Dalla Carta alla Cartolina – A Unique Paper Experience in Amalfi

There’s one thing I remember loving for as long as I can remember. Surely you have something like that, right? For me it’s paper. There was magic held in the pages of my favorite picture books I read as a little girl. Hours spend folding colorful pieces of paper into impossible origami shapes (with varied success). Cracking open a brand new textbook on the first day of school and taking a good long whiff of that new book smell. In later years my love of paper led to a passion for printing, the history of typography, and words in art. This fire was later fueled by jobs working at small paper stores while in college and grad school. So file it under “funny how life works out sometimes” that I would end up living in town that is famous for — yes you guessed it — paper!

A new paper store and museum located in a historic paper mill

Amalfi has a long history with paper making that dates to the Middle Ages when the town was a rich maritime republic with vast trading connections all over the Mediterranean and east to Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. Amalfi’s merchants brought back the knowledge of paper production, which flourished in the river valley above town. While most of the paper mills lie in ruins among the Valle delle Ferriere, there is still handmade paper produced in some of Amalfi’s mills.

 

 

 
 

 
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One of these paper mills, which you can spot with the curved roof just above the bridge, was a functioning paper mill until the 1990s. Thankfully this important piece of Amalfi history was saved by Andrea De Luca, who is the mastermind behind the beautiful La Scuderia del Duca paper stores in Amalfi. The paper mill and much of its historical elements have been restored and transformed in a gorgeous store that is hard to categorize. It’s a multimedia experience that brings the history of Amalfi’s paper making tradition to life and showcases products created with the handmade paper as well as a rich collection of historic postcards, prints, antiques, and ceramics. In essence, it’s my idea of heaven.

The multimedia experience projected on sheets of Amalfi paper

Just inside you’ll find a working mill that spins and a few steps leading up to a darkened room with evocative scenes created out of paper and historic items. Here you can choose from a variety of postcards and insert them into a mailbox to see videos and hear stories (in Italian and English) as travelers, artists, and writers extol the beauty of Amalfi, remark on major events, and share travel experiences. Look around and you’ll also find elements of the original paper mill and antique pieces like a stereoscope set up with a stereogram of Amalfi tucked away in an alcove.

Left: A stereotype set up to view photos | Right: Part of the historic paper mill

Dalla Carta alla Cartolina, which translates as From the Paper to the Postcard, is more than the multimedia experience, which is certainly worth a trip in itself. However, take time to explore the entire two level shop, which is decorated with antiques and a beautifully curated selection of paper items, prints, and artwork.

Entrance to Dalla Carta alla Cartolina

Continue up a few steps to the upper level in the back, which was originally a church in the 13th century dedicated to Santa Maria de Flumine. The name flumine indicates “river” and refers to the importance of the stream running down the valley that was an integral part of local life. The church was eventually transformed into the paper mill, which once sat alongside the river. While the river is today covered by a road, you can stop outside nearby and hear it rushing below on its way to the sea.

Look up on the right for a replica of an important historic icon

In the shop you will find a small replica of the important icon of Santa Maria de Flumine from 1290 that is now one of the oldest pieces in the medieval collection of the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. Until I visited recently, I had no idea about the history of this building and how it was once a church. Discovering the layers and layers of history in Amalfi is something that never ceases to amaze me.

This old postcard came home with me!

Given my love and paper and photography, it will come as no surprise that I adore old postcards. Tucked away in the shop I happened across some boxes of old postcards. I could have been there for hours and know I will be going back to flip through all the cards again and again. In the meantime, I found this gem (above) that shows Amalfi from the mountains on the west side of town, which is a bit more unusual. I later realized that we can spot the palazzo where my husband grew up and our little apartment in Amalfi where I am writing these words. It’s the perfect addition to my little collection of old postcards, because it will always remind me of the day looking through the postcards together with a good friend.

Ceramic collection on display at Dalla Carta alla Cartolina

When I stopped by recently, there was a collection of ceramics on display by the artist Antonio Franchini (1923-2006). But everywhere you look there’s something interesting. Of course there are a lot of paper temptations, which you can also find at the La Scuderia del Duca store near the waterfront (Largo Cesareo Console 8) and in Piazza Duomo in Amalfi.

