Why there are English forts along the
western coast of the island of Capri at all requires a bit
of an explanation. Briefly, the Bourbon
dynasty was chased from its kingdom of Naples by the
forces of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. The Neapolitan
royals, sheltered by the British fleet, fled to Sicily.
This left the mainland in the hands of the French, first
in the hands of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, and then of Murat, where it remained until
Napoleon's ultimate departure from the European scene 10
years later. Smaller islands were problematical, and for a
few years the British sought to hold on to Capri by
reinforcing the island against invasion from the mainland.
This entailed building a string of fortifications. [For
more on the struggle for the island, see The Battle of Capri.]
Whereas Capri was protected with
continuous walls, the wide-open western stretch of the
island below the town of Anacapri was fortified by the
English with a string of blockhouses. To a certain extent,
some of these installations are on or near sites of
earlier, strategically placed “Saracen
towers,” which for centuries had provided protection
against pirate raids. The trail of forts stretches from
the Blue Grotto on the leeward northern side to the
lighthouse at Punta Carena on the southern side.
interesting blockhouses are those at Orrico, Campetiello
(also called di Mesola) and Pino. Although they were
originally built by the English in 1806, they were then
enlarged by the French after they took Capri at Orrico
(top photo) on October 4th 1808. There is an additional
small blockhouse called il
cannone (the cannon) facing Tombosiello creek
(photo, left). These small forts plus a few towers along
the stretch constituted the western defensive system
As with almost every other historical site in the Bay of Naples, these forts have legend connected to them. The fort at Orrico, for example, is said to be where the island's first Greek inhabitants, the "Teleboi", disembarked from Epirus. There is, in fact, a convenient landing stage near the fort; it is from here that the Aragonese (who took the island from the Angevins in the 1400s) and then the English and French attacked and conquered the island.
construction of these forts entailed the destruction or
partial destruction of some other interesting
archaeological sites, including Villa Damecuta, one of the
twelve Imperial Roman villas to be found on the Island of
Capri. The known ruins of the Villa Damecuta extend for
140 meters along a western cliff and have an area of over
1,000 sq. meters. By way of comparison, the main block of
Villa Jovis is 5,400 sq. meters (about one-third the size
of the Domus Tiberiana on the Palatinate in Rome). *note
of villa Damecuta were begun under the direction of
the great Neapolitan archaeologist, Amedeo
Maiuri, the discoverer of the grotto of the famed Sibyl of Cuma. Villa Damecuta is
reminiscent of the more famous Villa Jovis at the extreme
height of the other end of the island and appears to have
been abandoned after the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79
AD. Also, not far from the villa is the Damecuta tower,
originally a 12th-century “Saracen tower.”
of the “Trail of forts” was begun in 1998, partially
funded by the European Union.
When you say “twelve imperial villas” of Capri, you mean villas belonging to Tiberius or Augustus or members of their aristocratic extended families. There is some uncertainty as to the number; Houston (bibliography) views with skepticism the earlier claims of Beloch (bibliography) that they were pretty much known and catalogued by the date of Beloch’s book. In any event, at least two others, besides the villas Damecuta and Jovis are:
(1) the Palazzo a mare, occupying a stretch of some 600 meters along the sea immediately to the west of today’s main harbor (the right, as you enter the harbor); it, too, underwent military transformation under the French in the early 1800s. The original layout is no longer evident, and from above (say, the Anacapri road), the area appears to be residential with a prominent football field in the middle of it all);
(2) the Villa of Gradola, immediately above the Grotta Azzurra. The buildings are strung out across the villa’s terraces in a panoramic position along the slope and had a stairway leading down to the grotto. The villa was excavated in the 19th century by the eccentric American Confederate Colonel John Clay MacKowen. He found capitals, fragments of statues, columns, and flooring, some of which he moved to his Casa Rossa in Anacapri, a current tourist attraction.
und Topographie des antiken Neapel under seiner
Umgebung. Pub. Morgenstern. Breslau. 1890.
-D’Arms, J.H. Romans on the Bay of Naples. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1970
-Houston, George W. “Tiberius on Capri” in Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Oct., 1985), pp. 179-196. Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association.
-Maiuri, Amedeo. Capri. Storia e monumenti. Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, Rome. 1957.