected with Ravello may be of interest. With the exception of a few rough footpaths, the only roads from the coast to Ravello must have been by either Atrani or Minori, and unhindered access through one at least of these towns was a necessity for people whose welfare depended upon their commerce and shipping.
Tradition tells us that the earliest inhabitants ascended the hill from the Minori side, and settled at Torella, subsequently fortifying themselves on the summit of the hill afterwards called the Toro.
Both the neighbouring towns of Maiori and Minori of old bore the name of Rheginna.
They were distinguished as the greater and the lesser major and minor; but their common appellation has ceased to appear except in public notices, and they are universally known by the distinctive qualification only. With Minori, the lesser of the two, we alone have to do. Situated at the mouth of a well-watered valley, possessing great natural fertility, it shared the maritime importance of the Republic of Amalfi, of which it was an integral part. It had an arsenal and dockyard, and the Marina was sufficiently large to furnish important revenues to the bishop, who alone possessed the right (confirmed by two Doges of Amalfi) of allowing buildings of whatever kind to be erected near the sea. The bishopric was created in 987 by Pope John XV., and until its fall in 1818 the occupant of the see ranked second among the bishops subject to the Metropolitan of Amalfi.
The church was dedicated to Santa Trofimena, whose remains were supposed to possess healing virtues ; and the possession of this relic gave rise to much conflict in the ninth century. Santa Trofimena was born in Sicily of noble family, and to avoid an alliance planned by her father, she left the parental roof and lived in seclusion, devoting herself to a religious life. She suffered martyrdom in the year 314, during the persecution under Diocletian. Tradition says that an angel brought the saint to Minori, where her tomb on the seashore became forgotten until miraculously disclosed, when with the body of the saint were found some Latin verses beginning:
Qui tumuli causas ingressus discere quaeris, Martyris hic Trophimus intactaque virginis artus.
With great pomp the relic was deposited in the church ; many miracles followed, and large donations were given to the place, where by visions and other indications the saint expressed her determination to remain.But her repose was short, for in the year 838 Sicard, Prince of Benevento, having erected a church in his capital, went in search of relics for it, and engaged some Amalfitan sailors to procure for him the body of St. Bartholomew, preserved in the Lipari Isles. The Amalfitans, fearing that he, might seize Santa Trofimena from Minori, a town not capable of repelling his attack, carried the saint's remains by boat to Amalfi, and deposited them in the Cathedral. Sicard, returning from a successful expedition against the Saracens, directed his fleet towards Amalfi, invaded the city, and carried away the bones of Santa Trofimena 1 to Salerno, and thence to Benevento. But the following year, 839, Sicard was assassinated, and two Minoresi priests immediately begged for' the surrender of the saint, threatening the successor to the Duchy with the hostility of the Amalfitans in case of refusal ; so the relics were transported to Minori, with much rejoicing, and have remained there ever since.
Previous to the fatal storm of 1343 the beach of Minori is said to have been continuous with those of Maiori and Atrani, and even with Amalfi itself, but at the present day the port is small, sheer cliffs hemming it in on either side. The road to Ravello consists almost entirely of a staircase, and enters the commune by Torella, where the picturesque entrance of the church is mainly composed of materials brought from the dismantled convent of La Trinita at Ravello.
Atrani, viewed from the sea, is one of the most picturesque towns on the coast. Wedged into a narrow cleft of the rock, and possessing no land for cultivation, the many-coloured houses rise one above the other, and perch upon the crags above. The street is a narrow dark stair winding and burrowing under the houses, until it ends in the footpath ascending the Dragone valley. The shore of Atrani was destroyed with the rest of the coast in 1343, and the road to Amalfi now passes along the face of the precipitous cliff, the foot of which is washed by the waves that closed over the former defences and dockyards of the Republic.'
In the ancient church of S. Salvatore are interred several Doges of Amalfi, and this is by some supposed to have been the scene of their investiture. The bronze doors given by Pantaleone Vivetta date from 1087.
A curious stone represents two peacocks with tails outspread, apparently weeping; between them an olive-tree supports a bird sitting on eight eggs. At the foot of one peacock is a human head with a harpy or siren on either side, and beneath the other two birds are pecking at a hare.
