TOP

Palazzo Suriano – Vietri sul Mare

History of the house

A delightful 18th century guest villa with a decor of original frescoes and staggering views over the Amalfi coastline

Everyone has seen pictures of Amalfi’s spectacular coastline—now a UNESCO world heritage site—that stretches from Sorrento to Salerno, south of the mountainous and fertile peninsular that encloses the Bay of Naples. Engraved with the remnants of bygone eras and steeped in heroic legends, a number of ancient and medieval ports cling to the sides of a sheer, rocky rampart upon which defence structures—typical of those times of political instability—religious buildings, or splendid residences, testifying to prosperous eras, are superimposed. Today, it is tourism and Italian cuisine that sets the pace in the steep and narrow streets of these hillside towns dressed in tones of white, yellow and ochre. The Palazzo Suriano is a genuinely period guest house, a haven of peace, and the perfect setting from which to discover one of Italy’s cultural treasures.

Palazzo_Suriano_Vietry_sul_Mare_Italy

Old houses allow history to permeate the senses. © Palazzo Suriano

The Romans find refuge from the Germanic invasions

Amalfi_Campania

A Roman Bronze of Mercury the messenger—Amalfi. © Brenda Kean

If the first colonizers of these cliffs were the Etruscans followed by the Romans, it was not until the end of antiquity that these small isolated ports became urbanized. During the 5th century, the Goth invasions forced the Roman communities to find refuge in this virtually inaccessible landscape. It was at this time that Amalfi was established. It became one of the first fortified towns to be constructed on the coast, which up to the ninth century, enabled its inhabitants to resist Lombard attacks.

The ambitious Republic of Amalfi

Amalfi_Campania

Amalfi and its extraordinary terraced agglomeration of houses. ©Aleksandrs Tihonovs

Amalfi’s conquest in 838 by Sicard, Prince of Benevento was short-lived, and the region, weakened by Neapolitan attacks (then a Byzantine province) and Saracen pirates, fell into chaos. Amalfi took advantage of the situation by declaring itself an independent republic, a statute that, long before other maritime republics such as Genoa, Pisa, or Venice, allowed the town to develop a large network of trade routes throughout the Tyrrhenian Sea and to dominate Italian maritime commerce until the 11th century. Its mercantile fleet ensured a link with Levantine ports, which accounts for the oriental imprint in the region’s coastal architecture. It was a prosperous period—Amalfi was even elevated to the status of Duchy—which was cut short by the Normans who progressively took control of southern Italy.

Amalfi_Campania

Amalfi and its port today, between waves and cliffs © Leandero Neumann Ciuffo

Salerno and its medical school

Amalfi’s next-door neighbour, Salerno, was the capital of the Duchy of Benevento under the Lombards. Its princes ruled over a vast area, and they were determined to dominate all southern Italy. But Muslim attacks and internal rivalries weakened their hold, and Salerno and its possessions fell into Norman hands. The Kingdom of Sicily, founded by the Normans, was also subject to many conflicts. The armies of German emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, those of the Duke of Anjou, the King of France’s brother, as well as The King of Aragon’s forces, would successively sweep across the region in an attempt to subjugate the kingdom’s sovereign. Under the rule of the Sanseverino princes, Salerno tried to maintain its power, but lacking allies it soon lost ground to Naples. In the centuries that followed, Salerno remained in the control of the princes, but at the beginning of sixteenth century, the last prince of the dynasty, Ferdinando (Ferrante), objecting to the inquisition, came to blows with the viceroy of Spain, which led to his family’s downfall and the decline of the town.

Salerno_Medieval_Medical_School

Salerno has been renowned for its medical school since the 9th century

Economic renewal and creativity

During the 19th century, the Italian peninsula was shaken by international conflict and political insurrection; but despite this, the Amalfi region found new prosperity due largely, to the textile industry and the huge movement towards nationalism and Italian unification (Risorgimento). Many famous artists, seduced by the magnificent scenery, sojourned on the coast.

Amafli_Coastline_Haseltine

In the 19th century, communication between towns was easier by boat: On land, there was only a small road cut into the hillside that linked the towns. Amalfi Coastline (1867) by William Stanley Haseltine

Vietri sul Mare, on the road to Naples

The small port of Vietri sul Mare was first established by the Etruscans and then inhabited by the Romans, and during the Renaissance enjoyed an economic comeback with its production of ceramics for which the town is still famous. Much of its popularity was due to its privileged situation as it is on the road to Salerno and Naples (the railway included) and serves as the departure point for all the other Amalfitan coastal towns.

