Naples, Positano, Amalfi and Sorrento

Naples (Napoli) is Italy's most controversial city: You'll either love it or hate it. Is it paradiso or the inferno? It's louder, more intense, more unnerving, but perhaps ultimately more satisfying than almost anywhere else in Italy.

To foreigners unfamiliar with the complexities of the multifarious "Italys" and their regional types, the Neapolitan is still the quintessence of the country and easy to caricature ("O Sole Mio," "Mamma Mia," bel canto). If Sophia Loren (a native who moved elsewhere) evokes the Italian woman for you, you'll find more of her look-alikes here than in any other city. Naples also gave the world Enrico Caruso.

Positano lies on the southern strip of the Amalfi drive and the architecture of the town shows its Moorish history. Positano lies on the Tyrrhenian Sea and its legendary Sirenuse Islands, supposed to be the siren islands of the Odyssey, which form the mini-archipelago of Li Galli or The Cocks.  The city was once a rival of Venice and the two were constantly trying to prove their dominance over the other in the seas. It was part of the powerful Republic of the Amalfi. After the Second World War American troops were stationed in nearby Salerno, and this in all probality resulted in Positano becoming famous as a resort, when once it was just a sleepy village that had been visited by painters and writers, Paul Klee, Tennessee Williams being two of the more famous ones.

The city of Amalfi was once a great seafaring republic. It was as powerful as the great maritime powers of Genoa and Venice. In the 9th century the people of the city created a maritime code called the Tavole Amalfitane, and this code was followed in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. The importance of Amalfi as a great power diminished after a series of raids by the Saracens. Also a great flood ravished the city in the fourteenth century. It is now rising in power and influence again as a major resort on the Amalfi drive.

Whether you come from Positano, or Salerno, the road into Amalfi will take your breath away. It overlooks the Bay of Salerno from its position on the slopes of the steep Latteri hills. Modern Amalfi depends on tourist traffic for the affluence of its populace. Most of its regular hotels and pensions are located right in the middle of the town, while the star rated accommodations and the finest hotels are built on the outskirts of the town. 

The Romans had decided that the legendary home of the Sirens, of Odyssey fame, was situated at Sorrento. Ulysses managed to escape the call of the sirens by closing his, and his crews, ears with wax. But since then this enchanting city, on the edge of high cliffs overlooking the bays of Naples and Salerno, has been sending out its own siren call for centuries luring not just sailors, but everybody from Homer to Lord and Lady Astor and to the busloads of international tourists, who come regularly every summer.

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