Sacked by the armies of Pisa in 1135 and 1137, Atrani was on the latter occasion depopulated, and became the abode of foreign sailors, mostly from Alexandria, engaged in trading with Amalfi. During the quarrels between Manfred and the Pope, in the thirteenth century, the former sequestrated the revenues of the vacant see of Amalfi, and to punish the Amalfitans for their opposition to him, gave permission to the Saracens, expelled from Sicily, to settle at Atrani. The Atranese are still considered to have Eastern characteristics and to differ from the other inhabitants of the Costiera, and their dialect retains many Arabic words and modes of expression.
The Torre dello Ziro, on the rock that divides Atrani from Amalfi, is a prominent object in the landscape viewed from either side. Erected under the Aragonese rule, the name has arisen from a fancied resemblance to a cylindrical oil vessel.
On the highest point of the same rock is situated the ruined Castle of Pontone, built by the Normans, and garrisoned by royal troops under the Swabian and Angevin kings, but kept in a state of defence by the communes. It passed into the hands of the Orsini, Colonna and Piccolomini factions, until in 1583, when the Amalfitans purchased their freedom from feudal dues, the castle was dismantled. A gate on the eastern side is the only connection with the village of Pontone, an outlying portion of the commune of Scala, where the family de Afflictis or d'Afflitto ranked among the most noted of the Republic. They liked to trace their descent from Placido Romano, a Roman general, who, having seen a stag bearing a crucifix between its horns when he was hunting, was converted to Christianity, and canonised as St. Eustace after being martyred in A.D. 119.
The Palazzo d' Afflitto was built upon a precipitous cliff, overlooking Pontone, thus forming a natural fortress, and within the walls was the magnificent church of St. Eustace, the fame of whose wealth and beauty spread far and wide, whilst its prominent position made it a landmark for mariners. The portico of the church enclosed three doorways, the centre with lions supporting marble pillars. The outer walls were adorned with arabesques of coloured stone and Parian columns, and in the interior along the aisles were tombs of d' Afflitto knights with their ladies that of Matteo d' Afflitto, the founder, being especially ornate. This family afterwards settled at Scala and Ravello, and by them the doorway of the Palazzo d' Afflitto in the latter town, and the lion. columns on the terrace of the Palazzo Rufolo, were brought from St. Eustace.
This magnificent church was recklessly destroyed in the last century, the marbles were sold, and the pulpit and tombs broken to pieces, so that at present nothing remains except the wall of the apse, with its lancet windows, visible the greater part of the way as the traveller ascends the Dragone valley.
This ruthless destruction was attributed to the last of the Verone family, whose extinction has been thought to be the penalty of such sacrilegious vandalism. The last Verone died repeating the words, " I miei denari," which his widow (who was still living in 1850) believed to refer to money concealed by him, which she sought in vain to discover. In her possession was a narrative relating to an ancestor of her husband and his escape from the Megano, a natural chasm in the hills above Ravello, commonly supposed to communicate with a vent near Castellammare, on the other side of the mountains, from which issues a stream also bearing the name of Megano. The identity of the name may be the origin of this belief. During the brigandage of the years 1861-3 several people were cast into the Megano, and sheep pastured near have been known to disappear into the abyss, so that it has been found advisable to build up the opening.
The Verone anecdote is as follows " In 1618 banditti infested the mountains of Scala, and so devastated the neighbouring villages that the authorities commanded Giovanni Domenico Verone, Syndic of Pontone, to pursue and arrest the miscreants. The robbers determined to revenge themselves on the Syndic, and waylaid him on the road from Gragnano, lying in ambush among the shrubs that surround the mouth of the Megano. Escape was impossible; but the assail-ants, instead of shooting him, cast him into the abyss, so that his body might not be deposited in consecrated ground. Verone afterwards related that, as he fell, the shaft narrowed until he found himself upon a kind of bridge, beneath which he heard the roar of waters, while above his head the opening revealed the distant sky like a tiny speck of light. After a time he recovered his senses sufficiently to reflect upon the possibility of escape. Almost in despair he climbed up higher, by some small recesses in the rock which afforded an uncertain foothold, and finally reached the entrance. He returned home in the dark night with the fear of death upon him, the only man who has ever returned from the dreaded Megano. A few days later he encountered the same brigands on the way from Scala, and gave himself up for lost. They, however, were so much alarmed at his unexpected appearance that they did not touch him, but fired after his retreating form without effect. Finding later that he had indeed returned, they entered the courtyard of his house one night, and proceeded to force open the door. The aged wife of Verone having heard them, hastened to warn her husband.
