The Marina Piccola (Small Marina, so named in order to distinguish it from
the other one, which is larger and called Marina Grande) is the place where
is the harbour of Sorrento and where land the ferries and hydrofoils coming
from other localities in the Gulf of Naples. The construction of the port
began in 1912, but the Marina Piccola was even before the landing point
preferred by incoming visitors, because it was closer to the centre of
Sorrento. Then it was named Marina di Capo Cervo, from the name of the
small promontory which overhang it.
The main characteristic of Sorrento is to be not a maritime city, even if
it is on the sea: the high coast falls steeply over the sea without a shore
(keeping far from the sea and encouraging the contacts inland) and it is
interrupted only in few points by narrow and deep ravines, worn by water
running from the Monti Lattari. The oldest nucleus of Sorrento was erected
on that tract of the coast isolated between two connected ravines, which
worked as surrounding moat for defence. On the outlets of ravines to the
sea, they rose the two marinas of Sorrento, detached from the town and not
The Marina Piccola is located on the mouth of Vallone dei Mulini (Mills'
Ravine) , which bordered the town of Sorrento on the east. Where it was the
main gate to the city (Porta Maggiore), the ravine was crossed by a bridge
joining Sorrento to the rest of the flat country outside city walls. The
Marina Piccola could be reached by another gate, under the Basilica of
Sant'Antonino, on top of an steep stairway nowadays interrupted by the car
When the harbour was built, the old and poor fishermen houses on the
seashore, in a typical mediterranean style with the climbing staircases and
vaulted rooftops to collect the rain water, were replaced with multistoried
houses in modern style because they wanted to show tourist and travellers a
more respectable aspect, less popular. It was the time of "risanamenti"
(slums clearance) when the new Italian Government thought to recover and
advance the impoverished areas by means of radical intervention.
Nowadays Marina Piccola is an important shunting station: more than the
third part of all international tourists travelling in the gulf of Naples
pass on this harbour. Besides the natural and artistic beauties of the city
and its surroundings, Sorrento has been able to propose itself as the
center of a larger touristic area, giving hospitality also to those want to
visit the near localities of Capri, Pompeii and Positano with daily
excursions. In order to satisfy the upcoming needs, it has been built an
other terminal for hydrofoils outside the harbour.
Near the harbour of Marina Piccola there are the bathing establishments of
Sorrento. Initially they were private beaches for clients of the hotels
(built right on the edge of the overhanging cliff, replacing the noblevillas
provided with private stairways to the beach below), but after they
opened to other vacationers too. Since the sand beach is very small and was
not able to receive many bathers, the establishments extend towards the sea
supported with piles, in such a characteristic way. Because of their
exposure to the north (and since they are over the water), here the summer
sultriness is less heavy and easier to bear.
From this side of the Marina Piccola, a ramp carved into the tufa cliff
leads to the upper terrace of villa
Comunale (Public Gardens), one of the
few points of Sorrento coast which is free to visit (the other ones are in
private properties, villas and hotels), with an amazing view over the Gulf
of Naples. These gardens were once the vineyards of the near Convent of San
Francesco (St. Francis).
The origins of Sorrento are not known clearly. According to the legend, it
was founded by Liparus the son of Ausone, which was son of Odysseus and
Circe, and the first exponent of the Italic descent of Ausoni. So Sorrento
should have been initially an Italic city, as alsotold by the ancient
historian Strabo. But the structure of the old centre of Sorrento and some
archaeological remains make us think it was a Greek city or at least it was
heavily influenced by the Greeks. This is confirmed also by the presence on
Punta Campanella (the extreme point of the peninsula) by a temple dedicated
The old centre of Sorrento shows the usual Greek and Roman plan, with
parallel streets around the main axes (decumanus and cardo maximus) of Via
San Cesareo and Via Tasso, running straightly to the cardinal points. It
partially keeps the original plan, nowadays occupied mainly by souvenir
shops and tourist services, and partially has been cleared by the
construction of the main road of Corso Italia, done at the end of the 19th
century and which crosses Sorrento from point to point.
Between Corso Italia and Via San Cesareo there are some of the most
representative buildings in the history of Sorrento. The Cathedral, seat
for the Archbishop of Sorrento, was restructured several times but it saved
an interesting Aragonese portal of the 15th century. Nearby there is the
campanile (a dislocated bell tower), with a medieval structure but
decorated in the 18th century. On the decuman there is the Sedile Dominova,
the only example of the medieval parliaments by noblemen (introduced by the
Angevins) which has remained in the whole gulf of Naples, called either
Seggi or Sedili (Seats).
