From legend to history

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The town of Vico Equense stretches along a large bank of tuff rock that dominates the Sorrento coastline from Scrajo to Punta Scutolo. Like a fan opening to the waters of the sea and surrounded by green hilltops and sun-drenched cliffs, Vico Equense was once a sanctuary of peregrine falcons trained to hunt by the Angevin sovereigns, the family that marked the history and architecture of this coastal town.  

The territory of Vico Equense is the most extended in the Sorrento peninsula: it includes the town as well as many small hamlets that rise on hillsides of the citrus gardens, vines and olive groves. The inhabitants of the area created these farmhouse settlements, or “casali”, to seek refuge from the Saracens, whose seaside raids were becoming a constant source of peril. History, legend and myth thus interweave and bring us back to a past filled with mystery.

Le olive groves evoke the cult of Minerva, who donated the plant to Attica so that she may be recognised as ruler; the slopes of Monte Faito bring to mind witches and elves as they would surely chose them as their dwellings; and the grottoes – shelters for the hermits – bear witness to the ancient devotion to the miracle-bestowing “Madonna dei Tori” i.e. Madonna of the Bulls.

The origin of the name of the ancient “Acqua” probably comes from the flatness of the area, which stands in contrast to the hills and mountains surrounding it. The term “aequana” is first seen in the poem “Punica” by Silio Italico in the passage of the battle of Trasimeno, when a certain Murrano speaks of death, but some doubt remains as to whether the passage actually refers to this area. Another possibility is that it was the Oscans and the Ausoni, who had had contact with the Etruscans settlements along the coastline from Pompei to Pontecagnano, who gave the name to this village on the Sorrento coast. 

A bucchero “oinochoe” dated 6th century BC and kept in the Antiquarium of Vico, shows letters of the alphabet inscribed with a bait matrix indicating the existence of pre-Roman settlements. The Samnites, who hailed from the Sannio mounts, were subsequently dominated by the Romans and merged with them. 

The Roman vicus was most probably a village dependent on Stabia, which contributed to the growth of the Roman power by offering its valiant warriors until it decided to side with the Social League. The price to pay for such rebellion was high: in 89 BC Silla razed the village to the ground and, like all the territories connected to Stabia, the town was dispossessed and its inhabitants scattered. But, as often occurred in other such historical events in these lands, Aequa was reborn with the advent of the emperor Augustus, when the Sorrento peninsula was declared a Roman colony. Along the strip of coast that currently goes from Marina di Vico to Punta Scutolo (which were once adjoining and not separated by the sea) in the 1st Century BC a series of sea villas arose making Stabia and Baia famous. A precious marble sculpture of Psyche and Cupid (now kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples) was found in the remains of a villa in Pezzolo in Marina d’Equa, a place that evokes a time when the Romans desired to be amongst rolling hills and capes overlooking the sea. Alas, the fiery spirit of these lands did not take long to awaken. The town (rebuilt on the cape) and the seaside villas suffered terrible earthquakes in 62 and 64 AC, and were eventually demolished by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AC – the same year Pompei, Stabia and Ercolano were destroyed. After the imperial splendour and the catastrophe of the eruption, the history of Vico that followed was a dark one: the havoc brought on by the Goths in the 7th century led to the birth of a small settlement in today’s Marina Equa, where the Bishop’s palace and Cathedral stand, and another settlement where today’s Church of Saint Ciro is found. The invasions of the Saracens in the 9th century forced the people of Aequa to look for refuge in the mountains. After some centuries of peace, in the 13th century the Angioni arrived to Naples and Vico was elected “University”. Since there is no trace of a deed it is not possible to establish in which year the land of “equense” became detached from Sorrento. The most ancient document available is a letter dated 19 April 1277, from Carlo I D’Angiò to the executioner of the Principato family. Equense became a borough and Vico was nominated chief town with the new name Vico Equense. The town contributed greatly to the preparation of the fleet of French king Luis IX’s crusade against the Tunisians.

Vico, however, was defenceless when it came to its own town architecture and was consequently attacked by the Pisani, the Aragonese and the Sorrentini who, after betraying king Carlo I in 1284 at the bay of Naples, assaulted their loyal friends the Vicani. Only after 1271, when Carlo I D’Angiò received Sorrento and Vico as a gift from his father, was Vico rebuilt where the Roman Pagus once was, and upon request of the inhabitants was fenced by defensive walls.  

After the Angevin period and the punitive expeditions of Alfonso I of Aragon, Vico became object of feudal battles between the Caraffa and the Durazzo families. 

A new bout of life occurred during the period of the Neapolitan Republic, to which the town adhered to thanks to its Bishop Monsignor Natale, whose liberal ideals led to his execution by the Borboni in Naples in 1799. 

Traces of the different civilizations that settled in these lands can be found in the churches, the portals, the majolica cupolas, and in the architecture typical of the casali, where life was tranquil and rural.


Comune di Vico Equense - Ufficio Turismo e Cultura

sede legale Corso Filangieri, 98
Tel.: +39 081/8019100
sede operativa Viale Rimembranza, 1
Tel.: +39 081/8019500
Cod. Fiscale: 82007510637
Part. IVA: 01548611217
80069 Vico Equense (NA) 

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