The way through Atrani.Don’t make a wrong turn when the creek is rising.

Two garden tours and I still had a mission. We had missed the actual Ziro Tower the day before and I had an idea that we could walk to it from Ravello and then back down to Amalfi for another bus back home to Scala. Burt humored me. Our only obligation was to get home for a group dinner at 6:00.

We plunged down the stairs off into the abyss towards the tower. Guides on the internet said the Torre dello Ziro was easily reached from Ravello. I had my eyes peeled for a route that contoured around and wouldn’t require a steep descent to the sea and another 1,200′ climb up. There was no such route. After 40 minutes of stairs and switchbacks Burt and I reached Atrani, the smallest land mass of any town in Italy and home to less than 900 people. On our way we passed a tire repair shop wedged into a cliff and were nearly run over by a bus. The tower was at least seven stories, maybe twelve, above our heads. I was done going up. I’d finally had some heart palpitations after averaging more than 8 miles a day for 10 days. It was time to stop.

Happily, Atrani was worth the visit. Coming into town from the uphill side feels like sneaking in the backdoor. We passed gardens and the walls of secluded homes grew up around us. There were no people. Soon we were following small arrows that pointed down. I noticed green arrows pointing up. Those were showing the escape route in case of flood. Atrani is wedged so deeply in a narrow slot canyon you have to know how to reach high ground. Water can some in from above and below. There have been recent rain fueled floods and a tsunami.

The town plaza is a story above sea level. Burt and I found our way to the bus stop at the seaside road and were told we had to go back up to the plaza to buy tickets. I sent Burt. He came back to tell me we had to walk to Amalfi because it was a holiday and the bus wouldn’t stop in Atrani. Amalfi is 3 km away by road or up and over a cliff that would nearly require walking to our villa. People must have gotten tired of this a long time ago because there is a tunnel of only 1 km that pedestrian and emergency vehicles can follow. The tunnel cuts right through the cliff the Torre dello Ziro sits upon. Somebody should put in an elevator.

It was another 10 mile day. The only joints that didn’t hurt from the waist down were my ankles. Knees, hips, toes: ow. If I had an opportunity to return here I would stay in Atrani. Nestled between the two famous towns of Amalfi and Ravello it remains hidden and Italian. All the sights are easily accessible in Atrani and, unlike our bird’s eye perch, it has stores and restaurants and the ocean. Instead of busing back home every afternoon a traveler could bus up in the morning and walk home.

Street art in Atrani
Street shrine in Atrani
Atrani kids with ice cream sandwiches.
Street Art in Atrani
Street Art in Atrani
Atrani from the sea. Ravello is up on that cliff.
Atrani from the sea. Ravello is up on that cliff.

Torre dello Ziro

View of Amalfi from Torre dello Ziro.
View of Amalfi from Torre dello Ziro. Look at all those boats racing around.

Time is running out in Amalfi. Team Zazzali on;y had two more days to explore the area. I think the pool side was starting to bore some people. Dad and Matt decided to join us for a hike to the Ziro Tower and down to Amalfi. Originally everyone but Parker was going to hike with us but people woke up uninterested and so, after some miscommunications, we headed out at 11:00 AM to see the haunted Torre dello Ziro.

I have not been able to find a reference to where the tower came by its name. Also lost in the haze of the past is when the tower was built. It is thought to have been built sometime around the 15th century. From our lodgings at Villa Minuta you can follow the red-dotted stairs down to Pontone, another fraction of Scala. In Pontone there are signs and arrow leading to the Torre dello Ziro. My brother Christian had visited a few days earlier during a solo evening ramble. He suggested it was a do not miss site. Dad is not a fan of walking. After the 20 minute descent to Pontone he decided to rest at the bottom of the hill to the tower saving his energy for the remainder of the walk to Amalfi. Matt and Burt and I continued onward. Matt proved himself to be stoic on this trip. My brother Matt is a tech in a hospital. All his exercise is done running from wing to wing and floor to floor repairing and resetting machines that keep us alive. Matt, you can see in the photo, has not been outside in years. Despite his grievous sun burn and blistered feet Matt walked on uncomplaining. He even seemed to be enjoying himself but it was hard to tell.

The park surrounding the tower was similar to the path Burt and I took to Ravello the day before. There were signs of civic improvements from the late 20th century but there were also signs that the improvements were never used. Our path crossed by a large concrete structure of no discernible use. I though it might have been a cistern. Now it looked like a place to shoot heroin. It vaguely felt like some Soviet inspired public works I had seen in Cuba.  An industrial form of poured concrete juxtaposed against the windy, rocky point with a stone watch tower from the 1400s. Thanks for nothing municipal committee of 1967. We continued on through the tall pines.

