A Day Trip to Maiori and Minori
Day Trip to Maiori and Minori
24th May 2012
From Naples by Bus
The weather was uncertain this time too, we are having a strangely tropical weather this month in Naples, so there was a high chance of a wet welcome back to the Amalfi Coast!
However I was really looking forward to this trip, as I hadn’t been on the Coast for quite a while, so on Thursday morning I set off to Varco Immacolatella, to catch the 9.00 am bus to Maiori.
The journey was surprisingly quick in comparison to last time I had been on this ride, as getting to Maiori takes a good 40 min less than getting to Amalfi.
The only problem when intending to get off the bus before the final stop, is that when the bus stops, the driver doesn’t announce which town it is nor which town comes next, therefore I had to kind of work it out by myself, roughly remembering some Amalfi Coast geography, trying to catch directions on road signs and really looking out to spot anything that said Maiori on it! Luckily my Amalfi Coast geography was still quite fresh, and even if I was tempted to get off the bus when I read Erchie Comune di Maiori, it’s a good thing I didn’t as the hamlet is about 10 Km away from the main town!
So as much as the landscape was enchanting and the view simply breathtaking I couldn’t really get carried away or I would have ended up in Amalfi yet another time!
Finally I get to Maiori. I had seen photos, and I had driven past it, so that helped, and I happily jumped out the bus, checking the sky to see that it was all nice and sunny! Perfect! I set off on my first wonder. Which was obviously the wrong way…
I thought Via Nuova Chiunzi to be the main street “il corso” , but instead it would have been the right way if I intended to set out immediately to the Avvocata Sanctuary on Monte Falerzio. SITA buses stop on the corner between the SS163 and Via Nuova Chiunzi, where a few meters on, there is a turn on the right onto Via Cicerali, that then leads to Via San Vito and ultimately to the Mountain and the beautiful Avvocata Sanctuary.
However my plans for the day where not that adventurous, also I was by myself and I believe that such a long trail would be more enjoyable walking with someone else.
To be even more honest it was starting to get fairly hot, and to be totally and utterly honest, as soon as I got to Maiori I read this sign saying that there is a company running helicopter tours of Mount Falerzio and Avvocata Church!!!So I thought that that is how I should have gone up there, another way to admit that basically I was lazy!...also I knew that there was lot to be seen even at sea level, and that was my plan for the day.
I had a nice walk along Corso Reginna, nicely adorned with benches and green pergolas over the river which divides the Corso into two. I walked up almost to the end of the Corso, where there aren’t that many shops, and it’s just houses, two local restaurants, and a small van selling vegetables and fruit.
I spotted a small church just on the right of Corso, which seemed very pretty from the outside, but it was closed, so I just sat down there for a few minutes to enjoy the view on the Corso with the River, running to sea like a gentle soundtrack to Maiori’s daily life.
Here I also spotted two of the first set of photographs that are scattered all over town, telling of Rossellini’s and other directors’ shootings in town. And looking closer I found out that there where I was Rossellini filmed one scene from Paisà, one of his most famous masterpieces. Quite something for my first hour in Maiori, that I was happy to share with a very old lady sat right next to me, resting from the walk and a bunch of pigeons chasing one another on the church’s courtyard.
From this spot I could also get a good view on the first attraction I wanted to visit on that day La Collegiatadi Santa Maria a Mare, standing out right on the top of town, as if to protect all her calm and loyal inhabitants. The only problem was that I couldn’t really understand how to get up there, I could see a flight of steps going up, but it wasn’t very clear where they started. So I headed back halfway to the Corso to ask for some information and directions at the local Tourist Office. And what a surprise, this office was, set in some beautiful gardens, with a marvelous view on the Collegiata and its steeple.
Here I found a lot of information on former activities run by the office, as well as a few current ones, I was also given a number to book tours of Castello di San Nicola de Thoro Plano, however mostly for the same reasons why I ruled out the trek up to Mount Falerzio I was going to exclude this attraction too…I hope to go back soon and make up for all this lonely laziness!
When I left the tourist office I realized that I didn’t really get the info that I actually went in to ask, how to get to the Collegiata and what were the opening times, so I pointed this out to the man that had kindly provided all the previous info and he put his head out the door, told me that he could see that the door was open, and with his arm vaguely indicated how I should have gone up to the Collegiata. And so I did, I tried to interpret what he said, and spotted a flight of steps going straight up to the Church. Very easy to get too in the end, and not too many steps to walk, and it’s really worth a visit.
The legend behind Santa Maria a Mare is itself very intriguing, and this nice mix between popular legend and religion is something that I always enjoy when it becomes very tangible in churches’ decorations and atmospheres. La Collegiata is definitely one of these, where there is a strong Christian presence as well as an almost pagan one. This hybrid religious sprit so widespread in southern Italy is what really makes churches interesting for me, coming from Rome, no need to say more.
