Part of our tour was a daytrip to the magical and romantic Isle of Capri, which is only a short forty minute ferry ride from Sorrento. Capri is one of three islands located just outside the Bay of Naples: the others are Ischia and Procida. But the most famous of them all is Capri. As we cruise there I’ll give you a brief history of the Isle of Capri.
Although it’s known that Capri was settled by Bronze Age Greeks it is now thought that the island was inhabited at a much earlier time. The first record of this comes from when the Emperor Augustus was excavating for his villa where large bones and stone weapons were unearthed. Modern archaeologists now believe that the island was indeed inhabited during the Neolithic period, from 10,200 BC till around 2,500 BC.
However the most famous settlers of the island were the Romans, and two of their emperors. As I mentioned above the first emperor to build a villa on Capri was Augustus. Augustus needed a place to get away from the heat and crowds of Rome, he chose Capri for its mild climate, remoteness and its rocky cliffs that offered him protection from would be assassins. But it would be his successor Tiberius that would out do him in the scale, grandeur and numbers of villas built on the island. Tiberius constructed twelve palaces on Capri, the largest being Villa Jovis.
During his rule Tiberius began spending more and more time at Villa Jovis than he did in Rome. Fear of assassination became such a paranoia for him that he self-exiled himself to Capri were his personal security was much better than in Rome. It was at Jovis that he spent the rest of his life until his death in 37 AD.
Villa Jovis sits atop Monte Tiberio, the islands second highest peak. The palace covers almost 1.7 acres and was built at different levels. Water was an issue for such a large complex, with all the servants and solders serving and protecting the emperor. To solve that problem four huge barrel roofed cisterns were built to collect and store water, providing more than enough even for hot baths.
Today only eight levels remain of the Villa Jovis complex, but it does give visitors a feeling of what it must have looked like when Tiberius Caesar ruled from there. Sadly, since this was just a day trip there wasn’t time to visit the site.
Our ferry docked at the port of Marina Grande on the island’s north side. As you disembark you’ll notice that the harbor is a mixture of small colorful fishing boats, day cruisers and multi-million dollar yachts. Unlike many other island ports Marina Grande isn’t the main town, it’s Capri sitting 800 feet above the harbor.
To get to the town of Capri you can: walk, take a bike, take a taxi, or the funicular. We decided on the funicular. Capri’s funicular is a cable car that holds 70 passengers and pulls itself up a steep incline to the town. As you’re riding up you get a great view of the harbor and its surrounding cliffs with white washed houses clinging to their sides.
The funicular station lets you off on the Piazzetta, the center of town. If you are a people watcher Capri is the place to be, for this is the place where the who’s who of Europe come to stay and shop, and if you’re a shopper Capri has the largest selection of exclusive brand name shops in one location.
Our next stop was a little higher up the mountain, the town of Anacapri. We choose one of the island’s buses to get us there. The buses on Capri are not like the buses we think of, they’re more like minivans. I have been on many thrill rides but nothing compared to this bus ride. The road up to Anacapri is very, very narrow and full of traffic going up and down. Add to that they all drive at Italian speed. Our seat was near the front and all we could see were cars, motor scooters and buses coming right at us. It was surprising that we weren’t involved in a head-on collision. Finally arriving at Anacapri we quickly got off, and I found a shop where I could sample another Limoncello.
Anacapri is a little less fancy and more laidback that Capri, and the shops are not as high end as in Capri. Things to see in Anacapri: the small church of Chiesa di San Michele with its eighteenth-century majolica floor, which is a form of painted ceramic. Also there’s the Villa San Michele built by the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe. If you like antiques this is the place to visit.
Just a little past the Villa San Michele is what is known as the La Scala Fenicia or Phoenician Steps. This steep rock stairway was the only way to get from Marina Grande, Capri and Anacapri for centuries. Although called the Phoenician Steps they were most likely constructed by the ancient Greek colonist.
Another popular thing to do while in Anacapri is go to the top of Mount Solaro, the island’s highest peak. From up there they say the view is spectacular. However there’s only two ways to get to the top: walk or take the chair left. And when I say a chair lift, I mean a chair. It’s a single seat chair that hangs on a cable with your legs dangling in the air.
I wish that we had time to see the other sites that Capri had to offer, especially the world famous Grotta Azzurra or Blue Grotto. But it gives us something to go back for.