The merry threesome popped out of the woods and onto a viewing platform above the tower. From here we could see Atrani to our left, Amalfi to our right, and the Torre dello Ziro right below. Now normally Burt and I would have headed straight to the tower for a closer look but Dad was sitting on a park bench. Bored Dad is not a good thing. We’d already been gone twenty minutes and we told him we’d only be gone twenty minutes. Having sympathy for the old man we took in the tower from above and headed back to find him before he wandered off.

This scrap of wild land on the Amalfi Coast is very close to Pontone, Amalfi, and Atrani. Guidebooks and the internet say locals shun the area because of its very dark past. The abandoned modern infrastructure and scattered visitors, all foreign, seem to verify this.  Even the skeleton of a church up the hill in Pontona had a snack stand and a guide waiting for a passerby. Here, on a prominent hill with a great ruin there was nobody looking to make a buck. Here’s the story as we know it today:

In 1490 twelve year old, Giovanna D’Aragona, was married to the Duke of Amalfi, Alfonso Piccolomini. Well, he wasn’t duke yet, but he would be in three years. He was ten years her senior. Picolomini was awarded the dukedom in services to the King of Naples when he was seven. He assumed control at 25. It begs the question of what services a seven year old could provide. I’m going to assume it was the service of an older relative. Giovanna was the niece of the King of Naples. I’m guessing this was not a marriage for love but politics and consolidation of power. In 1498 the duchess became pregnant and her husband was killed while trying to assert control over lands in Abruzzi.  The Count and the Duke got into a heated argument. The Duke struck the Count. The Count of Celano stabbed the Duke. He wasn’t dead so the Count ordered his guard to finish the Duke. I thought Game of Thrones was fiction. It turns out it’s Italy.

So at 20 the Duchess of Amalfi has a son and finds herself acting as his regent and controlling Amalfi. Her husband was just killed doing this job.  Like all good bosses, the Duchess hired someone to help her. Giovanna employed Antonio Beccadelli as her household steward. The steward was a very powerful person. He wasn’t merely a butler. He managed all their holdings. Here the story takes an even more dramatic turn. We do not know if these two were in love before her husbands death but we do now they were in love after the son was born. Giovanna and Antonio became intimately involved and married in secret. Even though Antonio was from a distinguished family he was not high enough status to marry Giovanna. You know this is not going to end well. Imagine the stress of the next twelve years. The pair successfully hid two pregnancies and farmed the kids out to somebody else to raise. The children, Frederick and Giovanna, were brought up separated from their mother.

Meanwhile the Duchess had a very powerful brother who was a Cardinal in Rome. I have to presume the Duchess and her husband were doing an adequate job managing Amalfi. There is no mention of political motivations for what happens next. Her son by the Duke is eleven or twelve years old. The Duchess is thirty-one or thirty-two and pregnant for the third time by her secret husband. I’d say this was a happy marriage. This time the pair believes they can’t keep the pregnancy secret.  This story raises so many questions for me. How did she hide the first two? A change is clothing styles perhaps? Is it because the oldest son is now old enough to put the pieces together? Is the Cardinal visiting?

Fearing discovery the family hatched a plan to escape. The Duchess headed one way towards safety and the husband headed another. They are supposedly just out and about doing what people do. They are not obviously fleeing.  The duchess left Amalfi with a large retinue in November 1510, claiming to be going on a pilgrimage to Loreto. She had all of her children with her. Loreto was on the road to Ancona, where her husband was waiting for her. After stopping at the shrine in Loreto Giovanna headed to Acona which was beyond the authority of the King of Naples. Once safe in Acona she she explained the situation to her retinue. Most of her staff decided to return to Amalfi. I wonder what happened to them. In Ancona Giovanna gave birth to the couple’s third child.

Back in Rome her brother Cardinal Luigi d’Aragona used his influence to force the family to be expelled from Ancona. The couple then went to Sienna planning to go to Venice. En route the group was intercepted by agents sent by Giovanna’s brother.  Antonio managed to escape to Milan but our post-partum mother and her children were returned to Amalfi. As legend has it the Duchess, her maid, and her children were never seen again. It is said they were taken to the Torre dello Ziro and either starved to death or strangled. The husband was finally found and assassinated three years later. I like to think he was still trying to find his wife and children.

Five hundred years later people are still avoiding the Tower and Giovanna and Antonio have been memorialized in many literary works.

Torre dello Ziro
Torre dello Ziro. Atrani, the smallest town in area in Italy to the left. Less than 900 residents, too.
Intrepid walkers.
Intrepid walkers. The tower is below and to the right.
Father and son. Resting for the big descent.
Father and son. Resting for the big descent. Matt doesn’t get outside much.
The view from Villa Minuta at night.
The view from Villa Minuta at night.