Stationary and journals created with Amalfi’s handmade paper

You’ll find the perfect gifts at Dalla Carta alla Cartolina just like at La Scuderia del Duca. I love how their products capture an important piece of Amalfi’s history in such an elegant manner. If you have any paper lovers in your life (or are a paper nut like me), this is a place you won’t want to miss in Amalfi.

Amalfi paper, glass pen, and ink set – a beautiful gift from my friends

Dalla Carta alla Cartolina is easy to find by walking up Amalfi’s main street from Piazza Duomo. Just keep on going up into the valley and you’ll come across it on the left after walking about 5 minutes. (Keep on going up the valley after to visit the Museo della Carta, the town’s paper museum, too!)

You can find out more information about Dalla Carta alla Cartolina and follow along on their social media posts (they write interesting comments in Italian and English) on Facebook and Instagram. Or check out the La Scuderia del Duca shops online here.

Dalla Carta alla Cartolina
www.carta-amalfi.com
Via Cardinale Marino del Giudice, Amalfi
Tel. 089/872-976
10am-7pm Monday-Saturday

Visit an Ancient Roman Villa in Minori

With its beautiful beaches lined with colorful umbrellas, sweet laid back atmosphere, and those famous views, it’s easy to think of the Amalfi Coast as a holiday spot just for soaking up the sun. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no other place I’d rather relax on the beach. Yet what many travelers don’t realize is that there’s a wealth of historical layers to the Amalfi Coast that are fascinating to discover along with the incredible natural beauty.

Villa Romana ruins in Minori on the Amalfi Coast

For instance, did you know that the ancient Romans once enjoyed holidaying on the Amalfi Coast, too? Traces of Roman life on the coastline have been found in various places, including below the center of Amalfi, on the Li Galli Islands, Vietri sul Mare, below the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Positano, and most notably in the town of Minori. Nestled in the valley below Ravello, Minori is just a short jaunt or pleasant 10 minute ferry ride east of Amalfi.

While the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum make excellent day trips from the Amalfi Coast, the Villa Romana in Minori offers the chance to walk through a Roman seaside villa dating back to the 1st century BC. Of the Roman ruins discovered along the Amalfi Coast, the Villa Romana is the largest. The archaeological area covers over 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) and was once a large private estate.

Located right in the center of town, the Villa Romana is only steps from the Amalfi Coast Road as it winds through Minori. Like many ancient sites in the area, the ruins of the Villa Romana are situated well below the street level now. Over the centuries the city was built over the top of the Roman villa. Today a good part of the villa lies below modern day Minori, with buildings immediately surrounding the excavation area. Before entering, stop to gaze down on the large garden with a pool surrounded on two sides by a triportico, a covered passageway lined with columns and arches.

The experience of visiting Minori’s Villa Romana simply cannot be compared to the scale of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum – entire cities that offer much more complexity and variety. Yet what makes this site appealing is precisely its isolation. The villa sprawls across several levels as it was built into the natural slope of the valley right over the Regginolo river that runs down to the sea. Just imagine the tranquility of this spot all those centuries ago. Now that’s what you call a holiday spot!

An impressively long and grand staircase leads from where the upper levels would have once been located down to the triportico and the garden level. While the rooms are quiet and dark now, they would have once been used for entertainment and music. Especially the most lavishly decorated area called the nymphaeum. This room would have been the heart of the villa for dining and still features mosaics, traces of frescoes, and the remains of what was once a waterfall feature at the end of the room.

Just off the nymphaeum inthe garden is a small pool that was once in the center of the villa, meaning the garden area was about twice as large as is visible today. The remaining garden area lies below modern day Minori, but there are more excavated areas nearby that are primarily baths. However, these rooms are rarely open to the public.

The ruins of the Villa Romana were noted in the 1870s and later excavated in more depth starting in 1932. After exploring the villa and imagining how splendid it would have been in its grandeur, do stop in the small museum of archaeological items that were uncovered in Minori and the surrounding areas.