Piazza Tasso on the Corso Italia is the unavoidable crossroads to reach
every place in Sorrento. But the administrative and religious centre of
Sorrento is Piazza Sant'Antonino: on the opposite sides of this square
there are the Town Hall, housed inside the Old Orphanage by the Convent of
Santa Maria delle Grazie (Our Lady of Graces), and the Basilica of
Sant'Antonino: in the crypt it is kept the reliquary of Sant'Antonino
Abate, the patron saint of the city, portrayed also by the statue in the
middle of the square.
Not far from Piazza Sant'Antonino, there are the Church and the Convent of
San Francesco, with the characteristic cloister nowadays used as scenery
for concerts of classical music during the summer season. The cloister,
with a rectangular plan, has columns and their capitals carved in tufa
rocks and which form slender double lancet arches in Gothic Moresque. Its
style is not uniform because of several restoration works done in different
times, but it is very suggestive.
In the vineyards behind the convent, on the edge of the cliffs, they made
the Villa Comunale (Public Gardens) at the end of the 19th century, with a
wonderful view over the bay in front of Sorrento. It is a small but
graceful open space, pleasantly shady by the trees and with flowerbeds
where they put some marble busts. The adjacent rooms of the convent
nowadays house the local School of Arts, who continues the prestigious
tradition of the inlaid wood works done by the craftsmen of Sorrento.
Many other churches and convents, villas and palaces are in the centre of
Sorrento, but unfortunately they are not all visitable. Among them we
remember: the home of the poet Torquato Tasso and the one by his sister
Cornelia; the palaces Veniero, Correale and Galantario; the churches of San
Paolo, Ss. Annunziata, Madonna del Carmine, Maria's Servants, of the
Addolorata. Finally we have to mention the museum Correale di Terranova,
where are shown the highest examples of arts and crafts in Sorrento: inlaid
wood work, embroidery, silks, furnishings.
The Marina Grande (Large Marina), which was the only seafaring village in
Sorrento until the 15th century, is located on the mouth of the ravine
closing on the west the old city and crossed on top by the bridge of
Parsano, from where it started the Via Minerva (Athena's Road) leading to
the sanctuary of Athena on the Punta Campanella. Marina Grande is separated
from the centre of Sorrento by the promontory which housed the Roman villa
of Agrippa Postumus, nephew of the emperor Octavian Augustus.
Even now we enter the Marina Grande (if we follow the pedestrian path)
through the ancient gate, built with large blocks of limestone. For its
construction typology (even if it was renovated many times) we estimate it
belongs to the 3rd century before Christ. From here entered the Saracen
pirates who ravaged Sorrento in 1558, because of the betrayal of a slave
who, as told by the tradition, in the middle of the night secretly opened
the gate, otherwise impregnable.
The Marina Grande of Sorrento has been touched only partially by the
touristic development which has instead changed radically the Marina
Piccola. It has better saved its peculiarity of seafaring suburb, thanks to
the character of its inhabitants, who have always formed a community much
united and tenaciously attached to their family values and to their working
and religious traditions. Here the beach is felt and experienced as a
collective space (as in the past) for the work and the free time of the
whole community, as demonstrated by the presence on the sand of the fishing
nets, the equipments and the beached boats.
On this beach, as a shipyard in the open air, they were built the famous
"gozzi sorrentini", typical boats from this area, with a single lateen
sail, long from 6 to 12 meters, manageable and reliable, practically
unsinkable. The mastery of the craftsmen was so renown that those boats
were adopted by fishermen and sailors from all over the gulf and from the
islands, who came to Sorrento to order their boats. Heirs of this tradition
are the motor boats (Gozzi) built nowadays in Sorrento and in the
In the middle of the Marina there is the church of Sant'Anna, the patroness
of the village, who is celebrated on the first Sunday after the 26th of
July, which is the day dedicated to this Saint. For this occasion the
village is adorned with illuminations, the bay is populated by boats and
they present a show of fireworks. This festivity is the Christian heir of a
pagan popular feast, with fires on the water and banquets, when the boats
came here taking the typical products from the surroundings. The feast
ended with music and dances on the beach all night long.
Nowadays the seashore of the Marina Grande, besides the houses and the
boats of fishermen, sees the presence of some restaurants and bathing
establishments, which however do not alter its aspect but become part of
the environment, without modifying its original character of seafaring
village. Even if the Marina Grande is now joined to the centre of Sorrento
also by an asphalted road, the city is farther than it seems and this
community continues to live following its own rhythm and its priorities.
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