The elements that intrigued me most in the Collegiata were definitely the legendary statue of the Virgin with the Child, on the altar, which is the one that legend says reached the shores of Maiori by sea, because there is something about it, like if it had a strong temper, that makes me actually believe that it was determined to reach these shores and so it did, no further questions. Maybe I should point out that for most of the time there was only me in the Church, so that gave free expression to my quick untamed imagination, and so when on the left aisle I spotted this entrance to a room with a large desk right in the middle and two high chairs right next to it, with the sunlight shining inn from behind the desk, creating strange shadows in the room, I started feeling a bit like a young monk from The Name of the Rose. However my courage was nothing like that of Christian Slater as when a small very innocent man came out from that very same room, I jumped as if I had just seen a ghost!
This is to say that the Church is really evocative, with its grand wooden coffered ceiling decorated with gold engravings, a 13th century bronze bell from the original set of the steeple, and last but not least a very impressive font just by the entrance on the left aisle. The Church was also clearly a place where rich families would turn to seek some redemption and relief from sins, as both aisles host a number of very finely adorned chapels each belonging to a different family. Same thing for the impressive entrance gate, where right in the middle there is an inscription saying that the door was donated by Filippo Prota as a sign of his devotion to the Virgin from Sea.
On the left of the Church there is a beautiful reddish steeple, clearly from a different epoch to the Church, which creates a surprising yet elegant clash with the main building. The church façade is indeed fairly plain and especially it is tinted in yellow, whereas the steeple first of all is red, and with a simple architecture with a subtle baroque feeling that really makes it stick out.
From up here I finally understood why Maiori is called town of contrasts. The variety and range of different houses and architectures is simply mesmerizing, there isn’t one like the other, and then where you really wouldn’t expect it there are rows of condos flats intertwined with old and typical chalk white houses. There are big roads, and then mazes of stairs and small alleyways, really mind boggling.
On my way down I decided to go explore these beautiful contrasts, and as I was taking this decision I spoted another picture from Rossellini’s film set Il Miracolo, with my favorite actress of all times Anna Mgnani walking up the stairs I was on…moving and revealing, that’s why Rossellini loved this town so much, because in a way all these contrasts are a very good metaphor of our whole country in general, forced to move on with times but yet so tied to its traditions and habits, with bizarre and painful outcomes.
With this enlightened eye I walked around streets and alleyways getting down to sea front which I the realized I had not been too, so I crossed the road, and had a nice walk by the sea, really to pick a kiosk to have lunch. Many kiosks were still closed, or actually doing last refurbishments before the busy summer season, so I simply chose one of the few opened ones, with a nice wood deck right on the beach, and a gorgeous view on the sea and on Ravello.
My plan for the day was to spend the afternoon in Minori, I had checked bus timetables to catch a ride at 14.10 to Minori, I knew it was close but I wasn’t too sure how close. The plan meant that I had just about an hour to quickly have a sandwich, a drink, to enjoy a bit of view and then dash to the bus stop…so it wasn’t a really relaxing lunch, enjoyable yes good service yes, but constantly looking at the watch to be sure to make it on time for the bus.
And perfect organizational skills I get to the bus stop at 14.08, and at 14.28 I’m still there regretting having rushed lunch and giving up to the fact that at least this time I would have had to walk!
There is no point getting frustrated about these bus rides on the Amalfi Coast, until there will only be one company offering the service schedules will continue to be highly unreliable, luckily the place is so beautiful that any rush of anger quickly goes away slipping into the sea. And at the end of the day, walking from Maiori to Minori literally takes ten minutes and the view on both towns is worth the effort.
The difference between the two is striking, as Minori immediately gives away the fact that it is a simple little village, and with a village atmosphere to it, that makes Maiori seem a big metropolis.
The first thing I noticed as I approached Minori was its seafront, so lively and so clearly the hub of local social life. It must have been right after schools closing time, and the seafront was filled with children playing all sorts of games, football, riding bikes, volleyball, riding cots, having ice-creams, all knew each other and all basically played together at the same time…for someone who grew up in a big city that is something I almost never experienced! It was a really nice welcoming into town!
I wanted to gather some further info on the two sites that I intended to see: the Roman Archeological Villa and Santa Trofimena’s Basilica. Unfortunately though local Tourist Office was close, and it actually seemed to have stayed so for the rest of the day, which is always a bit annoying as when you are new to a place that should be some sort of welcoming spot, where to always find a friendly face with some helpful advice. That wasn’t the case, and I wasn’t the only tourist quite disappointed by this unexplained afternoon closure. So I had to understand how to make my way by myself, and I spotted a map a bit further on from the Tourist office in front of the square at the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Here I found my directions to the Maritime Villa, and easily reached it on foot, only 2 minutes away from the seafront.
Again my experience of Roman villas and ruins is somewhat privileged so, when I visit these sites I really have to find something special about them to be really taken by the history of the place. I must admit that at first sight I was fairly skeptical, but as soon as I walked into the small museum above the villa, the Minori’s Roman villa had me!
Or should I say, the people that manage the Villa won me over really, as they have set up a very small but interesting museum with ruins and elements from Roman times to the Middle Ages, trying to explain with these findings the development of the area throughout history. The result is great, and I discovered that around the Amalfi Coast there are many Roman agglomerates that have only been partially discovered, and that can say a lot about local settlements. Another very interesting aspect is that regarding underwater findings, especially around Li Galli Islands, proving that Ulysess was very wise to tie himself to the boat’s rope, or he would have sailed right into the islands as most other boats seem to have done.
