Perched on a rocky outcrop, at 365 meters high, Ravello is set right in the middle of the Amalfi coast, overlooking the whole Gulf of Salerno. It is one of the most popular destinations of the Divine coast, due to the irresistible fascination and fame that made it famous in the world, a perfect combination of art and music to deserve the acknowledgement as cultural heritage of UNESCO and the appellative of City of Music. Already Boccaccio was fascinated by Ravello, during his stay in Naples, so much to praise it in the Decameron, giving immortal fame to Landolfo Rufolo.
Its historical origins are uncertain and remote, although many authoritative historians agree in dating its birth back to the Roman period, coinciding with the presence of some Roman villas on the coastline.
According to the official history, the place name derives from "res-bella" or "rebellum" to mark its inhabitants' spirit of proud independence towards the supremacy of the Republic of Amalfi.
Ravello followed the fortunes of the Duchy of Amalfi: from the economic prosperity, due to the frequent trade with the East, to the defeat by the troops of Pisa in 1137. During the Norman period, king Ruggiero encouraged the elevation of the city as Bishopric, depending directly by the Holy See.
If in the Swabian period, thanks to the support to Frederick II provided by some noble families of Ravello, the city enjoyed many privileges, during the next Aragonese period, and for many centuries later, there was a period of deep economic and social crisis.
With the Bourbons, thanks to the construction of the coastal road from Vietri to Amalfi, the whole area of the Amalfi coast experienced a renaissance era, coinciding with the arrival of the European travelers looking for ruins of the past and striking views of Romantic taste. During the Second World War Ravello hit the headlines for being the place where king Vittorio Emanuele III, fleeing from Rome to Brindisi, signed the passage of the Lieutenancy in favor of his son Umberto.
Ravello's tourist history has a strong boost with the arrival of the English botanist Francis Neville Reid, who bought Villa Rufolo and undertook a massive restructuring works of both the building and the gardens. Subsequently Ernest William Beckett, 2nd Lord Grimthorpe, began the construction of Villa Cimbrone. From this moment on, and throughout the XX century, there was a rediscovery of Ravello by more or less famous tourists, looking for a quiet place to stay.
Among the famous people who chose Ravello, we remember: Andrè Gide, Edward Norgan Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, Gore Vidal (owner of Villa La Rondinaia for many years), Totò, Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida and many others.
Sites of interest:
- the remains of the ancient city walls, strengthened under Charles of Anjou;
- the remains of the Castle of Fratta, also called "Castrum Brusara", was already known in the XIII century and subjected to a bloody attack by the Pisani troops;
- the very few remains of the Castle of Montalto, located between Ravello and Tramonti;
- the Scarpariello Tower (or Ficarola), located in the coastal village of Marmorata, is part of the defensive system created during the viceregal period in order to defend the coastal people against the pirate attacks.
- the Cathedral, dating from the XI century, overlooks Piazza Vescovado. It is a basilican structure divided into three naves by eight granite columns and a transept into which open three apses. The façade is very different from its original shape because of the demolition of the pronao in 1786. Dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, it was included in the National Monuments list in 1941 and gained the title of Cathedral in 1969. Of particular interest are the bronze door by Barisano da Trani (1179), realized in Constantinople by using the technique in relief for the first time, the Gospel Ambo (1272), the Epistle Ambo (built between 1094 and 1150), the Chapel of St. Pantaleone, patron saint of Ravello, and the Museum, housed in the ancient crypt, preserving the beautiful bust of Sigilgaida Rufolo. The Cathedral id flanked by a square bell tower with large mullioned windows on all four sides and crowned by blind arches in tuff on twin columns.
- the Church of San Giovanni del Toro, built in the XI century, was the place where Ravello's nobility met. It is a basilican structure with three naves supported by eight granite columns. Noteworthy is the Ambo by Alfano da Termoli and decorations in tuff stone of the nearby bell tower;
- the Church of St. Augustine, originally dedicated to St. Adiutore, dates back to the X century; it was later donated by the Bishop of Ravello to the Order of the Padri Eremitani Scalzi of St. Augustine. Today is a war memorial.
- the Church of Santa Maria a Gradillo, dating back to the XI century, is coeval with the Church of San Giovanni del Toro. It was the place where the Heads of the Town met as well as the General Captain of the Duchy of Amalfi. It has a classical scheme with Arab and Byzantine motifs. The interior has three naves with six large columns supporting pointed arches, with three apses and raised transept. It is still visible the original mosaic floor, made of white and grey stones, representing the Life Tree and protected by transparent windows. Also interesting is the bell tower outside.
- the Church of the Annunciation, dating back to the second half of the XIII century, was donated by king Ladislaus to Mr Nicola Fusco. It is divided into three naves by four columns (two in granite and two in pink marble) and preceded by a portico with cross vaults. The Oratory, adjoining the church, consists in a large room with one nave and two small apses on the South side and a larger one of the Western side where a wooden altarpiece in Renaissance style stands. The external domes represents the most famous postcard of Ravello.
- the Sanctuary of the Saints Cosmas and Damian, entirely rebuilt in the last years of the XX century in order to accommodate the larger number of believers who go there every year. The original chapel was first documented in 1426.
