The city of Scala on the Amalfi Coast is located in the mountains high above Amalfi. Long before there was a road connecting the two cities, there were the steps. About 1,300 people say, but I haven’t bothered to count them. Some things, I have decided, are better left unknown. There are old photographs I have seen of farmers carrying their lemons and grapes in baskets on their shoulders up and down these steps to market in Amalfi. And it wasn’t all that long ago when Scala kids scampered up and down those steps every day to school in Amalfi. I met a man in Scala who said he used to make it down in 22 minutes, a good ten minutes faster than my best time. I wish I had asked him how long it took him to get home going up the steps, which is a trip I have and will continue to avoid. (Why go up the steps when they go down just as well??)
The steps on the Amalfi Coast are a way of life here. When you start exploring the areas around Scala and Ravello on foot, you quickly see how the cities were originally built around the footpaths. The architecture does not revolve around the roads like we are so accustomed to in other parts of the world. That is why you really must get out and climb the steps and explore the cities here on foot. When you take the steps heading down from Scala to Amalfi, you walk right through the atrium between the campanile and the entrance to the Church of San Filippo Neri in Pontone (top photo). Every time I walk through there I have the same feeling of amazement as I ponder the connection between the church, the city, and the neighboring houses. Everything is connected! I always knew there was something interesting to see beyond the closed doors I usually walk past, and two weekends ago I was able to find out during Scala Porte Aperte. How exciting!
Founded during the 12th century by the de Bonito family in Scala, the church was originally dedicated to San Matteo Evangelista. Inside, the little church is divided into three naves in a most unusual arrangement of two low and unevenly spaced arches. The current Baroque decorations were added in the 17th-18th centuries when the church was rededicated to San Filippo Neri. I wish I could offer more information about this change, and about the followers of San Filippo Neri in Pontone during that time period, but there is little that I have been able to dig up at the moment. I chose this church to write about today since May 26th is the feast day of San Filippo Neri. I think the procession and celebrations for the Saint were held last weekend, since I heard church bells ringing in Pontone that I don’t usually hear. Now I know for next year to be better prepared!
You can get a sense of the unevenly spaced arches in the photo above, which gives the interior a strangely compact and slightly unsettling feeling.
If you go through a little door on the right side of the church, you will find a chapel with a large crucifix made in stucco dating from the 14th century.
I found the tile floor of San Filippo Neri surprisingly bright and pretty. I haven’t seen a floor quite like this on the Amalfi Coast. I just love these little surprises you find in each church here!
Down a few more steps on this picturesque pathway and you will arrive in the Piazzetta of Pontone, which has a lovely vista looking down the valley to Amalfi. Stop by this blog next Tuesday and I will show you what is just around that corner!
Tempting Tuesday: Scala Porte Aperte
Tempting Tuesday: Ravello’s Villa Rufolo
Tempting Tuesday: Ravello Festival 2009
That is an interesting division of space! I wonder, how do you feel about Baroque decorations (and restorations) of older structures? I’m always disappointed to see buildings that have been “baroqued up,” but I’m a Renaissance specialist with a strong interest in the Middle Ages, so I’m biased.
Ciao KC! I would love to walk through some of these churches and see them through your eyes and experience. Church tour church tour church tour! 🙂 The division of space was awkward, and it sort of felt like the rear half of the church could collapse at any moment. I haven’t ever seen anything like that before, and I wonder how it came about.
I have to admit that I am not generally a fan of the Baroque redecoration of churches. But that being said, there are some really lovely churches on the Amalfi Coast that have maintained and restored the Baroque period decorations to look as lovely as they must have originally. The Baroque here tends towards simple and sometimes borders on tasteful. The Duomo of Amalfi is splendid! Although every time I am inside I find myself wondering what it would have looked like originally. The act of restoration is probably what fascinates me the most, especially what was going on in the 19th century. I have a strong interest in the Middle Ages as well, but even more so in what architects in the 19th century were rediscovering about the Middle Ages, and how it influenced revival styles. (Like the facade of the Duomo of Amalfi.) Fun stuff! Well, for us at least! 🙂 Thanks for the great question. I am so happy we connected! 🙂
Anne in Oxfordshire says
Beautiful photos…the little church looks amazing, thanks for going in this time 🙂
The walk up looks steep, but I was used to walking when I was in Argegno (Lake Como) our apartment was about 200 feet, above the lake level, had to walk up and down everyday, getting fresh bread etc :-)..and the views were faboulous, if you want to look they are in November 2007…
Ciao Anne! Glad to hear you enjoyed the photos. It was so fun to be able to go into all the churches in Scala and Pontone a couple of weeks ago. I always wonder what is behind the closed doors.
Sounds like you know all about steps!! I will certainly look at the photos from your trip to Lake Como in 2007. Thanks for telling me about it! That is an area I look forward to seeing someday. We are lucky here on the coast and only live about 60 steps down from street level. I would rather have the steps down at the end of a long day out rather than up! 🙂