Sorrento is a beautiful town perched on a cliff high above the sea with views of Vesuvius and the islands in the Bay of Naples . Use this website to help you plan a visit to this elegant southern Italian resort and find your way to the best beaches and some lovely villages and towns along the Sorrentine peninsula that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Villa Tritone Sorrento

When philosopher Benedetto Croce stayed in Sorrento

A plaque on the exterior wall of Villa Tritone in Sorrento records the residence there during World War II of the philosopher Benedetto Croce using the words  ‘quando l’Italia era tagliata in due'  (when Italy was cut in two).

This refers to a difficult period in Italian history during the second world war when the Germans were retreating from the Allies northwards up the peninsula and trying to do as much damage as possible on their way.

Benedetto Croce was one of the most important figures in Italian life and culture in the first half of the 20th century. He was an idealist philosopher, historian and erudite literary scholar whose approach to literature influenced future generations of writers and literary critics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.

Croce became a Senator in 1910 and was Minister for Education from 1920 to 1921 in the last pre-Fascist government of the so-called Giolitti era. He is also remembered for his major contribution to the rebirth of Italian democracy after World War II.

Croce kept a diary during the war entitled ‘Quando l’Italia era tagliato in due'.

He made daily entries in this diary between July1943 and June 1944 after he had left his home in Naples, Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca, and gone to Sorrento to escape the Allied air raids.

He was staying in the Villa Tritone, a stunning clifftop residence in Via Marina Grande overlooking the sea.

A view from the sea shows the imposing Villa Tritone
perched on the cliff to the left of Marina Grande

The Germans entered and occupied Naples during September and on 12 September the Germans rescued Mussolini from his prison on Gran Sasso in the mountains of Abruzzo with a glider-borne team.

On 13 September Croce writes that he has been receiving anonymous threats. The following day he reports that there were lots of Fascists roaming the streets of Sorrento.

He is advised to leave the Villa Tritone immediately to avoid being taken hostage by fascists who would use him for propaganda purposes.

The next day’s entry was written by him on Capri. Croce reports that a floating mine was found in the sea below the Villa Tritone and it was thought the retreating Germans might have been planning to come and take him as they had taken other prominent Italians in Salerno.

A motorboat was sent for him and his daughters from Capri, which was at the time firmly in Allied hands. The family were able to use the stairs that led from Villa Tritone down to the beach to get away. On board were a police commissioner from Capri and an English army officer who had been tasked with rescuing him. 

The boat returned to Sorrento later to collect Croce’s wife and another of his daughters who had stayed behind to pack up their possessions. On board were the same police commissioner and a Major Munthe, the son of Axel Munthe,  the Swedish doctor who had been a Capri resident for much of his life and who wrote a best-selling memoir entitled The Story of San Michele.

The Fascist and German radio stations broadcast that ‘Croce and others’ were to be severely punished, but the Allies were able to counter this by broadcasting that the philosopher was now safely on Capri.

The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
History of the Villa Tritone

A villa had been built on the site of the present day Villa Tritone in the first century AD by Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Emperor Augustus, and Ovid was said to have been a frequent visitor there.

This became the site of a convent in the 13th century and then the land was purchased in the 19th century by Count Labonia and the present villa was built.

At the beginning of the 20th century William Waldorf Astor bought the villa and designed the garden behind it, which is screened by trees and has windows cut in the high wall on the seaward side that give views of the sea and Vesuvius across the bay.

Croce’s life story

Benedetto Croce was born on 25 February in 1866 in Pescasseroli, a small town in the region of Abruzzo, into a wealthy family. He was raised in a strict Catholic environment but from the age of 16 he gave up Catholicism and developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life.

In 1883, while he was still a teenager, he was on holiday with his family on the island of Ischia when an earthquake struck Casamicciola and destroyed the house they were staying in. His mother, father and sister were all killed, but although he was buried for a long time, he managed to survive.

He inherited his family’s fortune and was able to live a life of leisure, devoting his time to philosophy and writing while living in a palazzo in Naples. His ideas began to be publicised at the University of Rome by Professor Antonio Labriola.