- the Church of the Saints Philip and James, located in the village of Castiglione, is what remains of the former Benedictine monastery founded in the X century and closed in 1453 by Pope Nicholas V;
- the Church of Santa Maria del Lacco, documented since the XVI century, has a valuable fresco depicting Our Lady with the Child;
- the Church of St. Tryphon, dating back to the XI century, is annexed to the oldest Benedictine abbey of the town. It is divided into three naves and preceded by an atrium by lowered arches;
- the Church of San Martino, now cemetery chapel, dates back to the XI century. It has one nave and there is a beautiful frescoed lunette at the entrance. The bell tower is very characteristic and its architecture was taken up for the realization of the watch tower of Villa Cimbrone;
- the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, one of the oldest churches in Ravello, is divided into three naves by granite columns and preceded by a portico supported by two columns;
- the Church of San Pietro alla Costa, dating back to the X century, has a beautiful atrium supported by a granite columns. It was totally rebuilt after a disastrous collapse in the XVIII century. It has a central nave, a smaller one on the left side and a small room on the right one, probably the former right aisle before the collapse;
- the Church of San Giovanni alla Costa, documented since 1321;
- the Church and Monastery of Santa Chiara, dating back to the last years of the XIII century. The church is divided into three naves by eight columns and still preserves a valuable fresco in Byzantine style depicting Christ Pantacreator;
- the Church of San Francesco and the Convent of the Friars Minor, founded by St. Francis of Assisi according to tradition. The church has one nave and under the main altar is preserved the body of Blessed Bonaventura from Potenza. Very interesting are the square cloister of the XIII century, the bell tower with three floors and the rich library.
- the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, originally dedicated to San Matteo, dates back to the XII century. It is divided into three naves and preceded by a portico with cross vaults and flanked by a square bell tower.
- the Church of Madonna dell'Ospedale, also known as Sant'Angelo all'Ospedale, was built in the XIII century by the noble family Frezza;
- the Church of the Rotonda, in Byzantine style, was restructured during the XVII century. The wooden panel depicting Our Lady with the Saints is very valuable;
- the Church of Santa Maria della Pomice, dating back to the XV century, has a beautiful fresco depicting Christ Pantacreator behind the altar;
- the Church of Santa Croce, documented since the XII century, has a valuable altar painting representing the crucifixion.
- Palazzo Sasso, once belonged to the noble family from Scala that gave birth to the founder of the Hospitaller Order of Malta, is characterized by the typical architecture of the Angevin period. The Eastern façade with large arched windows and lanced shaped balconies;
- Palazzo D'Afflitto, another splendid noble residence, decorated with valuable marble pieces coming from the Church of Sant'Eustachio, belonging to the patronage of the noble family from Scala;
- Palazzo Tolla (XIII century), seat of the municipal administration from 1931;
- Palazzo Confalone (XIII-XIV century) is one of the best preserved among the noble palaces in Ravello. The atrium with pointed vaults and inlaid columns is very interesting;
- Palazzo del Principe Compagna;
- the remains of the ancient Palazzo della Marra (XI-XII century);
- the remains of Palazzo Grisone (1251);
- the courtyard of the Cortese Family, remaining part of the ancient palace of the same name;
- the courtyard of the Mansi Family, where it was recently found a Roman bath in perfect condition;
- Piazza Fontana Moresca, so called for the presence of a Moorish fountain, where once there was the statues of a winged bull and lion, coming from the Cathedral and stolen in 1975. They are now replaced by copies in lava stone realized by the sculptor Guardo from Catania.
- Villa Episcopio, dating back to the XI century, was a bishopric. During the XIX century was it was annexed to Villa Rufolo and partially restored by Francis Neville Reid. Subsequently purchased by the Duke of Sangro, it was the place where king Vittorio Emanuele III signed the passage of the Lieutenancy in favor of his son Umberto, during the Second World War;
- Villa Rufolo, one of the most beautiful and famous architectural complexes in Ravello. It was built by the Rufolo family, one of the most powerful families in the Medieval period, consists in different structures: the building (XIII century), the tree-lined entrance, two towers, gardens, chapel and the Moorish courtyard. Particularly significant was the restoration works by Francis Neville Reid in 1851 as well as the gardens that inspired Richard Wagner for the scene of the Enchanted Garden of Klingsor;
- Villa Cimbrone, clinging to the rocky ridge with the same name, was bought in the first years of the XX century by Lord Grimthorpe who started extensive restoration works, entrusting them to Mr Nicola Mansi. Throughout the last century, it became a meeting point for the intellectual elite of the time: it is said that the English writer D.H.Lawrence took inspiration here for his masterpiece "Lady Chatterly's lover". From the Belvedere of Villa Cimbrone you can enjoy one of the stunning view of the Amalfi coast.
- Villa La Rondinaia, so called due to its particular position, clinging to the rock of the Cimbrone spur like a swallow's nest, was once owned by Lord Grimtorpe and annexed to the property of Villa Cimbrone. A charming tree-lined avenue brings to the villa, overlooking the sea. For many years it was the residence of the writer Gore Vidal.
- the old paper fabric, in the village of Marmorata, built on an old mill and now used as a hotel;
- Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium, designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, has 400 seats and is preceded by a panoramic terrace.