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.


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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