Having sprung up probably in the 6th century, it was populated, round about the year one thousand, by a group of nobles from the Maritime Republic of Amalfi who had rebelled against the authority of the Doge. The rebels made a good choice when choosing the site in which to built their refuge: Ravello rises in an easily defendable position.
The city quickly prospered, thanks in particular to the flourishing wool-spinning mill, known in olden times as the “Celendra”, that on the 23rd of April 1292 was conceded to Bishop Giovanni Allegri by King Charles Il of Anjou, to provident agriculture and to the intense trade exchange carried out on the Mediterranean sea routes, especially with the Arabs and Byzantines. In 1137 Bernardo da Chiaravalle described the city as “…ancient, well fortified and impregnable, as well as being opulent it is so beautiful that it can easily be numbered among the first and most noble cities …”.
The history of Ravello was strictly connected with the glorious and tormented history of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi, whose lot she followed. Its economic and political decline began in the Norman period and became dramatic in the course of the seventeenth century: having lost its prosperous economy, Ravello had only… all the rest: an incomparable position from the naturalistic point of view and architectural and artistic marvels built during the centuries of splendour.
CELEBRITIES IN RAVELLO
In the Spring of 1880 Richard Wagner arrived in Ravello, accompanied by his stage designer, the painter Joukovsky. At that time, the great German musician was working on the composition of Parsifal and it is obvious just how important a role the real enchantment of the Villa Rufolo played in the creation of the magic garden of Klingsor.
Evidence of this is Wagner’s signed declaration written in the Villa’s visitor’s book on the 26th of May, 1880: “The enchanted garden of Klingsor has been found”. Moreover, even the choreographic inventions of Peer Gynt, by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who spent some time at the Hotel Toro, owe much to the woods, gardens and mysterious caves of Ravello.
The musical calling of this place has been confirmed by the presence, of Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein and Mstilav Rostropovich. Ravello has also had occasion to host artists such as the brilliant Spanish artist and ceramist Mirò, the Dutch artist Mauritius Cornelius Escher and, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Englishman Turner, engraver and watercolourist and Ruskin, writer. Beginning with Boccaccio in the 13th century, the literary theme is the one which most often recurs in drawing up an “honour roll” of Ravello’s illustrious guests.
Ravellian scenes are sketched out in a short story by Forster, the famous author of Room with a View. Ravello also had the good fortune to repeatedly play host to other English writers, including Virginia Woolf, author of To the Lighthouse.
In Ravello David Herbert Lawrence wrote numerous chapters of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and, André Gide set a part of his novel The Immoralist.
Among the literary men who have frequented Ravello, we mustn’t forget to mention Paul Valéry and Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, Rafael Alberti and Gore Vidal. Among the statesmen, Einaudi, Kennedy, Mitterand, Togliatti and De Gasperi.
RAVELLO AND BOCCACCIO
Boccaccio describes the Amalfi coast as: “…the most delightful place in Italy… a coast… covered with little towns… gardens and fountains… amongst which there is one called Ravello”
The protagonist of one of the loveliest tales of the “Decameron”, Landolfo Rufolo, is Ravellian: of noble birth, he was a pirate by choice and shipwrecked by fate and finally, through his cleverness and good luck, the happy owner of an immense treasure…