Sorrento Travel Guide by Giuseppe Longo
Sorrento lines the cliffs that look over the water to Naples and Mt Vesuvius. According to Greek legend, it was here that the Sirens, those mythical provocateurs of pure voice and dodgy intent, lurked, trying to lure Homer's Ulysses and his men.
Arrival: At least 12 SITA buses run daily between Sorrento and Amalfi, looping around Positano; more than 10 buses also run to Ravello. Buses leave from outside the Circumvesuviana train station. Trains run to/from Naples via Pompeii and Ercolano. Hydrofoils leave to/from Sorrento and to/from Naples. All depart from the port at Marina Piccola, where you can buy your tickets.
By train: Circumvesuviana trains run to/from Naples via Pompeii and Ercolano. From Naples trains can be caught to many destinations across Italy and Europe.
By bus: SITA buses serve the Amalfi Coast, Naples and Sant'Agata, leaving from outside the Circumvesuviana train station. Buy tickets at the station bar or from shops bearing the blue SITA sign. There are many buses each day between Sorrento and Amalfi, looping around Positano.
By plane: Naples Capodichino Airport offers connections to all Italian cities and major European destinations with traditional or low-cost airline companies. From the Arrival area of the Airport there is a daily bus service to Sorrento provided by Curreri. The nearest Intercontinental Airport is Rome's Fiumicino, with the possibility of getting to Naples by air besides the train.
By sea: From Naples Beverello Wharf, the pier in front of Castel Nuovo, many hydrofoil and ferries depart for Sorrento; the hydrofoils (aliscafi) are twice as fast as the ferries and the service is usually more frequent in summer. From Beverello Wharf, during May to October, there are two daily runs to Amalfi with Metrò del Mare.
By car: To Sorrento those coming from Rome or from the north must take highway A1 up to Naples, continue on A3 towards Salerno, exit at Castellamare and continue on state highway 145 up to Sorrento. Coming from the south, travel on A3 just after Salerno, exit at Castellamare and continue on state highway 145.
Transport: There is a bus service from Piazza Tasso to the port at Marina Piccola. Tickets are available at tobacconists, newsagents and bars. Several rental companies hire out scooters and cars. Taxis are also available.
History and Culture: Ancient Sorrento's foggy origins have Phoenician and Greek fingerprints scattered faintly around the crime scene right up to the first solid sandal prints which leave no doubts about a Roman stay. Throughout their time Sorrento's reputation as a popular seaside resort increasing exponentially as villa after villa sprung up, elbow to elbow with lovely sea views. The only hiccup was the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, which caused plenty of damage in town, though not in comparison to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia, which were completely destroyed.
The city, once named Surrentum after the often quoted story of the sexy sea sirens who would entice sailors to an early exit with their gyrations and enchanting songs, found itself slave to many masters long before more famous cities were even thought of. When Rome fell over the Goths moved in, followed by the Longobards, who spent a long time hanging around laying an ultimately unsuccessful siege to the well defended city. In 552 the Byzantines rolled through and made merry until a variety of local chest thumpers sent them packing and turned the area into a Dukedom, subject to Saracen raids and battles between whoever could raise an army and find someone to fight. The Normans under Ruggero stopped all that rot in 1133, binding the town's fate to that of Naples and the greater area. Turkish pirates took their turn in 1158, looting the town after a naughty slave opened the front gates and let them in. The citizens by this time were well fed up with all the skulduggery and decided to throw up some nice big walls and keep a better eye on the slaves in the hope of keeping future plunderers outside the door.
From then on into the 19th century Sorrento grew and grew as a holiday resort. It even started attracting well-to-do's like Lord Byron and Goethe. Soon other chaps followed and the honour roll of those who have enjoyed the delights of Sorrento - John Keats, Walter Scott, Wagner and Nietzsche among them - would make any dinner party interesting.
Modern History: Sorrento seemed to dodge much of the upheaval taking place across Europe in the 20th century. The Amalfi coast including Sorrento was used as an R&R centre by Allied troops stationed in the Middle East and Italy during WW2. Noted guests continued to flock to the resort - Gustav of Sweden, Fernando of Bulgaria, even Ronald Reagan. The real boom along with tourism was the growth of citrus product, especially lemons, along the Costa Amalfitana, sparking a postcard and tea-towel bonanza through town featuring all manner of lemon and lemon-related images under Sorrento's proud name.
Churches and Museums: Basilica di San Antonino This basilica was built around the 10th century in honor of Saint Anthony, patron saint of navigators, and in c.1300 it became the home of the "Confraternita dei Battenti", an heretical confraternity originating from Naples. It was splendidly restored in the C17th by the Theatine Fathers. The crypt holds the tomb of Saint Anthony, where thousands of votive offerings have been made by sailors.
Saint Francis Cloisters: The Saint Francis Cloisters have been restored on numerous occasions over the centuries and hence display a distinctive array of architectural styles that range from late gothic to renaissance, while the refectory retains its original fourteenth century structure.
Museo Correale: Within the 18th-century Palazzo Correale, which has some interesting murals, is the Museo Correale, containing a small collection of 17th- and 18th-century Neapolitan art and an assortment of Greek and Roman artefacts. Steps lead down to the shore while the gardens offer views of the bay.
Historical buildings and monuments: Cathedral - The gleaming white facade of the cathedral gives no hint of the exuberance housed within. There's a particularly striking Crucifixion above the main altar. The triple-tiered bell tower rests on an archway into which three classical columns and a number of other fragments have been set.
Sedil Dominova: A unique testimony to the ancient "sedile", which was the building in which the city fathers gathered to make laws and decide on economic and administrative matters. A magnificent majolica-tiled dome covers the arcaded loggia of the Sedil Dominova.
Events: Sorrento Summer of Music - from July to September. The "Sorrento Summer of Music" Festival takes place every year in the cloisters of the monastery of Saint Francis in Sorrento, and its honorary President is the famous cellist Uto Ughi. Against the attractive backdrop of the Saint Francis cloisters, great names from the international music scene perform alongside emerging talent throughout the summer. Plenty of classical music and chamber music, but also jazz and other genres.
Incontri Internazionali del Cinema di Sorrento - December Sorrento's International Cinema Festival first began in 1963, and every year awards are presented to the best of Italian and foreign features and shorts.
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Latest update: April 16, 2013