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main index © Jeff Matthews consolidated Jan. 2011 #4 added Jan 3, 2016
These four items appeared separately on the dates indicated and have been consolidated here onto a single page. Additionally, also see the entry on Alfred Krupp on Capri.
entry June 2003Capri (1)
add large photo June 2014
Capri. The view is due south from the Chiaia section of Naples.
The white houses on the right (west) are the town of Anacapri.
The main harbor is about 1/3 of the way in from the left.
Capri first attracted
real and royal attention when Caesar Augustus
dropped by in 29 B.C. He liked it so much that he
traded Ischia for it. Since that time, there has
been an unbroken chain of Capri admirers, from the
Longobards to the Normans,
Angevins, Spanish, Austrians, English and
modern Italians. All this attention is
understandable. Of the islands in the Bay of Naples,
Capri simply has the most to offer. It is
geologically spectacular, from its two high points,
Monte Solaro and Monte Tiberius,
rising like pillars at opposite ends of the island,
to natural wonders such as the Blue Grotto and the
twin rocks known as the faraglioni jutting
up from the waters just off the east end of the
Nowhere in the Gulf of Naples or vicinity, not from any of the other islands, not even from the mountains above nearby Sorrento, will you find a view equal to that from the vantage points on Capri. (Photo, right, looks across to the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula from the Villa Fersen.) Its manmade attractions are also hard to beat: an old Saracen tower on Mt. Barbarossa, the cliffside path named via Krupp, a hermitage, a monastery, and the most serene chairlift you will find anywhere, leading from the town of Anacapri up to the top of Monte Solaro. Additionally, you can hike, hang-glide, scuba-dive, go down in a submarine, shop till you drop, and then relax with all the other "beautiful people" at an open-air cafe in one of the most famous squares of its kind in the world. So, even if, unlike Tiberius, you never get to "relax with equal application into secret indulgences and immoral pastimes," you can still rely on having a good time if you follow some simple rules.
First, pronounce it CAH-pri, not cuh-PRI. This is essential to the enjoyment of your stay, since this common tourist mispronunciation of the name of the island sounds just like a local dialect expression meaning, "Please, I would like to give you some more of my money."
Next, if you have the time—and if you haven't, maybe you shouldn't go—enjoy a ferry trip from the main port downtown, at least one-way. Hydrofoils are great, but so are open-air sea trips. In the warm summer months, you can also take a marvelous detour by ferry over to Sorrento and then back to Naples. If you have a choice, go on a week-day, not a week-end, although in the peak season, there may not be much difference. Fortunately, since the island is virtually a web of footpaths, you will be free to take advantage of the fact that most tourists don't really like to walk. You can find solitude on Capri, even in the high season.
Prepare an itinerary that says:
(a) Blue Grotto (b) The Villa of Tiberius (c) The Villa of Axel Munthe (d) Monte Solaro (e) afternoon free for shopping
Then take a small hammer, which you should always keep with you for such occasions, and rap yourself soundly in the skull to cure yourself of the notion that it is possible to do it all in one day. Relax.
The "Natural Arch"
The Anacapri side of the tour
includes the town of Anacapri, itself (quaint and
less frequented than its famous sister town) and Monte
Solaro, accessible on foot or by chair lift.
If you feeling particularly energetic, you can walk
from the main port to Anacapri up the so-called
"Phoenician stairs." You might add a third part to
your trip: the sea. Take a trip into the Blue
Grotto, or take a trip around the entire island.
Also, undersea sightseeing is available via a small
No private vehicles
may be taken over to Capri (except for residents),
but there are taxis and buses available from the
port to virtually every part of the island
accessible by wheel. Capri, however, is truly made
for walking. When you disembark, avoid the
temptation to follow the crowd over to the cable car
that takes you right up to the main square in the
center of the town of Capri. Take the steps; they
start a little bit past the cable-car entrance. They
are moderately strenuous, but provide a first-class
view of the picturesque houses, small gardens and
paths that abound on Capri. If you plan to go to
Tiberius' Villa Jovis, the only way is to walk from
the main square, so you may wish to save yourself
for that. At the Anacapri end, treat yourself to the
chairlift up and then hike down, taking in the view
and the mountain air.
