Fountain Nativity Scenes in Amalfi

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The nativity scene has a long tradition in Italy. It was St. Francis of Assisi who has been credited with creating the very first presepe, or nativity, way back in the early 13th century. While nativities can take on a variety of shapes and sizes—from a scene created with miniature figures (like ours – it’s up high safe from our cats!) to elaborate living nativity scenes—it’s hard to deny that the most elaborate, creative and, yes let’s just say it, over the top come from the Naples area. That includes the Amalfi Coast! Here a presepe doesn’t just include Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and host of usual figures like shepherds, wise men and perhaps a donkey and an ox. In the Neapolitan tradition, you’ve got to get the whole village involved. And usually in 18th century style. So that means you’ve got not just shepherds, but whole flocks of sheep. Plus, geese, mules, rabbits, ducks, chickens – the whole shebang. Of course, if you have a village, that village has to eat. So don’t forget the butcher, the baker, (probably a candlestick maker), the fishmonger, the restaurants and because we’re in Italy – the pizzeria. The village often includes houses, churches and, well, everything you can imagine needed to run a village. In the 18th century, that is. It’s a wonderful tradition, and I love how it involves ordinary people and everyday experiences into the holy events of the Christmas scene.

In Amalfi there are several large nativity scenes that are lovingly created each year. Two of them are located in and around fountains! Here’s a look at the two fountain nativity scenes in Amalfi this year. Don’t miss the video at the end!

 

De Cape ‘e Ciucci Fountain Presepe

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Located just off Amalfi’s main street in Piazza dello Spirito Santo is a fountain called De Cape ‘e Ciucci (pictured in the first photo at the top of this post). It was built in the 18th century and takes its colorful name from the donkeys (ciucci) that used to stop and drink there after carrying a heavy load down from the village of Pogerola high above Amalfi. Since 1974 it has been home to a presepe, which now you can see throughout the year since it usually isn’t taken down. This elaborate nativity scene is both above and below the water in the fountain, which is why in the nativity scene above you can see the central part of the scene scattered with coins.

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Above the water you’ll see the regular host of characters. I particularly like the pizzaiolo (pizza maker) reaching into the oven to pull out a pizza. And that woman at the Taberna got a mighty large tip!

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The sheep in this presepe are real mountain climbers. I don’t envy the shepherds who after look over that flock! Below water, there’s one extra character you’re not likely to see in most other nativity scenes. A goldfish!

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Largo Scario Presepe Fountain

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Just off the Amalfi Coast road as it goes through Amalfi is a pretty little square called Largo Scario, which is home to a fountain topped with a column and statue of the Madonna Immacolata. Usually, you’ll find the fountain full of turtles lounging around in the sunshine. For the Christmas season, the fountain is drained and the turtles transferred to a temporary and safe home. A presepe scene completely unique to Amalfi is then constructed in the fountain. This year the angels around the manger have the names of the new grandchildren in the family that creates the nativity scene – such a sweet personal touch!

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What makes this presepe so unique is that it is a representation of Amalfi. If you look close, the names of the shops and restaurants are all those in Amalfi!

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Among the shops you’ll see Pasticceria Leone, for instance, which is a great coffee shop and bakery on Amalfi’s main street.

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Look … there’s even a limoncello shop! How could you have a presepe in Amalfi without a limoncello shop?

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There’s also the Ristorante Marina Grande, which is located just across the street from where this fountain is located. There’s even a local painter and other characters representing Amalfi locals.

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Amalfi Nativity Scenes Video from Positano Daily Photo

 

Last weekend I met up with my friend Nicki from Positano Daily Photo and we strolled around Amalfi looking at the fountain nativity scenes. She had been creating a video of the different nativity scenes that you can see in Positano and Praiano, so it was perfect! I hope you’ll enjoy seeing her video of all the different nativities on the Amalfi Coast. You’ll even spot me toward the end of the video in Amalfi!

