Perfect weather today – some clouds, temperatures 20-22°C, and I was going to be driven around the Amalfi Coast by a native taxi driver. Despite all the stories I’d heard about crazy drivers in Italy, not all of them Italian, I knew that Dante would get me back safely. I’d had an email from Pompei East Car that my driver would be Dante, and that he would be meeting me at our rendezvous point down the street at 9am in a dark silver Mercedes Benz. They knew I’d be in my dark sports jacket, grey slacks and a small rucksack. The white hair was probably the dead giveaway.
Up at 8, ready and out the door half an hour later, I crossed Via Duomo at the next corner and entered Dolceria Pantaleone. Getting a large decaf Caffe Americiano and two cornetti. I continued down to the waterfront. The rendezvous was right at the corner, and I was leaning against the wall 10 minutes early. Dante rolled up 5 minutes later and after we introduced our selves, he ducked into Pasticceria Diana for his coffee. He’d figured we’d get coffee together as we left, and I figured he’d arrive with his own. In any case, at 9am we were off and rolling.
Before leaving on the trip, in addition to all the tickets for events or trips that I’d need, I’d also printed out two maps. One came from Gcatholic that showed all the cathedrals (active, co-, pro-, ex-) in the Amalfi area south of Pompei. The second was a possible travel route we could take, given that Elisa thought I should avoid driving the coastal road, as other drivers don’t pay as much attention to their driving. Dante said we’d look at them once we cleared Salerno and could find a safe place to pull off. I liked this driver already.
My contract was for 8½ hours, so I knew we’d try to be back at 17:30. While we were still on city streets, I explained my trip and my obsession with visiting and photographing cathedrals. Elisa had me planning on 7 today, but the map had over a dozen possibilities. When we pulled over and Dante started looking at the maps, he felt we could do about 10 or 11. He liked the way the Benz handled, and with the milder weather, this being a Friday, we should be able to do the coastal road at least part of the way. His tip just kept getting bigger.
So, when we got to Vieri sul Mare, rather than turning north to the two closest cathedrals, we continued west on the SS163. The road kept twisting and turning, with some interesting sharp turns. At the Torre d’Albori because the road was clear, we pulled over and I got a quick shot of the castle from the road, and we then continued. Coming into the town of Cetara, another pull off allowed me a shot of the bell tower in the town.
Our next time to pull over was at the Massi Cetara, with a really great coastal shot.
Traffic through Maiori was a bit heavier, so we passed it staying with the other vehicles on the road. A few kilometers more, we pulled off into #Minori, where the ex-cathedral (987-1818) Basilica Santa Trofimena sits on a hillside.
Most curiously, the main altar is fronted in glass with gold trim and adornments, but it has been placed on a raised platform of glass to allow viewing of the urn with the patron saint’s remains below in the crypt. Presently neo-classical, the building has had two major rebuilds from its earliest foundations. After the cathedral seat was moved, the tri-level square bell tower was built, with the bells visible; each level is a visible different style.
We drove on at 10:15, through Marmorata to inland stops in Scala and Ravello. The more northerly first, Cattedrale di San Lorenzo in #Scala, a hilltop town of less than 2000 souls, reached via a series of long switchback turns. Squat, very rectilinear, the façade is two levels with three doorways with stained-glass windows above them on the upper level. Stenciling of the stucco covering has been tinted, with hollow square shapes.
A three-level square campanile is to the right of the entry, with single arch-shaped openings in a plain stucco facing and a clock facing away from the church. This is now a titular see, as there has been no resident bishop of record since 1603. The building was locked.
Driving back through 3 of the six hamlets comprising Scala, we made our way a bit south to #Ravello, and the Duomo di Ravello, a former cathedral dedicated to St Pantaleone.
Situated 20 steps above the Piazza Vescovado, the façade is relatively simple, with three portals fronting equal width aisles, and half flat columns supporting a portico. Bronze doors created in 1179 by Barisano da Trani are a major attraction. An impressive pulpit with mosaic decorations rises on twisted pillars mounted on the backs of lion statues is midway down the nave.
