Capri – Italy Travel

The Island of Capri (in the dialect of the people Crapi), the ancient Capreae, is a huge limestone rock, a continuation of the mountain range which forms the southern boundary of the Bay of Naples. Legend says that it was once inhabited by a people called Teleboae, subject to a king called Telon. Augustus took possession of Capreae as part of the imperial domains, and repeatedly visited it. His stepson Tiberius (A.D. 27) established his permanent residence on the island, and spent the latter years of his life there, abandoning himself to the voluptuous excesses which gave him the name of Caprineus.

The first point usually visited in Capri is the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), which is entered from the sea by an arch under the wall of lime-stone cliff, only available when the sea is perfectly calm. Visitors have to lie flat down in the boat, which is carried in by the wave and is almost level with the top of the arch. Then they suddenly find themselves in a magical scene. The water is liquid sapphire, and the whole rocky vaulting of the cavern shimmers to its inmost recesses with a pale blue light of marvelous beauty. A man stands ready to plunge into the water when the boats from the steamers arrive, and to swim about; his body, in the water, then sparkles like a sea-god with phosphorescent silver; his head, out of the water, is black like that of a Moor. Nothing can exaggerate the beauty of the Blue Grotto, and perhaps the effect is rather enhanced than spoiled by the shouting of the boat-men, the rush of boats to the entrance, the con-fusion on leaving and reaching the steamers.

That the Grotta Azzurra was known to the Romans is evinced by the existence of a subterranean passage, leading to it from the upper heights, and now blocked up; it was also well known in the seventeenth century, when it was described by Capraanica. There are other beautiful grottoes in the cliffs surrounding the island, the most remarkable being the natural tunnel called the Green Grotto (Grotta Verde), under the southern rocks, quite as splendid in color as the Grotta Azzurra itself—a passage through the rocks, into which the boat glides (through no hole, as in the case of the Grotta Azzurra) into water of the most exquisite emerald. The late afternoon is the best time for visiting this grotto. Occasionally a small steamer makes the round of the island, stopping at the different caverns.

On landing at the Marina, a number of donkey women offer their services, and it will be well to accept them, for the ascent of about one mile, to the village of Capri is very hot and tiring. On the left we pass the Church of St. Costanzo, a very curious building with apse, cupola, stone pulpit, and several ancient marble pillars and other fragments taken from the palaces of Tiberius.

The little town of Capri, overhung on one side by great purple rocks, occupies a terrace on the high ridge between the two rocky promontories of the island. Close above the piazza stands the many-domed ancient church, like a mosque, and so many of the houses—sometimes of dazzling whiteness, sometimes painted in gay colors—have their own little domes, that the appearance is quite that of an oriental village, which is enhanced by the palm-trees which flourish here and there. In the piazza is a tablet to Major Hamill, who is buried in the church. He fell under French bayonets, when the troops of Murat, landing at Orico, recaptured the island, which had been taken from the French two years and a half before (May, 1906) by Sir Sidney Smith.

Through a low, wide arch in the piazza is the approach to the principal hotels. There is a tiny English chapel. An ascent of half an hour by stony donkey-paths leads from Capri to the ruins called the Villa Tiberiana, on the west of the island, above a precipitous rock 700 feet high, which still bears the name of I1 Salto.

The visitor who lingers in Capri may interest himself in tracing out the remains of all the twelve villas of Tiberius. A relief exhibiting Tiberius riding a led donkey, as modern travelers do now, was found on the island, and is now in the museum at Naples. Capri has a delightful winter climate, and is most comfortable as a residence. The natives are quite unlike the Neapolitans, pleasant and civil in their manners, and full of courtesies to strangers. The women are frequently beautiful.