Of all the islands of the Parthenopean Gulf, Capri is the only one not of volcanic origin in this almost exclusively volcanic area.
Capri has been settled since the Late Stone Age, as archeological excavations at the beginning of this century have confirmed.
At the time the Phlegrean volcanoes were at their most active, Capri and the Sorrento Peninsula formed a solid block.
Under the pressure of the orogenic forces during the ensuing geological periods, Capri gradually broke away. Soaring up from the depths of the sea, Capri’s limestone composition is revealed in the island’s slopes and its steep but unusually lovely dolomite walls, not to mention its numerous natural grottoes that, together with the cliffs in the southeast, have made the Isle of Capri world famous.
Capri’s elevation above sea level is very unstable, as can be seen from the slow but unrelenting fluctuation in the island’s shoreline. In the course of many centuries this fluctuation caused a drop in the water level in the famous “Grotta Azzurra” (Blue Grotto) and the “Bagni di Tiberio” (Tiberian Baths). This has been proved beyond doubt by architectural finds from Roman times that were made in both this places.
The origin of the name “Capri” is a hotly disputed subject: while Strabo called the island Caprea or Island of the Coarse Stones, Varro named the island Capreae after its odd profile and its characteristic fauna, predominately wild goats. Other theories contend that this name is not correct and regard “Capros” (wild boar) as the origin of the present “Capri”. At any rate, it is certain that the island was a Greek colony, even though it is hard to pinpoint the exact date it was colonized.
In 29 BC Caesar Augustus visited the island, which he acquired from the Neapolitans in exchange for the neighboring Isle of Ischia.
The island attained its greatest glory under Caesar Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, whom took up residence on Capri about 26 BC, from where he ruled the Roman Empire for the last ten years of his reign. His stay on the island is reflected in numerous names that still appear on today’s maps. The ruins can still be seen of at least three of the 12 villas built by Tiberius, The Roman Emperor whom legend has sheathed in mystery and ruthless violence. The most famous of these villas is undoubtedly the “Villa Jovis” (Jupiter’s Villa), which commands a view of the entire Gulf of Naples from its location atop the Capo. This is said to have been the residence of Emperor Tiberius. The remain of another villa can be inspected in Damecuta, while other finds dating from Imperial Rome can still be seen near Case Palazzo a Mare, the site of the Bagni di Tiberio, the Emperor’s Bath. All traces have been lost of the other nine villas, said to have been erected in honor of the 12 main Roman gods, particularly since it is so difficult to recognize them in the abundance of Roman ruins that cover the island.
After the death of Tiberius the island fell into a inexorable decline, shared in the fate of Naples or the most important ruling families, was attacked by barbarians and pirates, and was repeatedly struck by earthquakes that played a major part in wiping out the traces of the island’s ancient heritage.
The Lombards and Normans alternately took possession of the island, only to be followed by a succession of Aragonese and Anjous, until it finally came under control of the Spanish, who dominated the entire Neapolitan area for a considerable period of time.
In the 17th century, the island’s residents succumbed to the plague. Thereafter, the Bourbons took over the island, followed by struggles between the English and the French over Capri’s strategic location.
Prior to the unification of Italy, Capri belonged to Naples. From the beginning of the previous century up until today.
Capri has been sought out by numerous writers and scholars. Of the many men of letters from various countries who came to this Tyrrhenian island in search of inspiration for their great works of literature the Swedish physician Axel Munthe deserves special mention; needless to say, many other famous names from world literature can also be found here.
The Isle of Capri today
Only a mere 5 Km of sea separate Capri from Punta Campanella on the tip of Sorrento Peninsula.
The 11 Km2 island supports a population of about 12,500, distributed between the two townships of Capri and Anacapri.
The island is approx. 6 Km long and 3 Km wide and has a coastline of about 17 Km .
The simple road network runs along the main axis between Capri and Anacapri with few side roads and can only be travelled by local residents; the island has just been declared a pedestrian zone, especially as a means of protecting the countryside. On the other hand, the narrow streets that thread their way through the island’s towns are hardly suitable for traffic. The automobiles of non-residents are only allowed on the island off season.
The highest point on the island is Monte Solaro (589 m.) and can be reached by chairlift or along a trail from Anacapri. Tje island’s other important peaks are Monte Cappello (515 m.), Monte Tiberio (335 m.), Monte S. Maria (499 m.) and Monte Tuoro (262 m.). The rock mass is of a definite limestone composition (cretaceous rock), however Eocene rocks can also be observed. The volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius and in the nearby Phlegrea region left deposition of tufa and pozzolana here.
The island’s vegetation is distinctly Mediterranean with a proliferation of 850 different species and 133 varieties of plants.
The most popular form of wildlife on Capri is the seagull, however special mention is also due the rare blue lizard and the endangered monk seal.
Capri earns its livehood from the tourist trade, which has developed on an almost industrial scale since the end of the 19th century.
