Founded probably in the 4th century a.C. by Roman populations escaping from barbarians, Ravello is situated in a splendid position, on a rocky spur astride the Dragon's and Reginna's Valleys. It is situated in a more elevated position than the other pearls of the Amalfi Coast and it can boast exceptional landscapes that have earned Villa Cimbrone's terrace the name of "Terrace of Infinity". The writer Andre Gide has given us a splendid and synthetic description: "Ravello is nearer to the sky than it is to the shore". It already enjoyed a good economic development when it was part of the Amalfi Republic, but Ravello rebelled against the Republic when the Amalfi people betrayed the Norman king.
Roberta il Guiscardo in 1081, electing their own Doge. Ravello refused to follow the Amalfi people towards betrayal and deserved the appellation of Rebello, from which today its name still derives, by the Amalfi population. However, in that occasion, it had the support of Pope Vittore III who firstly redeemed it from subordination to Amalfi, making it a bishop's palace and subsequently (1086) making it an Episcopal seat.
It then became an economic power, seat of flourishing textile industries and as a result has left indirect testimonies in an elevated number of artistic treasures of churches and villas . From the pillage carried out in 1137 by people from Pisa, a slow decline began
and broke off only in the last century when Ravello became a preferred destination of the Grand Tour, educational and pleasure travels of European intellectuals and artists. In Ravello Wagner, Longfellow and many others stayed for a time, and everybody was enchanted by the extraordinary fascination of these places. Last but not least in Ravello Greta Garbo hid for one of her elopements that impassioned readers of society news all over the world in the thirties. Among the numerous churches in Ravello, undoubtedly the Cathedral and Chiesa del Toro, besides the famous S. Francesco cloister, deserve a particular mention. Orso Pavicio, the first bishop of Ravello, ordered the Cathedral to be built.
The building began in 1087 and went on for many years with integrative and additional interventions aimed at increasing decoration splendour. The last remarkable intervention occurred in 1786; recently a restoration aimed at recovering the original parts of the sacred building has been begun. The unadorned front has been restored many times. However some original elements, such as a million window with two lights, three eyes and four columns of the ancient pronaos, destroyed by an earthquake, remain. The marble portal and the bronze door of 1179 are very beautiful. The door is composed of 54 panels, built by Barisano da Trani, where he portrayed Passion scenes, and scenes of saints and warriors, one of which grasps a characteristic oriental arch in confirmation of the Byzantium influence still exerted in Italy in that time.
The inside, with nave and two aisles, is magnificently decorated. In the centre, there is a marble pulpit of 1200, built by Niccolo di Bartolomeo from Foggia who also made the woman's head, a sculpture of Sigilgaita, the wife of Nicola Rufolo, the generous patron who commissioned the pulpit to the Apulian artist.
Today this sculpture is in the Museum annexed to the Cathedral that also deserves a visit. In front of the pulpit, we can admire an ambo richly decorated by mosaics, commissioned by another bishop of Ravello, Costantino Rogadeo. The mosaics describe Giona's myth, who was swallowed and spit out again by Pistrice, a monstrous animal. On the left of the high altar there is the chapel of S. Pantaleone, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated. Here the Saint's relics and a reliquary containing his blood are preserved. According to the
tradition every year his blood liquefies on July 27th in the anniversary of his martyrdom , which took place in 305. The Church of S. Giovanni del Toro was built in the 12th century and was subsequently restored several times over. In the inside, there is a 12th-century pulpit, commissioned by the rich family Bovio from Ravello and built by Alfano da Termoli. Like the one preserved in the Cathedral, it is decorated by mosaics portraying Giona and Pistrice. In the crypt, it is possible to admire some 14th-century frescoes. Furthermore, an interesting 13th-century cloister is annexed to the Church of S. Francesco. The builder of Villa Cimbrone was inspired by this cloister and reproduced it inside its gardens.
Villa Rufolo is very ancient, it was built approximately in 1280 by the ho-monymous family, one of the richest and most important families in Ravello. Even though it has been rearranged, the building still completely expresses an interesting Arabian-Norman style. Through a luxuriant garden, which is steeper and wilder than the well-arranged and elegant gardens of Villa Cimbrone, we arrive at roof-gardens hanging over the sea. Here, every year Wagner's concerts are celebrated as a memento of Richard Wagner's stay.
Apart from the musical quality, that is exceptional, the audience is enchanted to see the orchestra that plays as if it were suspended half-way up on a uniformly blue setting, represented by sky and sea.
This is the so-called Klingsor's Tower, traditionally named this way as memento of Richard Wagner's visit to Ravello. In fact it was Villa Rufolo's splendid gardens that inspired the very famous Klingsor's garden which
played a great role in the German culture and imagination in the twentieth century. As matter of fact, subsequently Mann, Hess and other writers will refer to it.
The architectonic pattern of arches is very much present on the Coast and above all in Ravello. We have both lancet arches with three-lobed columns in the Arabian tradition, or arches with a short curve, of Byzantine or going further back, of Roman origin.
However, there are elements that are present in almost all the monuments of Ravello's glorious and rich past. On the other hand even in nature, due to wind and sea erosion, this architectonic element is present: along the entire Coast there are, in fact, many natural arches both along coasts and inside steep gorges.
We cannot but visit the already-quoted Villa Cimbrone. It was built in the twentieth century and was commissioned by the English nobleman William Bechett. This villa imitates classicized and medieval styles and forms. Its celebrity is due to the already-quoted "Terrace of infinity", that is really one of the most charming places on the Coast. But the beauty of the Villa consists in its gardens, decorated by statues, busts and marble groups, among them we have to remember the temple in Doric style with the marble statue of Cerere; Bacchus's temple, with a bronze sculptural group and a reproduction of David by Vernocchio. In the cloister, just on the left of the entrance, there is a bas-relief reproducing the seven deadly sins.
Founded in the 6" century, its history is strictly linked to that of the Sea Republic of Amalfi. It is the birthplace of the blessed Gerardo de Saxo, who founded the order of the Knights Hospitallers, the present Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta.