A village ruled by the sea, bowing to it from Mount Falerzio. At a first look Cetara could seem just another fishermen suburb as many there are along the Italian Coast. Certainly beautiful but not much more to it than fishing vessels bobbing in the port. However one should look closer, look higher towards the tower, look better into the beautiful churches and Cetara will gain a total different facet. History will disclose itself and show how much of the Mediterranean culture mixed on the shores of this small gem on the Amalfi Coast.
Fishery goes from being a mere human industry to an extremely important cultural asset.
Indeed thanks to its opening onto the sea this town, that today counts about 2000 inhabitants has been accustomed to travel and mix with people from the farthest lands. From Africa to France and most recently to Japan, people from Cetara are very accustomed to travel thanks to the high quality of their fish products that since their origins have been very sought after. The result is a beautiful, small fan shaped village happy to welcome all sorts of people and cultures to show its traditions, taste its incredible fish dishes and maybe teach the due respect to the sea “that often gives but sometimes takes more than it has given” as the local mayor likes to say.
As to show Cetara's intense history and cultural crossroad, there are various theories about the origins of the name of the Villagge.
- The highest rated one is that the name derives from the Latin CETARIA which literally means TUNA NETS with the variation CETARI which means BIG-FISH SELLERS referring to tuna
- Another fairly credited theory is that the name derives from CITRUS, LEMON indeed the sfusato amalfitano (a variety of lemon tree) surrounds Cetara and locals use the cortex to make limoncello.
- Then there is a recent theory by Costantino Montesanto a local lawyer who studies southern Italian linguistics history, hat the name of the village actually derives from CAEDITARIA which means DEFORESTED LAND referring to the fact that the village was created on a very flourishing woodland of Mount Falerio.
- Lastly there is a mythical hypothesis which is that the name derives from the Latin word CETUS which means WHALE referring to a legendary whale that beached itself in this area.
Since its origins Cetara has been a fishing village in a particularly favourable position, local fishermen would travel to Northern Africa and throughout the Mediterranean fairly easily. For this reason this small harbour has been invaded and fought over all along history. Saracens invaded it in 842 and in 879. Then it became part of the glorious yet tormented Republic of Amalfi, thus seeing the invasions of Normans and of the Turks. It became an independent “Comune” in 1883.
Traditionally Cetara's fishermen would set out at sea to Morocco and Algeria in March to fish anchovies to return home in autumn after having sold part of the fish in the ports of Genova and Livorno. During that Republic of Amalfi, Cetaresi fishermen were known to be the most productive indeed their sea would be full of all sorts of fish: sea breams, moray eels, groupers. Furthermore with tonnare they would fish mackerel and tuna. Nowadays Cetara's tune is one of the most renowned in the world, and in Japan it is used to prepare very high quality sushi.
As in all Italian culinary culture, nothing is thrown away from local products and thus from the salting of anchovies Cetaresi have created a very peculiar anchovies syrup called colatura di alici, which is extracted from a whole in the barrels where anchovies are pressed together and salted.
The syrup is a typical Christmas gift which makes a delicious sauce for pasta and vegetables.
What to see
To account for Cetara's intense history there are some beautiful historical spots that should not be missed when visiting the village. The Torre Vicereale, (now a private home) stands out in all photos of Cetara was built in the XVI century after the invasion of the Turks. The medieval steeple of the S.Pietro church with an impressive maiolica tiled dome built in the XIII during golden age of the Republic of Amalfi. St. Francesco church and the ancient Franciscan Convent dating back to the XVII century with Marco Benincasa's fresco paintings of Suor Orsola Benincasa and of the Immaculate Conception. The convent had an important role on the cultural emancipation of Cetara.
Cetara is fairly quiet beach resort, with small streaks of sand very close to the centre of town and away from the main tourist clusters.
Marina di Cetara
Is the village's beach, very small and framed by local fishermen's boats and the Vicereale tower. The water and the sand are very clean, there is a beautiful atmosphere, the sun shines until late afternoon, and most importantly Cetara's delicious restaurants are just a few steps away.
Porto di Cetara
Is an artificial beach, created by the accumulation of debris after the 1980 earthquake and the gradual layering of pebbles and sand brought by the sea. Just behind the harbour, locals reach this beach parking just outside the harbour wall and making their way through a hole in the wall.
Literally means lament, apparently it refers to the Saracens invasion, however nowadays there is no reason to cry on this beautiful beach just outside Cetara, accessible from a pathway that starts from the tower and leads to some steps, to finally reach the beach.
There are two events linked to San Pietro Apostolo the protector of all fishermen On the 19th of June the bust of the Saint is brought to the sea shore to give his blessing to the sea and to the next fishing season. On the 29th of June there is the a very evocative procession that takes the bust of the Saint from St. Pietro Church to the port where the Cetaresi salute the Saint on all sorts of boats and floating and devices and then they all await for the spectacular fireworks. On the 4th of October when the whole of Italy celebrates the Saint Patron San Francesco, Cetara that is traditionally very devout to the Saint due to the longstanding Franciscan Convent, hosts a procession that takes the Saint around the whole village. On the 8th of December for the Immaculate Conception Cetara has yet another procession of the Virgin Mary around the village. The peculiarity of Cetara's celebration of this national bank holiday is that the night before of the Immaculate, Cetaresi typically have large and festive dinners with family and friends, there are fireworks and lately many street artists and night markets, to stay up until 5 am when the procession effectively takes place.
Beginning of August A TUTTO TONNO “All about tuna” is a day long event dedicated to tuna and to all types of blue-fish, and in the evening the whole village turns into an open-air restaurants, with delicious tuna-based dishes and free tastings of all sorts of local specialities. December FESTA DELLA COLATURA DELLE ALICI – Anchovies syrup festivities Anchovies syrup is a traditional Christmas gift in Cetara, and in December there is a large event celebrating the colatura tradition, showing how this so peculiar syrup is obtained and allowing locals and tourists to do a day long journey into the history of Cetara. Obviously fish dishes and all sorts of winter specialities are available during the event! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVGaz5yT67E
Where to stay
Hotel Cetus www.hotelcetus.com
Il Glicine www.ilglicinebb.it (b&b)
Where to eat
Al Convento Local food and XVII century frescos Ristorante San Pietro Acqua Pazza
Delfino Battista Srl via Trinità – to purchase local culinary specialities like colatura di alici.