Our last day in the Amalfi area was spent touring the gardens of Ravello. Burt and I walked over again via the Mugger’s Way path through shrubs and litter from Scala to Ravello. The looks on the local’s faces when we would pop out of the underbrush was worth the anxiety of being rolled.
First up was the garden we would see from Villa Minuta. Towards the sea from Ravello is a shockingly large expanse of flat land that is uninhabited. From our vantage we could discern that it was not wild land but somewhat manicured. The large trees appeared too symmetric to be nature grown. It turned out we were looking at the Gardens of Villa Cimbrone. The villa was built in the 12th Century. A cimbronium in Roman times was land where timber for ships was produced. This pieces of real estate was so valuable for timber, grazing, and farming that it was never built upon. The Amalfi nobles knew it was more valuable in production than as a residence. Besides, it was safer living inside walled towns. This spot was very desirable for much of the areas history but by the end of the 19th century Italy had been replaced as a manufacturing giant (See history of the U.S.) and the land was neglected.
This land was abandoned until it was noticed by Ernest William Beckett, Lord Grimthorpe, a grieving widower following the way of the Grand Tour. Naples, with Pompeii and Vesuvius was frequently the final stop in the Grand Tour. Here is how the New York Times in 2008 described the Grand Tour:
Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western Civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.
— Gross, Matt., “Lessons From the Frugal Grand Tour.” New York Times 5 September 2008.
Friends had encouraged the Lord Grimthorpe to visit Ravello and he fell in love with the place. In 1904 the Lord bought the Villa Cimbrone with the intention of bringing the land back to life and making it the most beautiful place in the world. Nicola Mansi, native of Ravello, helped make the dream come true. What remains today is a jumbled mix of architectural styles from different eras and regions of the world. Greek and Roman gods and goddesses reign side by side in English rose gardens and Persian tea houses. Eve is relegated to a bare cliff side cave. As the official brochure describes it is a ‘reinterpretation of a “roman villa”.’ The place is lovely and fun. I can almost here then restoration team saying, “And over here we’ll put David, no not that David, the other David.” The brochure and map is the best piece of tourism literature we found in all of Italy, and Spain for that matter. Each sculpture and garden is well marked and had a blurb.
Just below the Terrace of Infinity is a coffee shop. Burt and I sat in the shade at a wrought iron table. He had a coffee and I had a thick Italian-style hot chocolate. We enjoyed the view and the quiet. I imagined a noble woman living here in times gone by. Women of high birth were essentially prisoners of their status. They couldn’t go anywhere alone. See previous post. They would spend days wandering their gardens. It was a very pretty prison but I would still want to escape.
Presently the land and villa are privately held. The villa is used as a hotel. The expansive gardens are open to the public for a reasonable fee.