Fear not,' he replied 'trust in God, and let us recite our Rosary.' While thus engaged the moon emerged from behind a cloud and lighted up the church of St. Eustace on the rock above, showing the approach of the desired aid. From the churchyard they saw a line of ghostly figures descend the rock-hewn stairs which lead from St, Eustace to the Palazzo Verone; but, robed in white, they appeared to the alarmed couple to be angels from heaven. They silently descended and filled the court, when they proved to be members of a confraternity of Misericordia, who had assisted at a funeral, and were returning home dressed in their white hoods and loose garments. They belaboured the robbers with their staves and put them to flight, and Verone and his wife were saved from certain death."
A grotesque fresco may- still be seen on the wall of the Casa Verone, at Pontone, in which skeletons are beating the robbers with bones ; and several supernatural versions of the above tale, founded upon this picture, are narrated at the present day.
An earlier church, dedicated to Sta. Stefania, sister of St. Eustace, stood on a neighbouring rock, but was blown down in 1852. The grey and yellow designs round the windows, and the decorated tower, greatly resembled the church of Santa Maria di Gradillo at Ravello.
Minuto, on the road leading from Pontone to Scala, is also an outlying part of Scala. It contains a church dedicated to the Annunziata, where the arches of the portico are Saracenic, the marbles having originally been those of an older building. Portions of a Latin inscription in very large letters are distinctly visible in the entrance, and an early fresco of the Virgin occupies a niche in the fašade. The twelve columns of the interior have capitals of various designs, and an inverted Corinthian capital supports the font. A beautiful pulpit in gesso, referred to by several writers on art in Southern Italy, was given in 1300 by Filippo Spina, whose arms were intertwined with arabesque designs, while on the marble staircase was an inscription commemorating a festa held in 1420-the whole richly worked and, delicately coloured. The donor died in 1346, and was buried in San Giovanni at Pontone. In 1855 this pulpit was pulled down by the parish priest of the day, and ground to powder, to mix with lime for building purposes.
The crypt is in a neglected state, but contains an extremely interesting fresco. In the upper part the Virgin, draped in red and violet, reclines, holding the Infant Jesus swathed with bands of red and yellow, an open country and mountains forming the background. In another part two women are bathing the child, while St. Joseph sits absorbed in contemplation. An archangel announces the birth to the shepherds, groups of angels hover near, and over all stream the rays of a large star. Other figures adorn the vaulted roof, the names of St. George and St. Nicholas being in Lombard characters. Two lower spaces represent a' scene probably taken from real life. A Saracen prince is waited on by two Arabs and a boy, the former turbaned, the latter apparently a captive; and in the second fresco the same lad is led by a bishop into the presence of some people who sit at dinner, while two women approach, one gesticulating to express her astonishment, and the other hastening to embrace him. In both pictures the youth bears a globe, apparently of glass, the object or use of which is unknown.
Scala is now only a scattered village on the slope of the wooded mountains, on the summit of which are the ruins of the Castello del Petraro, built to command the road from Gragnano by Santa Maria dei Monti. It is not easy to imagine the city described by old writers, who consider it more ancient than Amalfi or Ravello. It is said to have possessed a theatre and other important buildings. The fortifications included a hundred towers, and the upper part of the town still bears the name of Campidoglio, the "capitol." Its merchants were known in all countries, and here Gerard, the founder of the order of St. John of Jerusalem, was born. Chiefly by the exertions of the inhabitants of this Costiera, two hospitals for pilgrims were founded at Jerusalem, and in the chapel attached to these, and dedicated to S. Giovanni, Gerard officiated as chaplain. The bishopric, founded in 987, was in 1603 united to that of Ravello.
The Cathedral of S. Lorenzo has too often undergone alterations to retain much that is interesting ; but the crypt has remained untouched, and here is the tomb of Marianella Rufolo, wife of Antonio Coppola, who died in 1400. This monument is one of the most remark-able of that time. It is made of gesso, and bears traces of rich colouring. On either side a column of three stories of different design rests on a lion and is surmounted by a statue of Enoch or Elijah.