The Villa Romana has been in the press recently thanks to the excellent news that it has been awarded €4.9 million Euros for restoration work from the Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali (MiBAC), the government agency responsible for the preservation of Italy’s rich cultural heritage. This is excellent news for this historic site, which can be preserved better and greatly enriched to make it even more engaging for an international audience. I am eager to see how the Villa Romana develops, but the future is looking good.

However, don’t wait to visit! The Villa Romana is already a fascinating place to step back in history for a little while during your Amalfi Coast explorations. If it’s not already there, definitely put Minori on your Amalfi Coast list, but that’s a post for another day. But as a sneak peak, other highlights include stopping for tempting desserts at the Sal de Riso pastry shop, walking among lemon groves on the Sentiero dei Limoni, and many festivals and events throughout the year to experience.

The Villa Romana is open year round and is free to enter. More information on hours and visiting can be found here.

Villa Romana
www. villaromanaminori.com
Via Capo di Piazza 28
tel. 089/852-893
9am-one hour before sunset daily, closed May 1, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1;
Free entrance

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My One-Word Theme for 2018: CREATIVITY

For many years now, I’ve started the new year by choosing one word that encapsulates my goals and intentions for the year ahead. While there are a lot of people out there doing this, I think the idea was inspired some time ago by my friend Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso. I find with my attention focused on one idea that I carry with me throughout the year that it often has more impact than resolutions. Those can so often get left behind.
 
Last year my one-word them was CHANGE. Hoo-boy was it ever a year of change. Although, as the end of the year approached, I did have some doubts about having made positive progress with change over the course of the year. Let’s just say December arrived and taught me a thing or two about change. While all positive, it has felt an awful lot like a roller coaster. I don’t really like roller coasters. But I’ve gripped on extra tight to CHANGE and am going along for the ride to see what exciting new places it takes me. And just maybe I’ve thrown my hands up in the air and screamed in exhilaration a few times!

I can see that CHANGE is still in full swing in my life and will certainly be carrying over to 2018. At times I thought maybe I was looking at a two year theme. But I had a sneaky suspicion another word would arrive. For me these one-word themes always come rather unexpectedly. When they do you just know it’s right. Just when I thought I had settled on another word, this year’s one-word theme arrived a couple of weeks ago and made itself right at home. CREATIVITY.

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Ahh … now that just feels right. Much of the change in 2017 was shifting situations in to make space for bringing more creativity into my life. While, yes, it’s true that there’s already a great deal of creativity in my life, what has been missing is the space to pursue new creative projects. From the home remodel project we’re about to start in Amalfi to spending more time with photography and some possible projects I can’t quite share with you yet, this is going to be an exciting year full of CREATIVITY!

Do you have a one-word theme for the year? Please do share it below in the comments. I’d love to hear how you’re envisioning your 2018!

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Timeless Atrani

The cry of a gull overhead pulls me back into the moment. But it wasn’t the moment I left behind. Beyond me the quiet piazza stretches to the infinity of the sea. On a day like today the horizon is gone, playing a game of hide and seek – and winning. The church is quiet today, taking a well-earned break from its Sunday duties. Two ornate street lamps stand out in silhouette. One lantern cocks its head slightly, as if beckoning my gaze on. A light is what is needed to lead the way to what is past and what is present, but they stand as only guardians to the gate of that journey.
 
Time stands still in this piazza, despite the hourly ringing of the church bells. The bells have always rung out the hours here and they always will. Something so regular to define time actually defies it. How many people have heard those bells ring out over the village? While hanging laundry out in the sunshine, while feeding their families, while making love, while crying? Those people are all still here and will also all be here soon.

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Here there are the echoes of other sounds, too. Of children chasing a small orange ball across the piazza. A cat’s pleading meow, asking for something to eat. Of wind howling down the mountain valley on a stormy winter night. The click of my camera’s shutter as I capture this moment full of invisible sounds.
 
But most of all, it’s all the voices I want to listen to as they float through the piazza. There are stories caught in this piazza, countless stories. Not the kind you read about in the newspaper. These are moments of daily life, the moments that make a life, the moments that are forgotten, but nevertheless left behind. Stories crated day after day, lost to time except in the memories of those who stopped to listen.
 
Listen.

