Vietri sul Mare: nature, art & history

Parla d”e viente ‘a rosa amalfitana
e ll’aria addora tanto…ca te stona;
mentre, p”o cielo, ‘o suono ‘e na campana
se stenne ‘ncopp”a stesa ‘e na canzone – Popular song

The last beach on the Amalfi Coast, which turns to the east is Vietri sul Mare: at the other end of the coast we find Positano. Between the two towns lies one of the most beautiful corners of paradise in the world certified with the seal of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vietri sul Mare is close to Salerno and the large docks from which depart ferries to Palermo, Messina, Olbia, Tunis, etc.. The town, with its 8,200 residents, is the largest village of the Amalfi Coast and has an ancient history: it was founded by the Etruscans and later expanded by the Romans.

Like all the towns of the Amalfi Coast, Vietri sul Mare has a strong tourist vocation. Sought-after destination for hundreds and thousands of tourists arriving from all over Europe to admire the magnificent view of the mountains that plunge into the sea, Vietri sul Mare is famous for its art of making pottery. For those arriving by sea, the magnificent majolica dome of the church of St. John the Baptist is the first impact with this ancient art that completely pervades life, trade and artisan business in Vietri sul Mare.

The ceramic shops of Vietri are a show within the show. The narrow streets that rise on the big terrace where the village stands, are lined with small shops and workshops where the art of pottery reaches exceptional levels for both shapes and colors. Each item and furnishing is recreated in ceramic: tiles, plates, holders, ashtrays, amphorae and ornaments of all kinds, vases, figurines, tea and coffee services, sacred objects and the famous donkeys. The latter are an ‘invention’ of German potters that in the Years ’20s and ’40s of the last century moved to Vietri, attracted by the tradition of pottery, but also by the sun and the sea, by the impressiveness of the forest that towers over the town and of course by the quality of the dishes of Vietri’s cuisine.

The art of ceramics at the fairgrounds of Vietri sul Mare

The art of making ceramic objects and furnishings in Vietri has ancient origins. Today, ceramics are the symbol of the city, both big and small works of art appreciated throughout the world. Already in the 1600s, ceramic shops of Vietri sul Mare were much appreciated for the production of floorings, but it is between the XIX and XX century that the process becomes almost industrial, for the volumes of objects produced and marketed. Vietri sul Mare has dedicated to the art of ceramic three major exhibition spaces. The Museum of Vietri Ceramics, inside the Villa Guariglia in Raito town, the Cargaleiro Museum in Corso Umberto I, housed in the Palace of the Dukes Carosino; the Palazzo della Ceramica Solimene in via Madonna degli Angeli.

The Museum of Vietri Ceramics showcases examples of local production and some from all Southern Italy. On display, works from the XV century to the period called German of the XX century when many artists, including Richard Dölker, master of Kunstgewerbeschule Stuttgart (school of arts and crafts), arrived in Vietri attracted by the wonders of the coast and by the ceramic art tradition. The Museum Manuel Cargaleiro is inside the Palace of the Dukes Carosino. Manuel Cargaleiro is a Portuguese artist who has established a foundation for the promotion and development of contemporary ceramic art, but respecting local traditions. The museum features over 150 works owned by Cargaleiro donated to the town of Vietri.

Palazzo della Ceramica Solimene was opened in the 40s. The magnificent building by the architect Paolo Soleri recalls in its structure, the Guggenheim Museum in New York: an imposing structure with towers leaning against the mountains, with interior spaces dominated by exposed beams. An absolutely spectacular work that is worth a trip to Vietri sul Mare.

Sea, beaches and the beautiful landscapes

For centuries the nearby Cava de’ Tirreni used Vietri sul Mare as a business outlet. This made it so that in the country developed a major boat production activity: the shipwrights of the town have used for centuries the forests around the bay for the production of ciancole, traditional fishing watercrafts, or fishing boats, more suitable for transportation of goods. The beach of Vietri, called the Marina, is a very large picturesque harbor. From spring to late October, the beach is equipped with all the usual services of a tourist resort: rows of beach umbrellas and sun beds that alternate with stretches of beach overlooked by fine restaurants and inns. In winter, the beach is exclusive property of the inhabitants of Vietri, a people of fishermen who have kept alive the love for the sea and its fruits despite the advent of mass tourism.

The Vietri territory is crossed by the Bonea river, that comes from the Lattari Mountains. The hills around the town are covered with vegetation typical of the Mediterranean scrub and forests of chestnut and oak trees. Over the centuries, by the use of agricultural terraces –  typical in the whole of the Amalfi Coast -, people have snatched from the hills wide spaces for the cultivation of grapes and citrus fruits. The trails that climb to the old villages are used during the spring and summer periods by visitors for enjoyable walks, but also by hiking lovers for excursions which open onto scenes and landscapes of incredible beauty.

In the sea in front of Vietri, a few meters from the beach of Torre Crestarella, rise two rock formations similar to cliffs. These are the I Due Fratelli (Two Brothers), so named because a legend narrates that two shepherd brothers perished trying to save the flock from the stormy sea: a divine hand turned them into two rocks.

What to see in Vietri sul Mare: churches, villages and hamlets

The church of St. John the Baptist, dating back to the XVII century, is very interesting from a historical and architectural point of view. In late Renaissance style, it is famous for the cusp of the bell tower covered with painted pottery that also characterize the altars inside the church. Other interesting places for tourists in Vietri sul Mare are the churches scattered around the town and hamlets, like the St. Margaret of Antioch Church or the Madonna delle Grazie church in Benincasa. In addition to churches, you can visit several towers built during the centuries as sentinel points: Torre di Marina, Torretta Belvedere in Raito and Torre di Dragonea, dating back to 1100. In particular, Torre di Marina was part of a surveillance system that stretched across the Amalfi Coast. Do not miss Palazzo della Guardia near the church of St. John the Baptist, the Archconfraterity, a splendid example of Baroque art with majolica floors.

Vietri has various depending hamlets, the ancient villages of Albori, Benincasa, Dragonea, Molina and Raito. Albori is a cluster of houses with Moorish domes on the edge of the cliffs and overlooking the Costa Diva: Albori is on the Italian Touring Club (TCI) list of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Benincasa is a hilly village, less famous than other hamlets of Vietri sul Mare, but important for the religious community devoted to Saint Francis of Paola: the Holy One, in his journey to South Italy, stayed in the church of Madonna delle Grazie. Dragonea is the highest hamlet of Vietri sul Mare, 270 meters in height. It’s a great starting point for trips through the gorge of San Cesareo in the Cava de’ Tirreni direction. Molina is so called because it once hosted many mills (“Mulini” in Italian”.) The town has suffered severe damage during a flood in 1954 and was almost entirely rebuilt. Very beautiful is the Madonna dell’Arenella church. Raito, in the hills a few kilometers from Vietri, is instead famous for two churches, Santa Maria delle Grazie with Romanesque and Baroque elements, and San Vito, in the Villa Guariglia park, overlooking the Gulf of Salerno.

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