Conca dei Marini
The international jet set of the 1970s made this maritime jewel their home from home, from Gianni Agnelli, Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Margaret to Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren, who for many years owned the villa overlooking the bay. Our journey through the town, included in the list of the most beautiful villages of Italy, starts at the villa and its Saracen tower before continuing the steep ascent to the upper part of the village.
Close by is the Grotto dello Smeraldo (Emerald Grotto), an extraordinary natural formation, measuring 60 by 30 metres, rich in stalactites and stalagmites which in some cases have fused together to create limestone columns over ten metres high, and accessed by lifts at ground level or by sea, departing from Amalfi.
On San Pancrazio hill stands the church of the same name. It is surrounded by a beautiful olive grove bisected by a scenic flight of steps referred to in poems by Alfonso Gatto and depicted in paintings by Mario Avellone and Clemente Taforu. In front of the church is a wonderful churchyard with majestic palm trees. Further on, the flat area known as Vreca point, shaped like a ship, affords an alternative panoramic view.
The church is mentioned in a document of 1362 which states that it belonged to the Mele family. It has one nave and two aisles with crossbeams and three apses and doors. The aisles each have three chapels. The façade and bell tower were recently restored after the original tower collapsed. In a corner of the church is a collection of paintings documenting ex-votos for miracles attributed to Don Gaetano Amodio, often invoked by the sailors in times of danger. The church of San Giovanni Battista, more commonly known as the church of Sant’Antonio di Padova, is also typical of the region. Situated on a ledge of rock on a steep slope overlooking the sea, it dates back to the 1200s.
Bearing more resemblance to a castle, its unusual position nonetheless protected it from invasions by pirates and Saracens. It has flat apses, with three cross-vaulted aisles divided by colonnades with large brick cylindrical pilasters topped by pointed arches. In the sacristy, the ancient majolica floor and marble font are of importance.
But the jewel in the crown of Conca dei Marini is the complex of the former convent of Santa Rosa, one of the largest and most representative buildings on the Amalfi Coast and which includes the church with cupola and small bell tower built on a steep rocky projection from where it surveys the surrounding area. Its outline can be seen from Capo d’Orso and it increases in size as you approach Amalfi.
This monastic complex is in itself a fantastic spectacle: a rock which has the profile of a royal mantle, crowned with cupolas. The monastic aspect of the exterior contrasts with the lavish Baroque interior. The four wooden altars and the domed grilles in iron and wood found in the choir stalls and at each side of the central altar are particularly fine. The head of San Barnabas, companion of Saint Paul in the apostolate, is kept here. This precious gift was given to the church by the bishop of Pozzuoli, monsignor Girolamo Dandoli, born in Conca in 1772.
The monastery is also famous for another reason: it was here in the 18th century that the sfogliatella, a pastry filled with sweetened ricotta, is believed to have been created by the nuns of Santa Rosa, and indeed it was originally named after them. Every year on 30 August, this typical sweet of the region is celebrated with a big party.