Capri Island

This is an excerpt from the book “Naples, Capri, Ischia and Pompeii‘ by Enrico Massetti.

I Faraglioni – Photo © James Lawson
I Faraglioni – Photo © James Lawson

Capri contains a vast variety of plants and flowers, offering no fewer than 850 species and 130 varieties, despite its extremely small surface area, including some rarities, such as the dwarf palm, which has survived in a number of inaccessible areas. In terms of wildlife, many species of marine animals enrich the surrounding sea.

On land, there are many types of non-migratory birds, such as the large diomedei gulls, and there are also reptiles, whose number includes the very rare lizard of the Faraglioni rocks.

The etymology of the name Capri must be traced back to the Greeks, the first colonists to populate the island in recorded time. This means that “Capri” was not derived from the Latin “Capreae” (goats), but rather the Greek “Kapros” (wild boar).

A one day visit to Capri, a video from © Enrico.

The numerous fossil remains of that animal found on Capri confirm that it was once the Island of the Wild Boars, and not the island of the Goats, as the Latin derivation would seem to indicate.

Inhabited since the Paleolithic age, when it was still attached to the mainland, the island later became Greek, and then Roman. After visiting Capri in 29 BC, Caesar Augustus was so taken with the island’s beauty that he bought it from the city of Naples, giving up the nearby island of Ischia – much larger and richer – in return.

Marina Grande – Photo © James Lawson
Marina Grande – Photo © James Lawson

Legend has it that his successor, Tiberius, who lived there from 27 to 37 AD, built twelve villas, dedicating them to the twelve gods of Olympus.

From the most magnificent of these dwellings, the “Villa Jovis”, he ruled the Roman Empire. Other emperors spent time in Capri, which was visited and inhabited by Roman nobles up through the IVth century AD.

Returned to the ownership of the Dutchy of Naples, the island was raided by the Saracens in the sixth and seventh centuries, and was dominated during various periods in the years that followed by the Longobards, the Normans, the Angevins, the Aragonese and, finally, the Spanish.

The island experienced a period of renewed good fortune in the 17th and 18th centuries, in coincidence with the great political and artistic upsurgence of Naples, and thanks to the existence of an active church diocese, as well as the privileges granted the island, first by the Spanish and then by the Bourbons.

Evidence of this golden period is the stupendous architecture of the churches and convents built in the two towns.

Capri street – Photo © James Lawson
Capri street – Photo © James Lawson

Beginning in the second half of the 18th century, the island became a preferred destination of the Bourbons, who went there to hunt quail and simply to travel.

Many of the increasing number of visitors from the north who came to take in the magnificently primitive nature of the south included the island in their travel plans and gave the world its first images of Capri.

Unfortunately, their arrival also brought about the systematic plundering of the extensive Roman ruins, preserved almost intact throughout the centuries.

As a result, a tremendously rich heritage was devastated and dispersed, so that today only a few traces remain. These are found primarily in the digs that are resumed at periodic intervals.

Blue Grotto – Photo © James Lawson
Blue Grotto – Photo © James Lawson

Starting in the first half of the last century, in the wake of the discovery of the Blue Grotto, or “Blue Cave”, the flow of Italian and foreign tourists began, being drawn to the island by the climate, the hospitality of the people and the colors and magnetic atmosphere of the various sites.

Writers, painters, exiles, rich and eccentric visitors: from the end of the 1800′s until the Second World War, many chose the island as their year-round or seasonal residence, building villas and contributing to the creation of the multi-facetted, multi-lingual, cosmopolitan colony that made the name Capri famous and established the island’s myth.
Text on Capri is from: “Capri Anacapri in 12 Itinerari”
G. Cerami and A. Vitale edited by “Azienda Autonoma di Cura Soggiorno e Turismo dell’Isola di Capri”

Where to stay in Capri

Hotels, villas, B&Bs and apartments: search and make reservations here.