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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

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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

Amalfi Coast Travel Duomo Campanile

Here’s Why You Want to Get Lost in Amalfi

Amalfi Coast Travel Tips Duomo Cathedral of Saint Andrew

Standing in the center of town and looking up at the Duomo, or Cathedral of St. Andrew, is an experience you simply have to have in Amalfi. Sure, it can be a bit crowded during the busy season. But, look, did you see that view? Going to Amalfi and not standing in Piazza Duomo is like going to Venice and not seeing Piazza San Marco or somehow missing the Colosseum in Rome. I personally love the people watching in the center of Amalfi, and if I have some extra time I’ll grab a spot on that grand staircase and admire the scene. The next thing you want to do, however, is get lost.

Amalfi Coast Travel Exploring Amalfi on Foot

Amalfi is wonderful place to wander and explore. Pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes and start climbing! You could head in any direction from the main Piazza into the maze of stairways and narrow passages and find something unique. I’m going to take you along on a walk I took recently that lead up above Amalfi to a gorgeous panorama overlooking the Duomo from the other side. Come along!

Amalfi Coast Travel Flower Windowbox

I started at the base of the steps of the Duomo and followed the small side staircase up to the left. Here’s my technique for wandering in Amalfi: If you want to explore, just keep heading up. If you’re worried about getting back to the main Piazza Duomo or shopping street, just head down and you’ll get there. My husband always tells visitors that they’ll end up on CNN breaking news if they actually manage to get lost in Amalfi. And please forget the map. You might miss pretty windows and little moments of daily life if you’re busy trying to follow a map.

Amalfi Coast Travel Steps and Walking in Amalfi

Just keep going up and soon you’ll start catching a glimpse overlooking Amalfi. It’s quiet when you get up higher since most tourists don’t know about this side of Amalfi or don’t take the time to get lost. Yes, there are a lot of steps, but there are also stunning views that not only make the climb worthwhile but are also great for stopping and resting.

Amalfi Coast Travel Hiking in Amalfi Duomo from Above

Now that’s a view of the Cathedral of Amalfi that not everyone sees! Did you recognize it? This was the view I was after on my walk since it had been ages since I had seen the Cathedral from above. I had this view to myself until a few locals huffed and puffed by with their daily shopping. Not a place to live up so high if you tend to be forgetful and have to run to store all the time!

Amalfi Coast Travel Spring Figs

I caught my breath from the climb by stopping to admire the little figs growing and the brilliant green of their tiny leaves. There was no hurry, just me and click of the camera shutter as I fiddled around with settings and took in the view.

Amalfi Coast Travel Fig Leaves

Although I was trying to get to an even higher spot in Amalfi, I must have taken a different turn, because soon the steps were going down again.

Amalfi Coast Travel Steps in Amalfi

Along the way I passed the most incredible garden. I peeked over a gate and saw a terrace of earth tilled in rows and little onions growing. But what made it so special was the panoramic view of Amalfi. Not a bad backdrop for a bit of gardening you could say.

Amalfi Coast Travel Hidden Garden Terrace

I love how nothing is the same in Amalfi. Every doorway, every entrance, every corner is different. It feels old and lovingly personalized at the same time. This curved hand railing with decorative cut out motifs caught my eye. I could imagine running my hand along its smooth surface on the way home.

Amalfi Coast Travel Entrance Steps

The ornate bell tower of the Duomo kept popping up in different places, which was so much fun to discover. Sometimes I’d see it perfectly framed through an arched passageway or turn a corner and find just the top of it peeking over another building. I wondered just how many views there might be of the bell tower in Amalfi.

Amalfi Coast Travel Duomo Campanile

Amalfi can still stop in my tracks so easily. Walking down a staircase with knees just a bit wobbly, I stopped and glanced up. What I saw was the sun sparkling on the sea until Capo di Conca – like it was right there in front of me within reach.

Amalfi Coast Travel Duomo Cross

Did you recognize that cross? Scroll back up and look closely at the first photo. At the very top of the facade of the Cathedral there’s a cross. This is the same cross but from behind! I ended up back in the main piazza and took a good look up at the facade of the Cathedral again. I love how a change of perspective changes the way you see.

Amalfi Coast Travel Duomo of Amalfi Saint Andrew

The next time you’re in Amalfi, I encourage you to spend some time getting lost. Even if you’re not up to many steps, you’ll find some interesting passageways and tiny piazzas to discover. The journey of wandering among the steps of Amalfi to find them is just the beginning of the fun!

Church bells & bird songs overlooking Amalfi

Last week I was out on one of my favorite walks down to Amalfi, and as I came around a corner I heard the noon church bells from the Duomo beginning to fill the valley. I bolted down a few flights of steps to get to this lovely viewpoint where you can see the campanile of the Duomo and hear the bells ringing. Birds flitted about from tree to tree singing  a happy song and seeming to compete with the sound of the bells.

 

 

 

(Um, yes, that was my cell phone in the last seconds. Not nearly so natural or beautiful, but an equally common sound here in Italy!)