Book Review | The Amalfi Coast Up Close & Personal by Chantal Kelly

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The Amalfi Coast seduces everyone who sets eyes on it. It is a rare destination guaranteed to give you a rush – the giddy kind you get when you can’t believe you are standing there. From the sea to the hills, from Positano to Vietri, it is a spectacular subject to photograph.   – Chantal Kelly

 

The seductive beauty of the Amalfi Coast has mesmerized travelers (including me!) for centuries, drawing them back again and again to experience that unique rush that comes from being surrounded by such a spectacular, impossibly gorgeous natural setting. I’ve had the pleasure to meet many of those return visitors over the years, including writer Chantal Kelly, who some of you might remember from Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore. Chantal has been traveling and escorting tours to the Amalfi Coast for years and has a deep love for this area.

Her latest book, The Amalfi Coast Up Close & Personal, is a photographic and narrative journey of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, with stops along the way in the most iconic locations. What makes this journey so captivating is how the story is woven into her photography to create a captivating portrait of the Amalfi Coast.

Throughout the book, Chantal narrates a journey along the Amalfi Coast, interspersed with travel experiences, stories from locals and fascinating historical details. You’ll feel like you’ve had a personal tour along the Amalfi Coast after reading the book! I enjoyed the conversational narrative style, and felt like I was sipping cappuccino in Amalfi, meandering through lemon groves in Minori and shopping for colorful ceramics in Vietri sul Mare with the author. She has a friendly way of drawing you into a story and sharing a depth of history all while adding a personal touch – the hallmarks of a good guide!

For those of you missing the flavors of the Amalfi Coast, the book ends with a recipe section so you can enjoy local dishes mentioned throughout the book at home. Start with the traditional melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmesan), then try Ndunderi (ricotta dumplings – a classic dish from Minori) and complete the meal with a slice of torta al limone (lemon cake). Delizioso!

The beauty of the Amalfi Coast shines through, not just in the photographs but also Chantal’s way of capturing how that beauty reaches deep into your soul and lingers. If you love the Amalfi Coast or know someone who does, The Amalfi Coast Up Close & Personal will bring back fond memories – and inspire you to book your next trip!

 

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DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author. (Inside you’ll find a few photos by yours truly!) The opinions expressed here are wholeheartedly my own.

NOTE: The links in the post are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will earn a small commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. Thank you in advance for your support!

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Visiting the Amalfi Coast in the Winter – 5 Things You Need to Know

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When most people think of the Amalfi Coast, the scenes that come to mind are beaches strewn with colorful umbrellas, bougainvilla draped pergolas and pastel hued buildings in the bright sunshine. If you’ve visited the Amalfi Coast from say April through October, that is very likely what you experienced. But what about the winter months? What happens on the Amalfi Coast the rest of the year? I love watching the change of seasons throughout the year, and mountains with a dusting of snow, lonely beaches and quiet winter days are just as much the Amalfi Coast to me as those summer experiences. While you can still plan a beautiful trip exploring the Amalfi Coast off season, you do need to know a few things in advance to have a fun time. Here are five things you need to know to plan a winter trip to the Amalfi Coast!

 

1. Ferries Don’t Run in the Winter

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It’s no secret that my favorite way to get around the Amalfi Coast is by ferry. You get a stunning view of the coastline and avoid the traffic. What’s not to love? However, if you’re planning a winter trip to the Amalfi Coast, the first thing you’ll want to know is that the ferries don’t run off season. The sea is often too rough, especially in Positano, and there just aren’t the crowds to justify the service. While there’s not a precise beginning and ending date for the ferry season, it usually starts running by Easter or a little earlier if it’s a late Easter. The ferries run throughout the spring, summer and fall until the end of October or beginning of November. Weather permitting, the service runs through the beginning of November for All Saints’ Day. If you’re planning a trip right at that shoulder season where you’re unsure if the ferries will be running, it’s best to arrange alternative transportation options before you arrive.

 

2. Many Places are Closed

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While winter on the Amalfi Coast is relatively moderate, the season ends at the beginning of November and doesn’t pick up again until the spring. This means many, if not most, hotels close off season. Some close entirely, some re-open for Christmas & New Year’s and some do stay open. You’ll just want to do a bit of planning in advance to enjoy your time on the Amalfi Coast off season. Many restaurants and shops close as well, but the amount that stay open depends on where you visit. Nearly everything closes in Positano all winter, while if you head over to Amalfi you’ll find the majority of the restaurants and shops open through Epiphany and then many close through February. Yet, if you visit a quiet village like Scala, you won’t find much different off season.