Frequent ferry and
hydrofoil service is available to Capri from Naples,
from both the main port and the nearby harbor of
Mergellina. Additionally, you can get to Capri from
Sorrento. If you are truly crazy, you can get a
helicopter from Capodichino airport in Naples.
entry Mar. 2003Capri (2)
Like the game that children and poets play, called "What do you see in that cloud?" there's an experiment in visual perception in which you look at an apparently random jumble of light and shadow, and try to pick out a figure—perhaps a human face or an animal—"hidden" in the picture. You can examine it for hours in vain, then the next day glance at it casually and have it spring out at you like a jack-in-the-box. Then, you might blink your eyes, look again—and it's gone.
But, whether or not I manage to catch that glimpse of her, whenever I need a long walk and peace and quiet, she—the island—is always there. Strange, you say, to think of Capri in terms of solitude? Is this not the Isle of Pleasure, boasting centuries of tales and descriptions of lurid Hedonism? And even if you aren't a sinner, is there not an almost obligatory hustle and bustle forced upon the visitor? How do you find the peace and quiet.
Walk. It's amazing how long it took me to realize that. I was staring at Capri from a short distance offshore and I remember seeing for the hundredth and yet the first time the houses that dot the isle. I then realized that I had no idea how all the people who live in those houses get about when, except on a few principle roads, there is virtually no motorized traffic at all. I set off to find out, and I discovered an extensive network of trails, spun like a web over the island.
I have walked up from
the Marina Grande to the top of Monte
Solaro in the midst of the tourist
season and had the entire trail to myself. I've
hiked up to the Saracen Tower on Mount Barbarossa
and practiced the trombone, much to the amusement of
the wildlife. I've wandered down from the top of Monte
Solaro to the small observatory and to the
church that commands the heights overlooking the
town of Capri, itself. I've hiked down the steps
from Villa Fersen to the sea and had a
secluded bath in the sea, again at the height of
summer with not a soul in sight. Up to the villa of
infamous Tiberius, down to the Natural Arch, over to
the red bunker that Malaparte called "home," down
the via Krupp, and simply nowhere in
particular along the trails around Anacapri—the
variations are endless.
entry Sept. 2003Capri (3), WWII September 1943 armistice
called up Herman
the other day to see if had attended last week’s
ceremony commemorating the Anglo-American invasion
at Salerno. It took place 60 years ago and Herman,
who is now 87 years old, was part of it. He told me
that he hadn’t attended, though he had spoken with
some members of the US 36th infantry who had stopped
by to say hello to him in Sorrento. The ceremony in
Salerno was marked by some counter-demonstrations by
those who feel that remembering anything at all to
do with war and violence is a bad thing, even when
it’s on behalf of the good guys.
September 1943 was turbulent and confusing for Italians. The nation surrendered to the Allies on September 8, at which point Pietro Badoglio, who had succeeded the deposed Mussolini as head-of-state in July, 1943 (newspaper headline, photo) declared that the war would now continue on the side of the Allies and against the Germans and Italian Fascists. That plunged Italy into a civil war.
The armistice of September 8 provided a strange episode—amusing in hindsight—having to do with the Isle of Capri. There were about 2500 members of the Italian Armed Forces on Capri at the time of the armistice. Obviously, they were now all part of the Allied command at war with their old allies, the Germans.
Part of the terms of the armistice required the Italian naval contingent on Capri to move to Palermo, in Sicily. The Italian commander was unable to comply with the order because there simply wasn’t enough fuel left to run the ships that far. He sent a motorboat over to the Gulf of Salerno to advise the Allied commander of the situation; that is, the Italian forces on Capri weren’t making any sort of a Fascist last stand on Capri, nor were they refusing to surrender. They just had no fuel for the ships.
Accordingly, on September 12, an Allied ship showed up at Capri to check out the situation. The Allied commander then—for reasons that are as obscure as they are silly—demanded a separate “unconditional surrender… [from] the Commanding Officer of the Axis Armed Forces on the Islands [sic] of Capri.” (The Allied commander may have been counting the Faraglioni, those two beautiful rocks 100 yards off shore, as separate islands.)
In a true Laurel and
Hardy finish to the episode, the surrender document
—written in both English and Italian—was signed
improperly. The Allied officer signed on the wrong
side of the page, leaving the Italian no choice but
to sign in the space reserved for the name of
[Herman, the gentleman
mentioned in the first paragraph, has in these pages
an Oral History of WW2. Click
here to read that.]
added Jan 3, 2015