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Home/ The Amalfi Coast/Amalfi/Museum of the Compass and the Duchy of Amalfi

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Museum of the Compass and the Duchy of Amalfi

Amalfi became the messenger of Constantinople in the Western Roman Empire, promoter of the Christian religion along the eastern coast of Egypt; an intermediary of Arab civilization in all the lands bordering the Roman seas. Everywhere Amalfi brought its constructive enthusiasm, its concrete, noble concept of industrious and sacred life. And everywhere, against anyone, they defended their own and the liberty of others, knowing that the basis of progress was citizens' respect for the rule of law and that rights are never force but rather fortitude, respect and protection. Never in history was such a great miracle accomplished.
Then Amalfi was splendid as well as beautiful.

(Costantino Porpora, 1971)

Amalfi, the capital of a small but powerful maritime duchy (839-1131), was defined by tenth century Arab chroniclers as the richest and most powerful Lombard city, more important than neighbouring Naples. But by the nineteenth century, to Romantic visitors or sailors like Samuel Rogers (1830) hugging the coast ignoring their 'deep debt', Amalfi appeared just a small settlement of a handful of white-painted houses.
The establishment of the Civic Museum has been inspired by the need to inform visitors of the towns extraordinary medieval history, of the 'debt' that the modern world and European civilization owe to the civitas which was heir to the traditions of Ancient Rome and the first of the Italian Maritime Republics. It became the focal point of mediation for western Christendom with oriental Byzantium and the Islamic world and the vehicle in the Mediterranean not only of merchandise, but also of legal systems, navigation techniques, nautical instruments, scientific discoveries, religious cults, art and culture.

Museum of the Compass and the Duchy of Amalfi
In the Reception Area are photographic enlargements of the allegorical statues carved in 1911 for the Vittoriano in Rome, which represent the four Maritime Republics: Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. While the seventeenth century portrayal of the "Ninfa Amalpha", loved by Hercules, symbolizes the origin and greatness of the first Italian Maritime Republic. Beside the figure are quotations from eleventh and twelfth century chroniclers describing how the city appeared in all its High Medieval splendour. A fourth century sarcophagus, re-utilised by an Amalfi nobleman in the thirteenth century, testifies to the constant Roman presence on the Amalfi coast during the Imperial period and reinforces the tradition of the patrician Roman descent of the Amalphitans.

The Medieval Historic Centre opens the museum tour. Here the historic centre of the town is presented showing places of historic or cultural interest. Beneath the floor are the remains of an old water channel. Behind are two bronze high-reliefs by Diomede Patroni (1928) portraying ancient Amalfi and the coast from which its galleys sail "to procure merchandise" (Boccaccio, Decamaron, day II, chap. IV), while the map of the "Mediterranean Sea Routes" illustrates the Amalphitans' commercial triangle between the Mediterranean coasts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Beneath the impressive central vaults of the shipyard, a model of the monument to Flavio Gioia, made by the sculptor Alfonso Balzico, portraying the mythical inventor of the compass, introduces the illustrated panels and artefacts of the area dedicated to Nautical History which narrates the story of the revolutionary nautical compass, its invention and diffusion by Amalphitan sailors permitted navigation on the high seas and at the end of the fifteenth century led to the opening up of oceanic routes to the "New World".

In the"City-State" Area, are exhibited fundamental testimonies of political autonomy, social progress and florid economy: The Pandect of Justinian -- stolen by Pisans when they sacked Amalfi in 1135 and presented here in a printed reproduction of 1911; La Tabula de Amalpha -- a Mediterranean code of navigational law of 1274; the Consuetudines Civitatis Amalphiae -- customary norms which regulated social life in Amalfi; the Tarì - silver and gold coins that were exchanged in distant lands (S. Rogers, 1830); Two paintings by the artist Mario di Lieto, Building Galleys in the Shipyard and An Oriental Amalphitan Market in Constantinople, together with some nineteenth century literary quotations, which testify to the fascination that the history of Amalfi has exercised for centuries. Six authentic parchments, five of which are eleventh century and in curial script and one thirteenth century in gothic script, supply fundamental evidence of political organisation and socio-economic life in medieval Amalfi.

Amalfi's links with Imperial Rome are discernable in the area of the museum dedicated to the first settlements along the coast in which there is a map of the location of Roman villas and artefacts from the late Imperial period.

Subsequently the museum calls the visitors attention to religious cults imported from overseas by sailor-monks, who, during the period of iconoclastic persecution, took refuge on the Amalfi coast inculcating religious life on the local inhabitants. Reproductions of icons, frescos and paintings of "Saints who came from the sea" and sculpture of Byzantine derivation in the Area of Cults buildings all testify to this presence Among these 'Saints' was St Andrew the Apostle, whose body was transferred from Constantinople to Amalfi by the papal legate Pietro Capuano during the Fourth Crusade (1206-8), as illustrated by the fourteenth century miniatures Pontificalis ad usum ecclesiae Salernitanae 492 and the chronicle of the transfer reported by the sixteenth century André De Saaussay, Andreas frater Simonis Petri seu de gloria S.Andreae Apostuli. This area terminates symbolically with the figure of St John the Evangelist, one of the five fifteenth century tufa statues representing The Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, from the Cappuccini Grotto, which collapsed in 1899.

The large "Map of the Duchy of Amalfi" hanging at the end of the first aisle represents the polycentric evolution of the territory's fragmented urban structure, with indications of civil and religious architecture, docks, marine and internal fortifications, shipbuilding and refitting yards, commercial infrastructure and land communication routes.

The Duchess of (A)Malfi, made famous by the stage dramas of John Webster and Lope de Vega and possibly portrayed by Raphael, the legendary Flavio Gioia, Inventor of the Compass, in a painting by Gaetano Capone and the inspiring figure of Tommaso Aniello d'Amalfi, the popular hero of the anti-Spanish revolt in Naples in 1647, project in the Area of Myths, the echoes of people and events that, despite the inevitable decline after the infeudation (1398-1583), preserved and augmented down the centuries the fame of Amalfi in European thought.

Amalfi's social structure and political/diplomatic organisation provided models to emulate for the Mediterranean peoples of the High Middle Ages: knights and magistrates, ambassadors and marine consuls, dukes and brides of Amalfi, merchants and common sailors conclude the museum's exhibits in the Historical Costumes Area, in the form of original designs (1955) by the choreographer Roberto Scielzo, and their realisation by a prestigious local costume maker.

To the north of the right aisle, in the space dedicated to a Lapidarium, it is interesting to note two surviving blocks of wood to which boats under construction in the shipyard were tied and the tufa statue of St Peter which came from the grotto of the Cappuccini Convent.

To the south, the large painting by Domenico de Vanna which portrays The Procession of the Knights of Amalfi parading in the sun of Amalfi and the Winged Horse Figurehead, a carved wooden sculpture belonging to the Historical Regatta boat, fondly named "Vittoria", after the victory of the home crew during the rowing event of July 1981, conclude the museum's re-evocation of one of Italy's most extraordinary pages of history on an auspicious note.

Museum of the Compass and the Duchy of Amalfi
at Ancient Naval Dockyards
Largo Cesario Console - Amalfi
www.museoarsenaleamalfi.it

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Attachments

Depliant.pdf
Depliant.pdf

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