If you’re planning a trip to the Amalfi Coast over the winter, my recommendation would be to stay in Amalfi since it has excellent bus connections and a lovely local feel all winter long. You’ll have the beach to yourself … well you and the seagulls!

 

3. Except for Christmas & New Year’s – Fun!

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So everything I’ve said about the quiet winter days on the Amalfi Coast is what you’ll find – except for Christmas and New Year’s. They’re a wonderful time in Amalfi! Notice, I didn’t say the Amalfi Coast. I said Amalfi. And by that I mean staying in Amalfi over the holidays is a lot of fun. The streets are decorated with lights and the stores are open for holiday shopping. There are concerts all over the area and the fireworks on New Year’s Eve are spectacular. Need something else to make it even sweeter? You can pop into the Pansa pasticceria next to the Duomo and try out their fabulous artisan panettone and special local desserts made only for the holidays. The holiday atmosphere usually lasts through the Epiphany and then gets a little quieter for the rest of January and February as the Amalfitani go on a much deserved holiday time. That’s when you’ll find many hotels restaurants closed even in Amalfi.

 

4. There’s Not Much to Do Indoors

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The winter months on the Amalfi Coast can be rainy, and it’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t a lot to do indoors on the Amalfi Coast. While you will certainly want to visit the Duomo, with its beautiful Cloister of Paradise and museum, along with the Museo della Carta (Paper Museum), that pretty much covers all the indoor sights in Amalfi. (Besides eating more panettone at Pansa…) However, Naples is only about an hour drive away from the Amalfi Coast, so you could plan a rainy day exploring the National Archaeological Museum, the Capodimonte Museum or a number of other outstanding museums and cultural sights.

 

5. It’s Beautiful – Most of the Time!

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Yet, the majority of the winter is beautiful along the Amalfi Coast. And if you get a sunny winter day in Amalfi, there’s really nothing quite like it. The light is different, there’s a quiet atmosphere and it gives you the chance to see daily life on the Amalfi Coast. That daily life is there throughout the year, but it’s just easier to spot during the winter. My favorite thing to do in the winter is walk along the pier and enjoy the view of Amalfi. Maybe we’ll just bump into one another this winter!

 

Italy Blogging Roundtable

italy-blogging-roundtable
This blog post is part of a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Every month our group of Italy based writers takes on a new theme, and you can read about this month’s topic – Winter – at the links below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please share the stores if you’ve enjoyed them!

ArtTravHow to travel the Cinque Terre in Winter Too

Girl in FlorenceWhat To Expect in Florence This Winter 2016

Italy Explained4 Reasons to Visit Italy in Winter

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Watching Over Amalfi’s Legends

Torre dello Ziro Amalfi

There’s something captivating about an old watchtower, isn’t there? Even if it’s crumbling or half ruined, its very nature tells us that there are stories – something to be protected, something to be taken, conquests, danger, mystery. Sitting in the mountains above Amalfi is a watchtower that certainly has its share of mysteries and legends to protect. Called the Torre dello Ziro, this watchtower dates from 1480 when it was constructed on the ruins of a 12th century tower. When the tower was built, Amalfi was a wealthy feudal duchy that was run by Antonio Piccolomini, the first Duke of Amalfi. This takes us back to the time when the legends of the Torre dello Ziro began. Antonio ruled Amalfi until his death in 1493, when his son Alfonso Piccolomini succeeded him as the second Duke of Amalfi. Just a few years before, Alfonso married a beautiful woman named Giovanna d’Aragona, whose name will forever be hauntingly connected with the Torre dello Ziro.

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Postcard of the Torre dello Ziro and Amalfi from 1965 (Author’s private collection)

As the daughter of Enrico d’Aragona, half-brother of King Frederick of Naples, Giovanna d’Aragona brought royal family connections to her marriage and her role as the Duchess of Amalfi. However, it was a role she was destined to play for only a short time. Her husband’s early death five months before their son was born left her Regent of Amalfi. As if that wasn’t enough drama, Giovanna’s story continues as she rules the Duchy of Amalfi and looks after the education of her children, Caterina and Alfonso – the future Duke of Amalfi. Sounds fine, right? Well that would be until Giovanna fell in love with her steward, Antonio Bologna, who she later secretly married. Too much of a shock to the social rankings of the day, they kept their relationship, marriage and three children together secret. Or so they thought.