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There’s the hum of a fisherman early in the morning making his way down to the beach. He’ll pull his small wooden boat, blue paint chipped off around the edges, down to the edge of the sea. He’ll give it one last push as he hops aboard, perhaps with the hope about what he’ll catch filling his mind.
 
That hope floats through the maze of tiny, shadowed streets back up to the piazza. It finds an open window and settles into a kitchen – still quiet except for the sound of a moka pot bubbling its dark, intoxicating scent into the morning air. A new day has begun, and with it comes the thoughts for another day ahead. Another menu to prepare. While tying an apron around her waist, a woman wonders, “What catch will the fisherman haul in today?”
 
The clattering of steps brings new life into the piazza. Children with bags slung over their shoulders and sleep in their eyes run across it on the way to school. Always late, always running. Across the piazza they go and down the steps to the future, a future that is unseen and unknown from here.
 
Unknown and yet the same. An old man sits at his window and watches the children run, just as he once ran to school. He knows the future, he’s seen it. But now he watches the future of others, sitting there. The steps are cruel friends. They take you where you want to go, but they take their toll with every step as well.

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And steps are what this village is made of from top to bottom. The sound of heavy steps carries through the labyrinthine staircases. Finding your way is like walking through an M.C. Escher drawing come to life. Even he was here, lost in the alleyways, inspired by the alluring confusion of this place. There he is in the quiet piazza, setting down his sketchpad, mind swirling in the haze of yet to be visualized designs. He stops for a moment of respite. Maybe he sees all the stories, too?
 
My feet are tired. I look down at the honey leather loafers battered by the steps of the Amalfi Coast. Glancing over my shoulder, my eyes land on a cement bench. There’s a spot to sit and watch the stories unfold. Settling in uncomfortably, I look up expecting to find the same scene, the same voices, the same time and place.
 
But it’s all gone.
 
A seagull’s taunting call fills the piazza, seemingly laughing at my confusion. The church bells ring, slowly eleven times. I’m going to be late. I grab my bag and throw it over my shoulder, hurrying off across the piazza and down the steps to my own unseen future. But before going, I stop to turn and look up at the balcony, half expecting to find the old man watching me. And he’s there. As my feet carry me swiftly down the steps, I know they’re all there.

________________

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– A short story by Laura Thayer inspired by Atrani.

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“L’Estate di San Martino” in Amalfi

During breakfast this morning, I heard the weatherman on the TV talking about the “Estate di San Martino,” which means the Summer of San Martino. This is similar to what we call an Indian Summer in the USA. It’s when the weather is particularly nice after a cold spell, but it refers specifically to this period since the festival for San Martino takes place today. I looked out the window and it was a gloriously sunny day. A true and proper L’Estate di San Martino! We spent the morning running some errands before stopping at the Gran Caffè, which has outdoor seating overlooking the beach. You can spot the umbrellas in the upper right of the photo above. It’s one of my favorite spots in Amalfi for a Spritz or a light lunch. Today, with the sun shining down, it was perfection.

After lunch we took a leisurely stroll along the waterfront in Amalfi all the way to the end of the town’s largest pier and then back again. One of the things I love about Amalfi is that even though it’s small there’s a wonderful passeggiata if you walk from one end of the town to the other.

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The harbor still feels empty after the busy summer months, but the winter is my favorite time of the year for taking photos along the waterfront. There are still a few gozzo boats and the usual cast of colorful fishing boats that stick around all winter.

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Although the piazza was surprisingly busy, the waterfront was very quiet. It’s especially nice to walk along here after lunch, when many people are still resting. You can sit on a bench, take in this view below and for just a few minutes feel like you have it all to yourself.

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The sun was deliciously warm today, and a few people were even taking advantage of that on the Marina Grande beach. I would have loved to have spent a little bit more time in the sunshine. More rain and clouds are in the forecast for the week ahead – all the more reason to enjoy the sun today!

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I hope you enjoyed this quick update from a beautiful day in Amalfi. In this world of social media, it’s a pleasure to get back to my blogging roots. However, if you’d like to join me for more daily updates from the Amalfi Coast, you can find me on Instagram @ciaoamalfi.