Vietri_sul_Mare_Campania Palazzo Suriano

Unique view on Vietri sul Mare and the Bay of Salerno © Elicus

The area gained renown in 1943, when King Victor-Emmanuel III, threatened by the pro-German insurrection in the north of Italy, stayed there after fleeing Rome.

Villa_Guariglia_Vietri_sul_Mare

Villa Guariglia, whose principal structure dates from the 19th century, played host to King Victor-Emmanuel III for part of the Second World war. © Agostino De Maio

The Palazzo Suriano and its treasured décor

The Palazzo Suriano was built in the 18th century and the view from its terraced grounds that stretch between the beach and the mountainside, is breathtaking. Its drawing rooms, finely decorated with their original (or repainted using traditional methods) frescoes and friezes with ornate arabesque motifs, are reminders that the first owners would have been part of the town’s elite. First mention of the Suriano family dates back to the fourth century in Sicily and many references to them can be found in the Italian public archives. At the end of the 18th century, Giuseppe Suriano was one of the first Italians to battle for independence.

Palazzo_Suriano_Vietri_sul-Mare

Set up behind the old port of Vietri sul Mare, the Palazzo Suriano is a landmark that can be seen from all along the coast. © Palazzo Suriano

Palazzo Suriano Vietri_sul_Mare

© Palazzo Suriano

Some of the five bedrooms still boast their original decor. The floors are made up of beautiful, coloured majolica tiles that are typical of the local ceramic production. Paulo Valente, the present owner, who will captivate you with his genuinely warm welcome, has taken particular care with the furnishings; period furniture mingle happily with ancient books, gramophones, statues and metal beds.
The gardens with their old wells, their flower beds, shady spots under huge old trees, and the outlook across the Tyrrhenian Sea are unforgettable. The Palazzo Suriano with its historic guest rooms is ideally placed from which to explore the region.

Palazzo Suriano Vietri_sul_Mare

The library, preserved in its original period style with its baroque, trompe-l’oeil frieze, is one of the most beautiful rooms in the house. © Palazzo Suriano

Read more

Facilities

  • 5 bedrooms (+ other ones in restoration)
  • Private bathrooms
  • TV, Wifi, AirCon, safe, mini-bar
  • Breakfast (included)
  • Drawing rooms, library
  • Terraced gardens with views over the Gulf of Salerno and the Amalfi coast
  • Languages spoken: Italian, English
  • Nearest town: Salerno (5km)
  • Private Parking (to be booked in advance)
  • Naples Airport: 54 km
  • Salerno train station: 6 km
  • Buses, taxis and shuttles
  • No access for the disabled
  • Families and children welcome
  • Pets are unwelcome
  • Non-smoking house

In the neighbourhood

Wherever you are in the Amalfi peninsular, every staircase rising up the hillside and every little alleyway, will offer up a surprise—old residences in pastel tones, carved reliefs and old coats of arms, fountains, and tantalizing glimpses of the Gulf of Salerno. In Vietri sul Mare the Villa Guariglia museum has a fine collection of locally produced ceramics or faienza, an ancient traditional craft that flourished particularly in the 19th century. The dome of the San Giovanni Battista church is entirely covered with glazed tiles.

Vietri_sul_Mare_Ceramics

The Vietri sul Mare ceramics are well known for their original colours, especially the famed Vietri yellow.

Beach fans will want to explore the ancient Cresterella watchtower, which is one of the remaining 16th-century fortifications built by the Spanish. A little further along the shoreline are the ‘two brothers’ rocks—legend has it that two shepherds were turned into rocks as they tried to protect their flock from a storm.

Vietri_sul_Mare_Campania

© Giorgio Minguzzi

Vietri sul Mare is the ‘gateway’ to the Amalfi coast, and just a few kilometres away you will discover the town of Amalfi and vestiges of an important medieval republic whose port monopolized trade to the east. The Sant’Andrea cathedral dating back to the 9th century, and its beautiful, Moorish ‘cloisters of paradise’ (chiostro del paradiso) alone, are worth the trip.

Amalfi_cathedral_Campania

The Sant’Andrea cathedral in Amalfi is an interconnected complex of religious buildings. © Peter Visser

Whether at sea level or higher up, all the Amalfitan towns are enchanting—particularly if you visit them out of season. Ravello and Positano are the most frequented tourist spots, and wine buffs should make the most of their stay by visiting a few of the terraced vineyards such as Costa d’Amalfi.