Charming local towns, extraordinary hospitality as well as excellent, well laid-out tourist facilities open the island’s beautiful to its many visitors from all over the world. Capri’s popularity with international tourist is due in good part to its rediscovery by some of the world’s most famous writers. In addiction to its historic, literary and scenic wonders, Capri can be boast of excellent beaches, making it one of the world’s leading swimming and climatic resorts.
Capri is serviced daily from the mainland by a large number of ferries and hydrofoils. The Isle of Capri can be reached from Naples (Molo Beverello) by ferry in approx. 1 1/2 hrs. Hydrofoils make the trip in about 1/2 hr. (from Naples Mergellina, Via Caracciolo). Capri also has ship connections to Sorrento and, in season, to Positano, Amalfi and Ischia.
Capri, main town on the Isle of Capri, is located on the saddle between Monte Santa Maria and Monte Tiberio in a commanding location above the two “Marinas”, and offers an unparalled view that sweeps from Ischia to the Sorrento Peninsula, taking in the entire expanse of the Gulf of Naples.
With its characteristic arcades that merge into a labyrinth of narrow alleys and streets, Capri works its own special charm on every visitor.
The steps of the famous Piazzetta are an unofficial rendezvous for a colorful congregation of guests from all over the world, who take in the attractive view from here.
The Parrocchiale di Santo Stefano (Parish Church of St. Stephan) was constructed in the 17th century on the ruins of an earlier cathedral and is well worth a visit.
Works of art in the Baroque style are also found here, of which the multicolored marble floor in the Villa Jovis rates special mention.
On a rise not far from Capri is Santa Maria del Soccorso with its beautiful panorama of the Sorrento Peninsula and the ruins of Villa Jovis, commonly known as the Palazzo di Tiberio (Palce of Tiberius), a typical example of Roman villas. Legend has it that Tiberius himself ruled the Roman Empire from this villa, and the entire area abounds with sagas and legends about the Roman Emperor. The “Salto di Tiberio” occupies a special place in the legends as a steep precipice, off which the Emperor’s enemies were pushed.
A short distance from Villa Jovis are the ruins of an old lighthouse, the Torre del Faro.
The part of Capri known as Marina Grande is the island’s most important harbor, fully equipped whit modern port facilities. Moreover, Marina Grande is a famous swimming and sunning resort.
The cog railway makes the trip to Capri in four minutes. There is also a well paved road to Capri, along which are the Chiesa di San Costanzo (Church of St. Costanzo) from the 11th century and the Scala Fenicia (Phoenicians Stairs), climbing steeply to the castle Castello di Barbarossa.
For centuries, these stairs were the only connection between Capri and Anacapri.
Also recommended is an excursion from Marina Grande to Palazzo a Mare and the Bagni di Tiberio, remnants of the Roman Empire constructed by Emperor Tiberius. Also highly recommendent from Capri is a trip to Belvedere di Tragara along the road by the same name. The view to the rocky Faraglioni cliffs below and Marina Piccola, a famous swimming resort, is fantastic. From Belvedere di Tragara continue in the direction of Arco Naturale (Natural Arch) to the Grotta Matermania, a reminder of the ancient Cybele cult.
Do not fail to visit the Certosa di San Giacomo (Carthusian Monastery of St. James) in Capri, where there are valuable works of art and two cloisters from the 15th-16th centuries.
A boat trip around the island, especially in season, can be a very enjoyable experience, showing Capri from a completely different viewpoint and providing rare views of the breathtaking beauty that makes Capri so famous.
Second largest town on the island, is situated on a fertile plateau at the foot of Monte Solaro.
It is a captivating vacation resort surrounded by Mediterranean country side of exceptional beauty.
Monte Solaro, 589 m., an unforgettable lookout point, is reached from Anacapri by means of a chairlift or foot trail. Visible near the mountain station of the chairlift are the ruins of a fortress that was erected by the British in 1806 on the foundations of a medieval structure (Fortino di Bruto).
Along the trail to Monte Solaro a road turns off at la Crocetta to shrine “Santuario Santa Maria a Centrella”. This is also the vantage point for a magnificent view of Capri and the Sorrento coast.
From Caprile do not fail to make a side trip to Belvedere della Migliara and to the lighthouse Faro di Punta Carena and enjoy the fantastic view once again.
On the way back, the ruins of the castle, Castello di Materita can be seen on the right.
Along the road from Anacapri to Damecuta are the excavations of the last three villas from the days of Imperial Rome.
In Damecuta itself, rich in archeological finds, a tour can be made to the tower Torre di Damecuta, that was erected in the Middle Ages to defend Capri’s coasts against marauding pirates. From here, too, there is a splendid view of Ischia, Procida and the Gulf of Naples.
Another point of interest reached from Anacapri is the world-famous Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous beautiful limestone caves. The Blue Grotto is also accessible by boat from Marina Grande. The source of the Grotto’s enduring fame is the strong reflection of color as well as the submerged remains of Roman walls, definite proof that the grotto was once above sea level.
In a panoramic location on the left side of the road from Anacapri back to Capri is the Villa di San Michele, built by the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe on the ruins of a Roman villa near the Chapel of St. Michael.