Opposite are two more murals, depicting Jonah and the Whale. Inside, three aisles, with whitewashed walls and a wooden double-lattice vault. The altar is set deep in the apse, with a small statue of St Pantaleone in a niche above the high altar with a tympanum. The presbytery is set about 1½ meters above the nave floor beyond the crossing, reached via 6 steps at the side aisles.
Our next destination was the cathedral in #Amalfi. Dante had to park a bit away, so dropped me off at the end of the plaza and said he’d meet me inside. Located in the heart of downtown Amalfi, it takes 62 stair steps to gain the entrance.
Arab and Norman influences are manifest in the 1891 replacement façade, with contrasting colored stone creating stripes. A bell tower of four stages is square but the top, which is four small crowns at the corner around a central one covered in a mosaic of majolica tiles. The Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea has five aisles, showing the 18th century renovations with baroque style. The outside aisles had become a series of side chapels. Inlaid Romanesque columns and arches with a clerestory of porthole windows line the nave aisle.
Three half-circular domed apses form the presbytery, the center of which has a large painting of the crucifixion of St Andrew above the high altar, with the gilt and mosaics rampant.
Dante had appeared, and helped pointing out a few things I had missed. As we walked through the plaza to return to the car, we agreed a quick bite would be optimal, and we’d get it out on the promotory pier, where I could get a shot of the town from the marina.
After parking, I walked and got the shots, and then joined Dante at a “fish shack” for a bottle of water and a fish panini. Dante looked at the map, and advised we should probably skip the several former and current catherdals out at the far end around Sorrento and begin swinging around to the north of tthe mountains. This meant going up through them, aiming at Castellammare di Stabia and the co-cathedral there.
It turned out to be a beautiful hour ride, making a photo stop after we left San Michele and began the zigzag switchback climb inland. SS366 was a fun ride, but I sure was glad I wasn’t in the driver’s seat – Dante had been on the road numerous times, but still was cautious and considerate; I felt very safe and comfortable.
The routing of SS366 took us through a number of smaller towns but skirted the complexities of the major port town of #Castellammare di Stabia. Of course, we did have to make our way down practically to the port to reach the cathedral. Large, with three domes and three apses, it aligned east-west, with the west façade being the main entry. We spotted a parking spot just on the other side of the rotary named for St Pope John XXIII. Built in 1587 after an earthquake took the earlier one down, the Concattedral di Maria Santissima Assunta e San Catello was not consecrated until 1893.
With a deep porch reached by two sets of rock (piperno of Soccavo) stairs and a plaza up from the street, the three entry arches are filled with wrought iron gates. The side arches are filled, while the larger central rounded arch is open. Columns are on either side of this arch, while flat arches frame the side entries. A clock rises above the central arch, which also has a shield with the city coat of arms. A two-level bell tower is to the south of the porch. The dome, with a lantern, is not visible easily from the street.
The entry doors are contemporary and cast bronze. Piers and arches support a frescoed vault over the central nave, while 5 chapels per side aisle lead from the side doors to the side apses. The last chapel on the left is to the city’s patron saint, San Catello; the north apse is the Ara Pacis chapel, dedicated to the Great War dead. Paintings, frescoes, mosaics and marble tile work with gilding flourish in the transepts, presbytery, and chapels.
We had possibly 4 more cathedrals in 3½ hours, and, per Google, an hour worth of driving. Dante wanted me to see the cathedral in Pompeii, while I was willing to just visit the shrine and ex-cathedral in Piazza Roma. So we drove to the cathedral in Pompeii, a 15-minute ride. Traffic was good, as siesta was happening; besides Pompeii would be open all afternoon, while the shrine would be closed. Dante had the local, more useful knowledge.
The cathedral’s name formally is Santuario Basilica Pontificia della Madonna del Rosario, and is a property of the Vatican. Construction work began less than 150 years ago, so this is a fairly new cathedral; plus, it originally had 420 square meters (4500ft²) of footprint, a small structure. It has been a significant pilgrimage site for Marian worship in the twentieth century, with renovations in 1934-39 quadrupling the space.
