Conca dei Marini, exclusive destination of the international jet set
The village of Conca dei Marini is so called because it is located in a valley by the sea. And to be precise, in compliance with the principles of tautology, the country is also called the city of sailors, for the old habit of the inhabitants to be, as quite logical, all sailors. Conca dei Marini is more a village than a town, maybe a hamlet rather than a village. It’s a cluster of old houses inhabited by 700 residents, 400 meters above sea level of the Amalfi Coast. Like most of the villages of the Amalfi Coast, also Conca dei Marini has an ancient and troubled history, that is worth being told, but from the bottom and back from the beginning, from the shoreline.
In 2002, the beach of Conca dei Marini reopens to the public after six years since 1996, when a landslide rushing from the mountain made the beautiful shores not accessible. The same shoreline that journalists, in the ’60s, had dubbed the shell of love, because it was the setting of many adventures and passions of the international jet set celebrities, who had chosen that place as their favourite destination on the Amalfi Coast. There is no shortage of memories in this regard. You get Jacqueline Kennedy photographed while diving like a beautiful mermaid from a fishing boat, a few meters away from the shore. And it’s always Jackie the woman who used to drive from Ravello to Conca dei Marini to enjoy water skiing on warm July mornings, traveling on a Fiat 500 Convertible, a gift from Gianni Agnelli in person. Who, very kindly, never failed to keep her company, giving additional luster to this lovely beach. Conca dei Marini was one of the favorite vacation spots to the controversial and glamorous Princess Margaret of England. Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti had chosen it as their safe haven. Henry Kissinger took refuge here to meditate. Aristotle Onassis used to “make a bow” at the beach and then throw the anchor of his yacht Christina. The Queen of Holland was virtually always there. The Moët et Chandon have a beautiful home here. Caroline of Monaco, in addition to occasional visits, was often a guest of the D’Ursos (Mario D’Urso is a Senator of the Republic), whose villa near the beach is always occupied by dignified friends, politicians, celebrities and others, but just and only Vips, of course.
But obviously the story of Conca dei Marini is much older.
At the end of the Roman Empire, the town becomes one of the bases of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi. In this period, and then under the dominion of the Swabians and the Angevins, the town enjoys its moment of glory: the chronicle of the time report about a fleet of thirty large galleys for the transport of goods throughout the Mediterranean. With the discovery of the Americas and the progressive decline of the importance of the Mediterranean in the world economy, also Conca dei Marini starts suffering the crisis. What is more, in 1500, a small Turkish fleet, who arrived there by chance decided to steal the precious works preserved in its churches and homes. Soon after, as if that were not enough, it was raged for thirty years by the plague, which decimated the population and impoverished survivors. Conca dei Marini, resumed in early 1800 with the Tonnara, active until the first half of the 20th century. From the 50s onward, it is back to its former glory and becomes one of the most beautiful resorts of the Amalfi Coast, very popular with international jet-setters.
Marina di Conca and the Emerald Grotto
Marina di Conca is the beach of Conca dei Marini. It is a jewel of great beauty, with steep cliffs on the small beach, a small group of houses, the low vegetation parched by the sun, the promontory of Capo di Conca with the Watchtower to close a piece of Emerald green sea. It might seem the work of a talented artist full of imagination and poetry, but it’s a real place instead, which in the summer becomes one of the most popular beaches of the Amalfi Coast.
The watchtower Torre di Capo Conca was erected in 1500 for defensive and sighting purposes. More recently, a local legend has it that in the middle of last century, two American ladies were so fascinated by the place that they knelt praying God to be buried there. The wish was fulfilled and the tower became a camp cemetery until 1950. Following several restoration works, today’s it’s a public building which can be visited by reservation.
After admiring the many natural wonders of this place, it is not difficult to imagine the emotion that the fisherman Luigi Buonocore must have felt in 1932 when he discovered by chance a sea cave full of stalactites and stalagmites, which in some points form columns tens of meters high. The Good Luigi was the first of millions of tourists that have gone this far, in the decades, for a visit to the Emerald Grotto, sailing with small fishing boats from Conca dei Marini and the neighboring villages, but also getting off with a lift directly from State Road SS 163. The show you get is truly amazing: a space of 45X30 meters with a maximum height of 25 mt, where the colors of the sea and the sun are reflected in the rocks. A charming place, made even more magical by the 4 mt submerged crib, which every year at Christmas becomes a place of pilgrimage. At the entrance of the grotto there is an open area, where musical events, theatrical and artistic performances take place in summer, on the occasion of the festival known as Le magie alla Grotta dello Smeraldo.
Not just a beach by the sea
Besides the beautiful beach of Marina di Conca and the Emerald Grotto, the major places of historical and tourist interest in Conca dei Marini are its churches. The main church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and is also called the church of St. Anthony of Padua, Patron saint of the town. The church, situated in the district of Penne, overlooks the bay and the spire of its tower is completely covered with colorful majolica. Of particular interest is the Conservatory of Santa Rosa of Lima, dating back to 1680, a former Dominican monastery that now houses a hotel. Not to be missed is the church of San Pancrazio martyr, 1300, placed on a tree-lined square: from this point, a solemn procession in honor of the Madonna generally starts on every year in mid-July.
One of the favorite sacred places by the inhabitants of Conca dei Marini is the Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows, a small place of worship on the beach where is kept a high relief of a Madonna and Child which legend has it that was found on a beach in Constantinople.
Finally, a must see are the houses of the town, the humble two-storey homes made from tough and hardy people, who have been strong enough to make Conca dei Marini fit into history, but also become one of the most prestigious places on the Amalfi Coast.