By David H. Allen
Over the course of the preceding quarter of a century, I’ve traveled to Capri more than a dozen times, including for my own honeymoon. In addition, I have taken more than a hundred engineering students to Capri on study abroad programs. And while Capri is considered by most visitors to be an exclusive island for wealthy tourists, I have discovered numerous interesting sites for technically minded visitors. In this blog I will provide a short introduction to the most interesting sites I have discovered in one of my favorite places on Earth.
Historic Sites for Engineers
Capri is a small rocky island in the Bay of Naples off the west coast of Italy. Its roots go back to ancient times, when it was a playground for Roman Emperors. “The Rock”, as it is sometimes called, is composed of an enormous granite outcropping that rises more than two thousand feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The typical way to get to Capri is by commercial launch from Naples, Sorrento, or the Amalfi Coast. I have taken all three routes, and they are quite interesting, providing stunning views of the Italian coastline, including Mt. Vesuvius in the background. Once there, you will find that the island itself is divided into two distinct portions by a nearly insurmountable cliff. The lower part is termed Capri, and the upper portion is termed Anacapri. Capri is congested and expensive, whereas Anacapri is quiet and affordable. Furthermore, transport in Capri is strictly on foot (excepting the funicular), whereas vehicles are allowed in Anacapri.
I have stayed on the Rock quite a few times, and in a wide range of hotels, and I like both parts of the island. However, I usually stay in Capri, although the hotels tend to be quite expensive, especially in summer.
There are plenty of things to see and do on the island, including: the Piccola Marina; The Gardens of Augustus; the Main Square in Capri; the Arco Naturelle; the House of Tiberius; the round-island water tour; the Blue Grotto; dining in Capri; the chair lift in Anacapri; and the outdoor shopping mall in Anacapri. I will provide further details regarding some of these sites below.
The Gardens of Augustus
On the southern side of Capri, after a short stroll up to a promontory overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, you will find the small well-manicured Garden of Augustus (Fig. 1), presumably named after the First Roman Emperor. Both the garden and the view are well worth your time.
The Piccola Marina
Directly below the Garden of Augustus is the Piccola Marina (small marina), one of the few places with a public beach on the island. Enshrouded between the two towering outcroppings that comprise the island, the marina paints an idyllic setting.
The Main Square of Capri
You will arrive at the port of Capri, and upon departing the funicular that transports you up from the main marina (Fig. 2), you will stumble more or less directly into the main square of Capri. This small bustling square seems to be a showplace for tourists who wish to be seen in Capri. It is also the starting point for departures to all parts of the island. But do not despair, once away from the square, the hubbub gradually diminishes to one of serenity.
The Arco Naturelle
You will perhaps need a map to find it, but there is an enormous natural arch (Arco Naturelle – Fig. 3) at the eastern end of the island that is well worth the hike (approximately 1.5 miles one way).
The House of Tiberius
In ancient times, Tiberius, the Second Emperor of the Roman Empire, made the Island of Capri his home for the last two decades of his life. He built quite a few villas on the island, but the one at the extreme eastern tip of the island was both the most sumptuous and best preserved today. It is a bit of a hike (about 2 miles), but it is my favorite site on the entire island. The house itself rests on a thousand-foot-tall cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples, from which you can see the tip of the Amalfi Peninsula (Fig. 4), where the Emperor Caligula lined up seven hundred ships to create a continuous bridge on which he rode his horse to Capri in the First Century AD.
The Round-Island Water Tour
I’ve been around the island on boats several times, and believe me, the tour is well worth the expenditure. You can take a tour with others on a tour boat from the main marina, or better yet – rent a boat and captain it yourself. Along the way, you will see the Blue Grotto (Fig. 5), a small cave along the coast, and if you are not claustrophobic, you can go inside on a low sloop for a reasonable fee. Inside, you will see why the cave is called “The Blue Grotto”. Also, on the southern side of the island you will find a natural arch (Fig. 6) through which you can pass during your water tour.
Dining in Capri
One of my favorite things to do in Capri is dining out. I often stay in the Floridiana or Mamela Hotel (as well as the Gatto Bianco), and not far away you will find my favorite restaurants – the Ristorante Terrazza Brunella and the Ristorante D’Amore. In Anacapri I like to stay in the Villa Ceselle, and my favorite restaurant is Materita. You will find that Capresian cuisine is quite unique.
The Outdoor Mall in Anacapri
In order to get to Anacapri you will need to either take a taxi or a bus from the main square in Capri. The ride up to Anacapri is in itself one of the great treats on the island, featuring a terrifying ride up the face of a shear cliff. On arrival at the square in Anacapri, you will be at the center of an outdoor shopping mall in Anacapri (Fig. 7). Just wandering along this walkway is one of my favorite things to do on the islands. At one end, you will find a monastery, and adjacent to it you will have a fabulous view of the island coastline. You can also walk back down to Capri from this spot, but I do not recommend doing the reverse hike!
The Chairlift in Anacapri
Adjacent to the square in Anacapri there is a chair lift (Fig. 8) that will take you up to the pinnacle of the island, from which you will be treated to perhaps the best panoramic view in all of central Italy, featuring the island itself, the Bay of Naples, the Amalfi and Sorrentino Coast, Mt. Vesuvius and the Tyrrhenian Sea. This ride is well worth your time.
You will need three to four days to see all of the above important sites in Capri, depending on your organizational skills and the crowds during your visit. And be prepared for increased expenses for literally everything in Capri. I hope these tidbits of are of use to you in your trip planning for your once-in-a-lifetime visit to Capri, a truly magical place. Until then, please feel free to contact me if you have questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Note: All photos included in this blog were taken by me.