Benedetto Croce was one of the foremost intellectuals of 20th century Italy
Benedetto Croce was one of the foremost
intellectuals of 20th century Italy
After his appointment to the Senate, Croce was a critic of Italy’s involvement in World War I. He left Government office about a year before Benito Mussolini assumed power.

In 1923, Croce was instrumental in relocating the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III to the Palazzo Reale in Naples.

After Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated by the Fascists in 1924, Croce was one of the signatories to the manifesto of the anti-Fascist intellectuals and he provided financial support to anti-Fascist writers.

His home and library in Naples were ransacked by the Fascists in 1926 and he was put under surveillance. No mainstream newspaper or academic publication was allowed to refer to him.

When democracy was restored in Italy in 1944, Croce became a minister in the governments of Pietro Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi.

He voted for the Monarchy in the Constitutional referendum in 1946. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly that existed until 1948 but he declined to stand as provisional president of Italy.

Croce’s philosophical ideas were expressed in more than 80 books and 40 years worth of articles in his own literary magazine, La Critica. His theories were later debated by many Italian philosophers, including Umberto Eco.

Croce was President of PEN International, the worldwide writer’s association, from 1949 until his death in Naples in 1952.

His wife and daughters established the Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce in Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca in Naples in 1955. The street on which the palazzo stands is now named Via Benedetto Croce.


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Monday, February 1, 2021

Poet Torquato Tasso’s birthplace in Sorrento

Renaissance writer came back to Sorrento later in life

Torquato Tasso, who has come to be regarded as the greatest Italian poet of the Renaissance, was born in 1544 in Sorrento.

Tasso’s most famous work was his epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered) in which he gives an imaginative account of the battles between Christians and Muslims at the end of the first crusade during the siege of Jerusalem.

Part of Imperial Hotel Tramontano
was Tasso's birthplace
He was one of the most widely read poets in Europe and his work was later to prove inspirational for other writers who followed him, in particular the English poets Spencer and Byron. 

The house where Tasso was born on 11 March, 1544 is in Sorrento’s historic centre, a few streets away from the main square in Via Vittorio Veneto.

The remains of the villa, which was built on the edge of a cliff, now form part of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano.

A plaque on the back wall of the hotel quotes words written by Tasso’s father, Bernardo Tasso, who was also a poet.

Torquato Tasso lived in the villa until 1552 when his father was exiled from Sorrento along with his employer, Prince Ferrante Sanseverino, after they were both accused of being rebels.

Part of the original house where Tasso was born fell into the sea in 1662. Only a room with two arches and balconies overlooking the sea remain. In the 17th century a villa was built incorporating the remains and this eventually became the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, which was opened in 1812.

Tasso’s father, Bernardo, went on to become resident poet at the Ducal Palace in Urbino, enabling his son to study alongside Francesco Maria della Rovere, the heir to the Duke. Tasso was later sent to study law in Padua but he chose to write poetry instead.

Tasso spent years in Ferrara living at the Castle owned by the Este family, where he fell in love with a lady in waiting and wrote love sonnets to her.

He suffered as a result of the jealous behaviour of the other courtiers and this led to him developing a persecution mania and fearing he was going to be poisoned. He also believed he was going to be denounced by the Inquisition.

House of Cornelia Tasso
While still enjoying the patronage of the Duke of Ferrara, Tasso entered a Franciscan convent for the benefit of his health, but later escaped, disguised as a peasant and travelled to Sorrento.

He went to visit his only sister, Cornelia, in her house in the historic centre of Sorrento, situated between the main street and the sea.

You can still see Cornelia’s house, tucked away in a narrow street, Via San Nicola, at number 11. It became known as the Sersale house because Cornelia had married Marzio Sersale in 1558.

Cornelia continued to live in the house with her sons Antonino and Alessandro after she became a widow.

The house can be identified by a pretty little balcony on the front, which is supported by decorative stonework.

It is said that Tasso arrived at Cornelia’s house and pretended to be a messenger who had come to inform her of her brother’s death.

Tasso is believed to have been trying to test Cornelia’s loyalty to him, but her shock and distress on receiving the news was enough to reassure him that she could be trusted.