Ravello_Villa_Rufolo_Campania

The 13th century Villa Rufolo in Ravello has fired the imagination of many creative artists, and inspired Richard Wagner’s opera, ‘Parsifal’. © Mentnafunangann

Salern0_Campania

Cathedral of Salerno © Paul Barker Hemings

Salerno will also carry you through the gates of its long history. You will be plunged into the Middle Ages when you visit the ancient town centre at the foot of the Arechi castle. The stone mosaics set into its cathedral and the Baroque architecture of the San Giorgio church is quite remarkable. The Archaeology museum has a fine collection of antique artefacts: In Italy, Rome is more that just an old memory …

Just 25 minutes away by car, your itinerary must surely include a trip to Pompeii at the foot of Vesuvius, the site of the terrible volcanic eruption of AD 79, which swallowed up the town and its panic-stricken inhabitants in an avalanche of burning ash. You will find the bodies (now moulds) that were fixed in place for centuries, the floors of that era, the painted frescoes, the sculptures, and everyday objects—you will see the effects of one shattering instant of Roman life—prosperous, carefree, refined, and sometimes trivial. Discovered in 1750, it was a major archaeological find and brought home the importance of national ‘heritage’ and the cultural identity of a country.

Pompei

Nearly two thousand years old, the ancient thermal baths are hardly damaged and still glow with mystery from the past. © Aleksandr Zykov

To read, watch or listen to

 

Amalfi_Palazzo_Suriano-51To fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Palazzo Suriano, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Books to savor during your stay

  • San MicheleThe Story of San Michele’, Axel Munthe (1929)
    Axel Munthe, the Swedish former doctor to the Tsar of Russia, settled in southern Italy to treat epidemic victims. It was in Capri, at the furthest end of the Amalfitan peninsula, that he discovered the remains of Emperor Tiberius’s villa. This autobiographical novel recounts the story of the villa’s reconstruction, a long project conducted under the bemused and incredulous gaze of the local inhabitants. A best-seller in the 1930s, the story is one of the first to portray in minute detail the different faces of Mediterranean life.
  • My Amalfi CoastMy Amalfi Coast’, Amanda Tabberer (2010)
    After spending 18 years in Positano juggling between a seaside restaurant, a luxury clothes shop and an Italian husband, Amanda Tabberer paints a delightful picture of life around the Bay of Salerno. Laced with spicy anecdotes, legends, exploration and discovery, this very personal account and guide is packed with good advice.
  • PompeiiPompeii’, Robert Harris (2009)
    It is August AD 79, and the aqueduct that carries water to the wealthy city of Pompeii has stopped functioning. The chief engineer who is sent out to repair it realizes that it is more than just a malfunction and that it heralds a terrible volcanic eruption. This is a masterpiece of suspense in the heart of an unsuspecting and sometimes corrupt and dissolute community, and is an extraordinarily accurate and life-like account of life in the first century of the Roman empire.

Films to be watched before arriving

  • Tuscan SunUnder the Tuscan Sun’, Director Audrey Wells, with Diane Lane (2003)
    A charming American romantic comedy that is even more appealing for its beautiful scenery and Italian ambiance. Many of the film’s scenes were shot against the heart-stopping backdrop of the Amalfi coast. (trailer)

The perfect setting for a little music

  • CimarosaConcerto in C minor for Oboe and Orchestra’, Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801)
    Eighteenth-century Italian composer, Cimarosa, was born in Campania. He was one of the foremost musicians of Neapolitan school. He wrote many lyrical and operatic works. This joyous oboe concerto sparkling with life, but with languorous overtones of the south, will carry you back to the era when the Palazzo Suriano was built. (excerpt)
  • Rigoletto VerdiRigoletto’ (1851), opera by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
    One of the greatest Italian operas of the 18th century that combines humour, passion and melodrama as well as evoking all the social tensions of the period. The grandiose setting of the Bay of Salerno provides a perfect backdrop for the soaring lyricism of Verdi’s music. The work was performed on the occasion of the inauguration of Salerno’s Teatro Verdi, in 1871.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

Leave a review

Please fill in all fields, your email address will not be published

Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

18th century Manor House B&B/Guest House 150-220€/room

Authentic

Palazzo Suriano
Paolo Valente
Via Madonna dell’Arco 30
84019 VIETRI SUL MARE
Italy
Tel. +39 089 84 23 334
Fax +39 089 23 44 50
Villa’s own website

READ OUR ARTICLES