With origins going back to the 6th century, by the year 1000 it had attracted a group of nobles from the Amalfi who had rebelled against the authority of the Doge of the Maritime Republic. It was a good choice for a refuge, being easily defendable, perched between two steep river valleys and rising sheer from the sea.
The city quickly prospered, thanks in particular to a wool mill known as the “Celendra” granted by King Charles Il of Anjou to Bishop Giovanni Allegri on 23 April 1292, to its fine crops and the intense trade on the Mediterranean sea routes, especially with the Arabs and Byzantines. In 1086 it was appointed seat of a bishopric, and over the following century it established itself as a centre of power, with a population of 30,000 inhabitants.
By 1137 it was described by Bernardo da Chiaravalle as “…ancient, well fortified and impregnable, and not only opulent but so beautiful that it is surely to be numbered among the most noble of cities …”. The history of Ravello went hand in hand with that of the Maritime Republic. In the Norman period it entered into economic and political decline, and this became dramatic in the course of the seventeenth century. Having lost its prosperous economy, Ravello was left with what we are fortunate enough to enjoy today: its incomparable position, and architectural and artistic marvels created during its golden age.
Built in the years 1270 – 1280 by one of the wealthiest families in Ravello.
On the second day of his Decamerone, Boccaccio relates the adventures of Landolfo Rufolo, who he met during his stay in Naples. Down the centuries it passed through many hands until 1851, when it was bought by Sir Francis Nevile Reid, a botanist and expert on Scottish art, who restored the Villa to its ancient splendour, introducing rare plants to the gardens overlooking the sea.
Here it was that Richard Wagner, on a visit to Ravello in May 1880, found the inspiration for the second act of Parsifal, as is recalled by the marble plaque placed above the stairs leading to the gardens. In his honour concerts of symphonic and chamber music have been held in this enchanting setting each summer since the 1930s.
Once through the entrance tower visitors can admire the Moorish cloister at the end of the long alley comprising two rows of columns in the Arab Norman style, the tower that dominates the entire complex, the reception room, at the heart of the gardens, the belvedere, dining room and baths. Recent work has brought to light, in the eastern part of the Villa, an interesting monumental structure dating back to the medieval period. Since 1975 the Villa has been the property of the Salerno tourism board (Ept) and since 2006 it has been managed by Fondazione Ravello.
Built at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Lord Grimthorpe, an English nobleman who had been overwhelmed by the beauty of the site, once a farm owned by the Fusco family. The Villa is famous for the “terrace of the infinite”, situated at the end of a long promenade which according to the American writer Gore Vidal can lay claim to being the most beautiful panorama in the world. In the grounds visitors can admire the crypt, the tearoom and the cloister, all built by Lord Grimthorpe to reflect the architecture of Villa Rufolo and the cloister of the monastery of San Francesco. Lower down the gardens are adorned with a temple of Bacchus and grotto of Eve, both in magnificent settings. A plaque beside the entrance recalls the whirlwind romance that took place here in 1938 between Greta Garbo and the conductor Leopold Stokowsky, far from the prying eyes of newsmen.
AUDITORIUM OSCAR NIEMEYER
Designed by the Brazilian architect ten years ago, the Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer, inaugurated in January 2010, occupies a steep slope overlooking the splendid panorama afforded by Ravello. The whole site covers 1500 square metres and includes an auditorium seating 400 spectators, a semicircular stage and a recording studio.
Access to the auditorium is across an elongated concourse, and on arrival you are confronted both by splendid views of the coastline and by the surprising building itself. Inside, the audience is seated in the hollow formed by the terrain natural’s configuration, while the stage and the foyer project daringly out into the void, like the stage at Villa Rufolo but without any supporting structure.
“When I started work on the project I immediately sensed that this was no easy structure to design. The uneven, narrow plot of land, with a very pronounced slope across it…. I certainly did not imagine an expensive operation, shifting unnecessary quantities of earth. Thus the starting point was the decision to make the seating nestle exactly into the slope of the hillside. From that moment on the project began to take shape…”.