Despite enjoying happy months with his sister in Sorrento, Tasso found that he missed the court at Ferrara and wrote humbly to the Duke asking if he could come back.

But he continued to be unwell on his return to Ferrara and his erratic conduct eventually led to him being confined in the madhouse of Sant’Anna.

Although Tasso was to enjoy some freedom and was able to travel around Italy again in the last few years of his life, his health started to decline. Tasso died in Rome in 1595 when he was just about to be crowned poet laureate by Pope Clement VIII. He was 51 years of age.

Statue of poet in Piazza Tasso.
To find the house of Cornelia Tasso, leave Piazza Sant’Antonino and walk along Via Santa Maria delle Grazie, which runs parallel with Corso Italia. Continue in a straight line along Via dell’Accademia until it becomes Vico San Nicola. The house of Cornelia Tasso can be found on the right hand side.

Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso was later named after the poet and there is a statue of him there.

Piazza Tasso is the hub of Sorrento, in the middle of the main shopping street, Corso Italia, and looking out over Marina Piccola, Sorrento’s port. Surrounded by bars and restaurants, the square has stops for the local buses and a taxi rank. It is also the resting place for the horses that pull the carriages that can be hired for sightseeing.

Tasso’s statue is set in a pretty little garden opposite Bar Ercolano.


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Monday, January 11, 2021

Chiesa San Paolo Sorrento

Sorrento’s Church of St Paul dates back to the ninth century

One of the most striking features of the Church of Saint Paul, in Via Tasso in the heart of Sorrento’s historic centre, is the carefully-preserved, majolica floor.

The Church has a single aisle
The designs featuring animals, leaves and flowers that were  painted on the terracotta tiles by artists from Naples in the 18th century are still visible to visitors today.

Documents show that the Church of St Paul already existed in the ninth century and it is known to have been sacked by the Turks during their invasion of Sorrento in 1558.

The Church used to be attached to the old convent of Benedictine nuns of St Paul, but this later became an educational institution.

The current façade was added in 1725 but it still remains incomplete at the top. The lower part is in Doric style with the entrance to the church encased by two columns. The top of the façade is simply painted with a central circular window and there is a tiled cupola and small bell tower.

Inside, the church is in the shape of a Latin cross with barrel vaults and it is decorated with 18th century paintings on the walls and ceiling.

The hand-painted 18th century
 majolica floor
There have been many alterations made over the centuries and after the earthquake of 1731 the church was restored in baroque style.

It still has the wooden boxes overlooking the congregation that the nuns would have sat in when attending services.

There are small chapels on both sides of the church. The one on the right has a door leading to the convent and the one on the left has an entrance to the vestry.

Above the main altar there is an 18th century painting depicting the conversion of Saint Paul of Tarsus, the apostle to whom the church is dedicated. The painting is flanked by statues of Santa Scolastica and San Benedetto.

The Church is in Via Tasso, which goes off Corso Italia, and is on the left hand side before you reach Piazza Vittoria.

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Friday, January 1, 2021

Capodanno in Italy

Toasting the New Year the Italian way

New Year’s Day is called Capodanno in Italy, which literally means ‘head of the year’.

It is a public holiday and schools, Government offices, post offices and banks are closed.

After a late start following the New Year’s Eve festivities, many families will enjoy another traditional feast together. This year is obviously different, with the option of booking a restaurant for a big family meal off the agenda because of Covid-19 restrictions.

It is still possible to attend church services - another tradition before the festive meal - but anyone leaving their home under the current lockdown measures has to fill in a certificate before venturing out with police entitled to check their purpose is legitimate.  As well as going to places of worship, Italians can leave their homes only for essential shopping or to seek healthcare.

Italy is in what has been determined as 'red zone' restrictions, much like those imposed in March last year after the first outbreak of the virus. The measures will be eased for one day on 4 January, allowing non-essential shops to reopen, but are due to be re-imposed on 5 January ahead of another traditional celebration, the Feast of Epiphany.

Rai Uno traditionally broadcasts a New Year’s day concert live. This year it came from Teatro La Fenice, the famous opera house in Venice.


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