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Old postcard of the Torre dello Ziro with inscription about Giovanna d’Aragona (Author’s private collection)

When Giovanna’s marriage was discovered by her brothers, Cardinal Luigi d’Aragona and Carlo d’Aragona, Marquis of Gerace, her story comes to a tragic end. Antonio fled Amalfi to escape the vendetta of Giovanna’s brothers, eventually meeting his death in Milan. Giovanna was captured with her children, and local legend says that they were all killed in the Torre dello Ziro watchtower. And you probably thought Amalfi was all sunshine and lemons, right?

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Postcard of the Torre dello Ziro with photograph by Ernesto Samaritani (Author’s private collection)

With its royalty, power, loss, ill-fated love and tragic ending, Giovanna’s life and mysterious death have inspired many stories, starting with  Matteo Bandello’s Novelle from 1554 and later the better known Duchess of Malfi by John Webster in the 17th century. The legend of her stormy life and sad ending have lingered with the fate of the Torre dello Ziro. While searching for some vintage postcards to illustrate this blog post, I happened across the two above, likely from the 40s or 50s, that bear the inscription: “Amalfi – Torre dello Ziro ove nel 1500 fu rinchiusa ed uccisa dai suoi fratelli la Duchessa di Amalfi Giovanna d’Aragona.” (Translation: “Amalfi- Torre dello Ziro where in 1500 the Duchess of Amalfi Giovanna d’Aragona was imprisoned and killed by her brothers.” Over 400 years after her death the legend of Giovanna’s death was being sent around the world by visitors to Amalfi who perhaps had that family member or friend with a sordid sense of humor.

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If you’re curious to find out more about this fascinating tale, track down The Mystery of the Duchess of Malfi by Barbara Banks Amendola. This detailed book by writer, art historian and Amalfi Coast local delves into the life of Giovanna and the legend of her death.

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Despite its connection with Giovanna’s tragic ending, the Torre dello Ziro sits peacefully above Amalfi and offers an incredible viewpoint of both Amalfi and Atrani. While it cannot be reached from Amalfi, it’s an enjoyable hike from Pontone in Scala to the watchtower. Just imagine what that watchtower has seen in over 500 years of looking over Amalfi. How many secrets does it hold? What really happened to Giovanna d’Aragona and her children? Those are questions we won’t be able to answer and secrets that will remain in the Torre dello Ziro for centuries to come.

 

Italy Blogging Roundtable

italy-blogging-roundtable
This blog post is part of a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Every month our group of Italy based writers takes on a new theme, and you can read about this month’s topic – Myths & Legends – at the links below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please share the stores if you’ve enjoyed them!

At Home in TuscanyOf Starvation and Cannibalism in Pisa

Bleeding EspressoNatuzza Evolo: Calabrian Mystic

BrigolanteCommon Myths and Misconceptions Regarding Italian Culture Fostered by Guidebooks

Girl in FlorenceHow Not To Learn Another Language As An Adult

Italy Explained4 Italian Myths Debunked

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A Rose-tinted Morning

 

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Sometimes the curiosities of the night and weird places my dreams carry me linger on after waking. I suppose that happens to everyone now and again. This morning I woke up even earlier than usual and couldn’t settle down again to rest. We all carry things from long ago inside us, even if we choose not to think about them, seemingly forget them or try our darnedest to move on. But that’s fine, it’s the way it is. I’ve never been one to focus much on the past—in its good or bad moments—but I think the very nature of being an expat means you have left things behind. Family, friendships, experiences, possibilities. Of course, those are very often replaced by new family, new friends, new experiences and a new world of possibilities. But there is a piece, sometimes large pieces, of your life left behind when you move to another country.

I padded across the bedroom floor in the dark and heard my husband stirring. I hoped I hadn’t woken him up, but I sensed he was awake, too. Toulouse stretched in that satisfying way only cats can stretch in the morning and followed me out of the room. I went into the adjacent bedroom and opened the windows. The sky was ablaze with a rose-tinted sunrise over Ravello. In that moment, the sadness of the night’s dreams floated away. It was another day in the place I love most in the world.

Wherever you are at right now or whatever things from the past might be weighing you down, there are always new possibilities ahead. Maybe it’s a rose-tinted way of looking at the world, but it makes me smile and look forward to all the adventures ahead!