Other figures and graceful designs capable of many symbolical interpretations abound. The Burial of the Virgin is beautifully moulded. The body rests upon a sheet upheld by two persons, the disciples standing round the tomb, on the edge of which is the Archangel Michael, who has just severed the hands from a person falling down in front of the group. St. John of Damascus says that an unbelieving Jew attempted profanely to touch the body of the Virgin, when his hands miraculously became withered. In connection with this we may note that the Emperor Frederick II, in his Code of Laws, enacted that violators of sepulchres and despoilers of the dead should have their hands cut off.
A mitre is preserved here, adorned with effigies of saints in enamel, precious stones and pearls, given to the church by Charles of Anjou. This prince had gone to the assistance of St. Louis of France against the Saracens, when, on the Eve of St. Lawrence, August 9, 1270, he encountered a great storm ; the sailors, remembering the feast then being celebrated at Scala, prayed to the saint, after which the storm subsided, and in the following engagement the Moors were defeated. On his return Charles presented this mitre to S. Lorenzo in. acknowledgment of the aid he had received.
An enamelled chalice bears the date 1332. The pulpit was transferred to the Cathedral from the church of Tutti i Sarni, by the Coppola family in 1580. This family has already been referred to at Ravello, with which place, as the tomb of Marianella shows, they were connected through marriage with the Rufoli. They resided at Scala, and were prosperous merchants, who shared the vicissitudes of their time.
One of their race, Antonio Coppola, Count of Sarno, was favoured greatly by Ferdinand I. of Aragon. This monarch wished to procure the succession for his cruel and detested son. Suspecting his secretary Petrucci and Antonio Coppola of a desire to bring in RenÚ of Anjou, he planned their destruction, but meanwhile, pretending great friendship, consented to the marriage of Marco, son of Antonio Coppola,
with his niece, the daughter of Antonio Piccolo-mini, and arranged for the nuptial celebration in the Castel Nuovo at Naples, in 1486. During the festivities the two nobles were summoned to the presence of the king, seized and imprisoned.
Their houses were searched and despoiled, an enormous amount of gold, weapons, and stuffs being taken in triumph on carts to the Castel Nuovo, in spite of the opposition of the barons. Many executions followed, and on May 11, 1487, the secretary and his two sons were beheaded, the populace standing by bareheaded and in profound silence. The Count of Sarno obtained permission to take leave of his two - sons, when he told them how he had gained wealth and distinction by his own exertions, whereas the favour granted by the King had been suddenly withdrawn, and urged them to trust to their own abilities and never seek to regain the rank of which his execution would deprive them. To one he gave his chain, to the other his breviary, all that he still possessed, and then died bravely. Marco, the intended bridegroom, entered the Church, and became Bishop of Monte Peloso ; but Filippo entered the army, and was executed for participation in the endeavour to free the imprisoned Duke of Calabria.
Another hamlet, higher up the valley, but also forming part of Scala, is S. Pietro di Castagna, formerly S. Pietro di Campoleone, where Angelo Trara founded a hospital in 1320, called Lo Speciale di S. Angelo dei Trari, reserving to himself the right to nominate one inmate of the institution, and one person to share in the administration of his endowment. The hospital had ceased to exist by the fifteenth century, but its chapel remains. The steps have been roughly repaired by placing a granite column beneath them, and several portions of inscriptions and broken sarcophagi remain. In the interior is a fine stone to the memory of two brothers Trara, with an inscription in Lombard letters describing one who died in 1346 as an abbot, the other (died in 1374) as leaving the twelve children represented at the foot of the slab, each one with his or her name in Latin. Above an altar on the south side is a figure of St. Michael and the name of "Pauli di Sasso, 1358," already referred to with regard to this family and their connection with Ravello.
The path from this remote little church leads by scattered houses to the chestnut woods, the stream of the Dragone flowing far below, to which at evening files of women may be seen descending for their scanty supply of water, with which they toil up the steep banks and rocky paths. On the opposite height, concealed by trees and vineyards, are the ruins of the Castle of Ravello.
The roughness and steepness of the paths make the outlying hamlets somewhat difficult of access, but they will well repay a visit on account of the remains of a forgotten past, and yet more because of their beautiful situation and commanding views.
The Rufoli And Other Noble Families
Plazzo Dei Rufoli And The Legend
'decamerone,' Second Day, Fourth Tale