Inside, I felt the pilgrim’s contributions at work – it was truly a resplendent temple to Mary of the Rosary. Decorated to within an inch of overdose, I didn’t see an unadorned spot. It was really too much for me, so I didn’t stay long.
Dante initially took the E45 as we headed east; just to the west of Nocera Inferiore we changed to the SS18, which had a kilometer-long descent from Monte Albino with a switchback to get down into the city.
The Basilica Cattedrale di San Prisco e San Marco has a western façade entry with three doors; the two side doors have stained-glass widows above, while the larger central door has an oval niche with St Priscus depicted. On the second stage, an ovoid window is above the central door, with columns on the side which continue to the ground. To the south, a wall defines an old cloister, now used for parking; to the north are church buildings and a freestanding bell tower, through which vehicles can pass.
There are three aisles, with the side aisles terminating at the sanctuary, becoming the sacristy and a storage room respectively. The presbytery is just the extension of the central aisle, with a flat eastern wall where the cathedra has been placed. Wooden choir stalls line the chancel. The main altar is outside this space, a step up from the nave. Walls and vault are white plaster with slight ornamentation. In a side chapel is a Roman sarcophagus, which is used as a base for the display of a status of St Priscus.
Leaving #NoceraInferiore (a town with an interesting history of its name), we headed to Cava de ‘Tirreni, the site of the co-cathedral with Amalfi. Google Maps only found it as “Duomo”, despite trying its name from Gcatholic: Concattedrale di Santa Maria della Visitazione or even just “cathedral”. In any case, it was just after 4, and Dante was able to find parking about 2 blocks away.
Returning to the large and clear Piazza Duomo with a great fountain at its center, I started scoping out a yellow and white church up some 20 steps. Renovations and restorations had had their effects on the façade and interior, per what I had read.
At the top of the stairs was an open plaza running the width of the building. The three doorways are rectangular, with minor flat column framing and a plain triangular tympanum over the larger, taller central entrance. Molding around rectangular spaces provides the church with space for announcements, while lunettes above the side doors provides natural light. The second level is narrower, omitting the side aisle space, and has an arched tall window in the center. A tympanum across the top has a clock within, and a cross mounted above.
Inside, the main color is white. A pink-beige tone is used lightly to provide highlights. The most recent restorations removed the rococo from the nave, providing clean lines from the nave and to the non-emergent transept. Three aisles, with the Romanesque columns supporting a molding at the beginning of the clerestory with clear lights. Ornamentation, while limited, is white plaster; the vault is flat plaster. On the side aisles are chapels with baroque altars and decorations. Reaching the presbytery, barrel apses fill the back wall. A modern baldachin is placed over the main altar in the crossing. Nice building, good vibes.
On to the last stop, a ten-minute trip to Trinità di Cava, a town commonly known as Badia di Cava. We were going to visit a Benedictine territorial abbey which holds cathedral rank. The abbey was founded as a Cluniac monastery in 1011, fell under Papal endowment within its first century, and was elevated to a diocese in 1394. It was closed but remained unscathed during the Napoleonic period of suppression. Its library contains very old and valuable books and documents, available to researchers and historians.
To be honest, my initial expectations based on the monasteries I’d visited in France and ruins in Scotland, I hardly thought there would be anything this grand. I’d done a little reading, but not much viewing before I left this morning, and I wasn’t expecting a real cathedral. We pull up in #TrinitàDiCava, and there’s a church, Cattedrale Abbazia di Santi Trinità, with a 4+ story high façade and a taller bell tower. Eight steps up to a single door under a portico supported by white columns. Pairs of pairs of flat columns running from bottom pediment to the open tympanum at the top on either side. And it’s all dull (dirty?) gray, except the columns, the window molding and a statue in a niche at the top level.
