Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry July 2012, large photo at bottom-Jan. 2022            


To sail out of the gulf of Salerno south to the gulf of Policastro, you move between the Punta Licosa promontory and the lighthouse on the tiny island off-shore just south of the town of Agropoli. You then start around the hilly bulge of the lovely Cilento coast, part of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano national park. It will be about a 25-mile run to the southeast to Palinuro and another eight to Marina di Camerota. The hills are lovely but it is all definitely settled territory. You note the fine homes and can follow the movement of cars along the coast road and the boats moving in and out of tiny ports.

Then you pass Marina di Camerota and turn Cape Infreschi to run NE for five miles, the home stretch, and for that brief distance you enjoy the illusion that you have sailed through a portal to timelessness. Savor it. You are now along the protected marine preserve of the Infreschi and Masseta coast. There are creeks, coves, grottos and olive trees, but there is no sign of the works of man along the shore or the cliffs above except for an occasional small and abandoned "Saracen tower" put there a few centuries ago. There are a few impressive caves just at sea level; they are called the Camerota caves, and they stare back at you with their wide skeleton eyes. Or maybe they're looking past you and across the 11 miles of water to the other side of the gulf near the town of Maratea, above which you find the remarkable statue of the Christ of Maratea or The Risen Christ. [details at the 'Maratea' link directly above]

That is where the coast starts its long straight journey down Calabria to the next gulf, that of St. Eufémia, 85 miles away, almost to Sicily. Om the way to Scario, if you gaze over to starboard, yourself, you'll see the coastline recede and fade in the distance and watch the headlands plunging into the sea like ever smaller dolphins. The Camerota caves were actually inhabited tens of thousands of years ago and are of scientific interest, but the caves and few towers are as civilized as you are going to get until you round the last little bit and spot Scario, the tiny jewel of a port at the top of the gulf of Policastro. You might see the lighthouse first or the church tower at the far end of the port or the bright colors of the seaside buildings shimmering at water's edge. Baudelaire comes to mind. He wrote,

A port is a delightful place to rest a soul weary of the struggles of life. The vast sky, the shifting architecture of the clouds, the changing colors of the sea, the twinkling of the lights —all a wondrous prism to amuse the eyes without ever tiring them.

The small town has an ancient and obscure history. The first historic people to inhabit the area may have been Samnites. They, in turn, left when the Greeks started to colonize the area in the 5th century BC. The whole coast was subject to centuries of raids by competing forces after the Roman Empire and did not become relatively stable until the end of the 800s when it came under the feudal protection of count Carafa di Spina among other members of the nobility who were gaining strength along the gulf of Policastro. Scario was and remains a fishing town, now augmented by tourism, but not enough to frighten you away, except in August. One of the reasons for that is that there is no real beach worthy of loud, sunbathing teenagers. What a shame. There is no night-life to speak of, either, again except in August. Most noisy people will head a bit down the coast to Policastro and then Sapri. No real roads go to Scario, either. No train stops there. Just boats. It's a sleepy port. And that's fine. (Like many small fishing ports, it has grown to accommodate the increase in Sunday-sailors, owners of pleasure craft. There are fewer full-time fishermen, but they have taken up their money slump a bit as port hands who help the Luigis from Naples, those who buy 6-gigaton motor launches and name them something vulgar such as Wet Dream— (yes, I really saw that one) get into and out of their berths with minimum damage to port facilities and other boats. They remind you of the wonderful Neapolitan dialect expression, QUANN' 'O MARE E' CALMO, OGNI STRUNZ E' MARENARO (When the sea is calm every ass-hole is a sailor.")  The real sailors don't need a lot of help.

Scario has about 1200 inhabitants, many of whom will probably have something to do with the tourists in July and August. In the other months, they go back to whatever they were doing before —fishing, housekeeping, helping down at the port. There are now some good restaurants and hotels in or near Scario as the Cilento grows in popularity. The port-side street is a 250-meter promenade with retro fittings to include period streetlamps, water fountains, benches and one of those sadly ubiquitous war memorials to both world wars. It is spotless. The stores along the promenade are those of the average small-town in Anywhere, Italy —a coffee-bar, an outdoor eatery with wooden benches, an ice-cream shop, a pharmacy, and here, of course, a few specialty shops with boat supplies. My impression is that the proprietors all live upstairs on the premises. The promenade runs NE to SW; the recently restored church of the Immacolata is at the NE end (the white belfry in the photo), and the lighthouse (photo, below) is down in the SW, beyond the port proper. If you pop your head over the railing of the promenade and glance down at the walkway along the port, itself, you are close enough to kibbitz one of the friendly card games going on among port hands. The whole thing could be a movie set with nothing extra to build.

  photo by William C. Henderson
The area's most famous visitor, besides me, was Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who came visiting in 44 BC just for the olives (famous even then!) They say that the beauty of the scenery left even Cicero speechless. The most prominent bit of topography is the strangely named Mt. Bulgheria (that thing in the distance behind the belfry in the photo, above), so named for the presence of Bulgars in the area in the 7th century AD. (They were part of nomadic movements of that period that penetrated northern Italy and then south into the Campania region.) The mountain looms large over the town. It is 1225 meters high, about like Mt. Vesuvius, except it's not a volcano. They say. Scario is off the beaten path, but, modern Italian roads being the fine things they are, you are in easy range of well-known cultural landmarks such as the Carthusian monastery in Padula. That's about one hour from Scario, and you will then also be on the A3 autostrada to anywhere fast. But don't do that. Go back to the Portal to Timelessness.

This is a spectacular photo by Elisa Cusati. Even if you are a good photographer, you will need a lot of luck to take a shot like this. It's shot from near or at the top of Monte Bulgheria (1225 meters/3700 feet) the mountain you see above Scario in the first photo on the right above this one (A bell tower is dead center). You can actually drive almost to the top, to the tiny town of Celle Bulgheria. Take a compass. Look south over the gulf of Policastro. Due south (S) is 180° on your compass. You want a bit to the right (to the west). The first volcano is at about 190° or SbW, that is Stromboli, one of the Aeolian islands north of Sicily; the second volcano(about 170° or SSW) is Mt. Erna on Sicily. Stromboli is 160 km/100 miles from the photographer. The big one, Etna, is 270 km/170 miles away! The atmospheric clarity is amazing and very unusual. Besides your camera and telephoto lens, take a lot of patience.

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