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From the southern side of the Sorrento Peninsula, the beautiful Amalfi Coast runs east to Salerno, with steeply terraced villages of stuccoed houses and seafood restaurants, clinging to jagged cliffs. It is best known for its thrilling coastal drive, an 80km stretch of corniche road that leads from Positano to Salerno with vistas over the shimmering Gulf of Salerno at every turn.
Amalfi’s houses are steeply stacked in terraces above the sea. The 10th century duomo dates from its glory days as maritime republic; it was rebuilt in the Sicilian Arab-Norman style in 1203. The town itself, so the legend tells was created by Hercules, who fell in love with a nymph called Amalfi. Their love was short-lived as she died young, but Hercules promised to bury her in the most beautiful spot in the world and built the city of Amalfi in her honour.
Read more on this destination in the AA Pocket Guide to Naples & the Amalfi Coast.
The history of the Amalfi Coast
Compared to other areas in the region, such as Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast has had a rather quiet and uneventful history. Records tell us that it was the Romans who first laid claim to the land building villas along the coastline and then officially founded the region after the death of Emperor Constantine in AD447. By AD839 the state was a powerful force with an impressive Navy and a wealthy trade business but it was highly sought after and in 1073 it was conquered by the Normans and in 1131 it became part of the Kingdom of Sicily.
In a turn of fortune, trade decreased and people moved on to new locations, the Amalfi Coast lost its privileged position and then in 1638 the area was hit by the plague and lost around a third of the remaining population from which it struggled to recover.
In the 19th century the Amalfi Coast finally emerged as a tourist destination with the construction of the coastal road (the Amalfi Drive) that was started in 1815 providing a link between all the main resorts. Many artists, composers and writers from across Europe were attracted by the beauty and isolation of the region and with them they bought other visitors all eager to understand the attraction.
The Amalfi Coast today
Today, the Amalfi Coast remains one of the top destinations in Italy and relies on the tourist trade for the majority of its economic wealth, though the traditional fishing trade continues to provide a productive income.
Many feel that the overwhelming number of annual visitors now diminishes the quiet beauty that was for a long time the main draw to the area but it does not seem to have discouraged the thousands of people who still choose to travel to the region every year to experience the breath-taking views.