High up in the mountains, Ravello is a terrace over the sea, overlooking the villages of Minori and Atrani. The focal point of the short stretch of coast between Maiori and Amalfi, it has been the refuge of VIPs.
According to local legend, Ravello was founded in the 5th to 6th centuries A.D. by Roman patricians fleeing barbarians who were ransacking Rome. The small town flourished in the Middle Ages, when it became part of the Repubblic of Amalfi. It was then the elected residence of some of the wealthiest merchant families of the republic, who created the numerous palaces that adorn this small town (many transformed into hotels today) and decorated the churches with works of high art.
Often overlooked, the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria a Gradillo, dating from the 12th century, is the first architecturally noteworthy site you will see upon entering Ravello.
Its intertwined arches, tall apses, and airy interior are all characteristic of the Arab –Sicilian style brought to town by the powerful merchant families who made their fortunes trading with Sicily, Northe Africa, Spain and Asia. Until the earthquake of 1706 that destroyed it, the atrium in front of the church was used as the meeting hall for the nobles of Ravello. Already celebrated by Boccaccio in his Decameron and by Turner in his paintings, Ravello is surrounded by luscious fields, vineyards and citrus groves.
Ravello is connected to SS163 by a sometimes dramatic mountain road that follows the valley of the stream Dragone, between Minori and Atrani. The town is largely pedestrian, with steps, narrow lanes and ramps of steps, and cars have to stop at the large public parking lot not far from the Duomo.
The internationally famous Festival di Ravello focuses on classic music, but it is also the occasion for other events, including jazz, dance and visual arts. It is very popular not only for the big names it attracts but for the magnificent settings. Performances are held at Piazza Duomo, Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, among other venues. The festival is organized into several series, including the Festival Musicale Wagneriano – classical music concerts held in July in the gardens of Villa Rufolo - and the unique Concerti dell’Aurora, a group of concerts held at dawn (usually starting at 4am), to welcome the day in music.
The charms of Ravello also captivated an Englishman, Lord Grimthorpe, who built the Villa Cimbrone early this century with the help of his valet, Nicola Mansi, a native of Ravello. Together they transformed an ancient villa, enriching it with antiques, paintings and relics collected from all over Italy. Today the gardens of Cibrone are a mediterranean sanctuary. Tall cypresses reach heavenward, the fragrance of massed roses fills the air; pathways lead us to statues of Roman gods. Along the "Avenue of Immensity" huge pink oleanders line the way to the Belvedere posed on the cliff's edge. From this little building you can pause to take in the unforgettable views from here across the "Infinite Terrace" to the sea and sky beyond, and recall the words of Omar Khayam which are carved above a stone seat in the rose garden at Villa Cimbrone.