From the museum then I moved to the actual villa itself, going down a small flight of steps, to visit the calidarium and tepidarium halls of the former villa, the colonnade and the central bigger pool. The villa is impressive, especially when not accustomed to Roman architecture, and there are some very striking elements such as a mosaic floor and Pompeian red tints on the columns.
However the thing that impressed me the most was how modern day architecture had developed around the villa, with balconies, terraces and gardens bordering the Roman premises, in such a casual and unnoticed way that I believe to be possible only in this bizarre country. When I find these paradoxes, this casual use of historical heritage, I can never avoid thinking about Bath or Adrian’s Wall, two interesting Roman sites in the UK, that have made the fortune of the towns around them. Here instead we have so many walls, and Roman spa, that we sometimes find them a bit of a pain in the neck, so why not build a house right onto them, if not even just get rid of the to make space for something new…
With these dark thoughts I left the villa, and walked back down to the sea front, also to check if Santa Trofimena’s Basilica was open. It wasn’t and there was no one around I could really ask, I thought, so I tried to investigate on my own, and walking along a small road on the right of the Church I found a door, with a sign on it with the scheduled opening times for the Basilica. These openings are all related to liturgical events, that means either for Mass at 8.00 am or at 19.00, or if you are lucky as I was for some wedding or baptism. There was a scheduled baptism at 17.30 it was only 16.00 so I could spend a good hour walking around Minori. Actually immediately adjacent to the Basilica there is a very interesting courtyard that immediately caught my attention, with not immediately clear majolica paintings, sort of leading the way into yet another smaller courtyard, where there is a small church that belongs to the Arciconfraternita del SS. Sacramento. The place is absolutely mysterious, with very shocking yet beautiful photo on the walls of the courtyard and some very evocative pictures on the majolica. I entered the Church with very much respect, and somehow felt a bit like an intruder so quickly made my way out, waiting for the Basilica to open.
So basically I had to kill sometime, and I had been told about a legendary bakery in Minori that allegedly makes the best Ricotta and Pear cake of Italy, so I couldn’t leave without trying it. I don’t eat very many cakes, but ricotta and pear is by far my favorite one! And De Riso bakery was very conveniently close to Santa Trofimena’s Basilica by the sea front.
So I found my nice place to do some people watching and some cake tasting and thoroughly read the whole menu. I was pretty sure about Ricotta and Pear, but surely there must have been something else worth a try, and I was right: Annurca variety apple with Cinnamon Baba. It sounded strange, I knew some people would have considered it blasphemous, but it was tempting. And I was right! So good! It was all so unbelievably tasty, and not at all sickening, despite all the sweetness!!!
I was so happy about this discovery that I was starting to lose focus on why I was there. Then it started to rain a bit, I had to get up from my sunlight chair at De Riso, to find something else to do while waiting for the Baptism I had invited myself to.
I went back to the map, and remembering that Minori had two other very impressive sites, I tried to spot them on the map, but they weren’t on it. So I asked a woman how to get to Annunziata Church or to San Nicola’s Convent, and she looked at me as if I was crazy!
It was raining, had I not seen that, no one can do anything when it rains, that’s mainstream philosophy in Southern Italy!
I immediately said that I wouldn’t have gone now, but just to know for the future. She was very nice, and explained how to get to the Annunziata there is a mini-van service from the town hall, basically in front of the Basilica running rides very close to the last staircase leading to Annunziata Church, so that was important news for the future. On the other hand she almost forbade me to go to San Nicola's Convent on my own, as it is a long trek, and it’s very isolated. She was lovely and spent good 15 minutes with me telling me of other nice places to visit around Minori, such as the small hamlet Torre, or the cemetery church Villamena, and I will surely keep these in mind for my next visit.
Anyway the conclusion was that I simply had to stick to my plan and wait for Santa Trofimena’s Basilica to open. But actually it was almost time, and taking a slightly excessive detour to see a bit more of Minori when I returned to Church it was open, and I could finally see it.
Maybe the wait had raised my expectations, and I was very enthusiast about visiting the Basilica. And no let downs, this Church is truly beautiful and most interesting of all, it has an amazing crypt. Once again I was on my own in a very holy place, as I walked down to the crypt all by myself, and I must confess that this time too I felt a lot of emotional and mystical turmoil.
I clearly remembered Santa Trofimena’s martyrdom and entering the dark and beautiful crypt where her relics are cherished was actually very moving. It has been many years since last time I clearly felt a holiness of a place. Once again it was a feeling on the brink between enthusiasm and fear, very intense, but not sustainable for too long. So after taking a big breath to take in some of that atmosphere I walked back up, and right at that moment the priest was gathering the family for the Baptism, I didn’t want to be an intruder and quietly made my way out.
My visit was over, I needed to get back home to Naples. SITA bus stop was on the other side of the road right in front of the Basilica, and there I waited for the bus to Salerno, thinking that all that wait was definitely worth it, and that something had happen within me, something very rare, that only occurs in rather special moments or places.
I was taking Minori back home with me…