Then I walked in the entry, and there: rococo to the -Nth degree. A huge set of gilded organ pipes over the organ at the far end of the central aisle. Multi-colored marble inlay, gild plaster filial, elaborate side chapels. This place was up in the hills way away from people, and it looked like those pilgrim churches we’d visited. I was just blown away. Dante had never been there before – it was the only one he’d not driven clients to or visited on his own before, and he was nearly overwhelmed too.
We stayed a half hour, knowing we had to be back to Salerno by 17:30. And we just made it on the button.
The arrangement had been that I’d pay for the driver and a rental car from an outfit which is based in Pompeii. They only had one device to make mobile charges, so it meant that it would be in the car with us all day, and no other drivers could take it along. When we were in Pompeii, however, Dante had called a colleague who had collected it, so my payment had been handled, except for my tip for my spectacular driver, which I did in cash. Dante was heading back to Pompeii, in rush hour, but he would be back to his family in about an hour. Once again, #ViaHero had come through with dynamite arrangements.
Walking the few blocks up to the B&B, I was reflecting on what a great day it had been. Nine cathedrals! And just a tiny taste of the towns, and some really great views. I really understand how someone could come to the Amalfi Coast for a whole season and never tire. Back in the room, I pulled out the journal and looked at my scribbled notes, and then started to make some organized sense out of them all. Since I’d gone on to my third camera battery, I started charging the first, as I wanted to be fully prepared for the next leg.
As it was Friday night in #Salerno, Elisa had recommended that I make dinner reservations at Zizzinella, which I’d also done from Rome, but using Facebook. Less than half a kilometer walk, I kept busy until a quarter to eight before heading out. The staff must have had a good day, because the blackboard that I’d expect to find specials was “different”, and I’d probably have to resort to a menu. And that disappeared faster than my order, so I didn’t get any names written down. So working from my phone photos and my scribbles: I got a bottle of red wine: Marisa Cuomo Furore Rosso Costa d’Amalfi Riserva: it’s a 50/50 blend of aglianico and piedirosso. That meant, despite seafood, I’d probably be seeing red gravy. My starter were appetizers of shredded halibut in a light tomato sauce, with basil and cherry tomatoes stuffed onto mussel shells. They were pretty tasty, but then I was very hungry. For the pasta, scialatielli, a thicker flat noodle, in a napolitana sauce with cherry tomatoes, black olives and bits of shellfish. Now I have to learn the difference between marinara and napolitana, because the latter is so much more my style. And for the main, what I’d call cioppino napolitana, as all these different kinds of fish are finished in a savory tomato sauce that is almost like a thick soup. I know there’s no cheese for fish, but I really wanted some grated parmesan – however, I behaved.
I’m starting to think I’ll be growing gills soon. Everything was wonderful, and surprisingly, the acidy, heavy tannin red blend actually worked well with my choices. I left a glass for the waitress, but I did have room for dessert. I really don’t have a clue what was in it – maybe caramel gelato in a cookie cup with crunchy almond crisps and those sweet-tart green seed things. Really to die for, and deserved the decaf coffee that I had to follow. Sugar heaven.
Heading back to the room, I figured I should include my timetable and cathedral list, since today, as I had last Sunday, was a very busy day. So as I’ve written my blog, I’ve been keeping this list and map:
0900 Pickup in Salerno 1015 Depart Minori : Basilica Santa Trofimena 1045 Depart Scala: Cattedrale di San Lorenzo 1115 Depart Ravello: Duomo di Ravello, St Pantaleone 1230 Depart Amalfi: Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea 1400 Depart Castellammare di Stabia: Concattedral di Maria Santissima Assunta e San Catello 1500 Depart Pompeii: Santuario Basilica Pontificia della Madonna del Rosario 1545 Depart Nocera Inferiore: Basilica Cattedrale di San Prisco e San Marco 1630 Depart Cava de ‘Tirreni: Concattedrale di Santa Maria della Visitazione 1710 Depart Trinità di Cava: Cattedrale Abbazia di Santi Trinità 1730 Arrive Salerno