The Streets of the casali

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Via Raffaele Bosco is a panoramic road that leads to the various fractions and hamlets of Vico’s territory, giving the opportunity to discover rolling hills, croplands, artistic and architectural findings. Naturally, one may choose to take alternative routes to take excursions off the beaten track, where one can come across a variety of landscapes. The “borgo”, or hamlet, of S. Maria del Toro, circa 50 metres above the road Castellammare-Sorrento before entering Vico, presumably surrounded the church by the same name. Legend has it that in 1452 Nicola Villauto, a settler, commissioned a painting of the Madonna with Child in a stable. The stable deteriorated with time, and was neglected until some settlers noticed that a bull would stop to bow on that very spot. They discovered the sacred image and a church was built on the site. This is just one of the many versions of the legend used to clarify why the church and the whole district took the name of S. Maria del Toro i.e. Saint Mary of the Bull. Although, presumably, the Italian word “toro” comes from the Latin “tauros oros” i.e. altitude. Inside the church one may admire a beautiful beech-wood and linden coffered ceiling dating the 17th century, a frescoes-covered dome with the Triumph of the Cross and the glorification of S. Gaetano. Most importantly, behind the altar is the renaissance fresco from the second half of the 1700s of the Madonna del Toro, the Madonna of the Bull: the same one that was painted on the walls of the stable. On one side of the bell tower is a stepped pathway that leads to via dei Mulini, surrounded by olive and chestnut trees, and created by Alfonso D’Aragona to join Vico to Castellammare. Along this road, which preserves the original paving, a tower-shaped aqueduct was built in 1478 to bring water to the mills. One can thus either get to Via Scrajo surrounded by nature or, going up the olive groves, can reach the convent Convento di S. Francesco, which is connected to the centre of Vico by via Raffaele Bosco. The convent dominates Vico from above with its distinctive red bell tower, and from the piazza just opposite one can one can enjoy the view of the coast and the surrounding hilltops; the same view that can also be seen from the Belvedere, where there is a monument dedicated to S. Francis made by Emilio Greco in 1977. Inside the church, consecrated by Bishop Pace in 1744, is a single nave with an octagonal cupola, and the byzantine statue of S. Maria a Chieia, originally made in tuff and subsequently coloured-in like the wooden statues of the 18th century. A very interesting feature is the chapel of the convent, which may be accessed upon request. It is covered in 18th century majolica tiles of the Neapolitan school, and at the centre depicts the emblem of the “toson d’oro”, which attests the connection of this convent with the order established by Filippo III in 1429. Above that is a fresco of “The Last Supper” dating 1936 by Ludovico Spagnolo. From the cemetery underneath the convent is a path on the left which was anciently part of the via Minervia. The road ended at Punta Campanella, which is a half-hour walk away from the Sperlonga springs, surrounded by olive groves and chestnut trees at the feet of a wonderful view of the coast and the Vesuvius. Once back on via Raffaele Bosco and beyond the fraction of S. Andrea, is the S. Salvatore casale. Through a small road surrounded by farmhouses is the church of S. Maria delle Grazie. The pastel-tinted chapel preserves an image of the Madonna that is object of great devotion. It is said that it was found on the wall by some farmers, who built the church on the site. Along the same pathway is a stony, sun-kissed hill that dominates Vico and the coast. Walking up the Mediterranean scrub, with the smell of wild fennel wafting in the air, you arrive to a cave semi-hidden by bushes called Grotta dell’eremita i.e. “the cave of the hermit”. The wall at the end features a Madonna with child and saint Joseph sculpted in high relief. Leaving behind the peace and stillness of S. Salvatore, and continuing on the highway, one arrives to Massaquano, the most ancient farmhouse of Vico. In the heart of this hamlet is the 14th century church of S. Giovanni Battista, the starting point of the procession that carries the statue of S. Maria in Chieia up to the convent of S. Francesco along the ancient pathway that once joined the casale to the monastic complex. Not far from the parish, immersed in the darkness of an underpass, you will come across the chapel of S. Lucia. The church has a gothic structure with cross vaults, and was erected by Bartolomeo Cioffi in 1385. Recently, a part of the wonderful frescoes of the 14th century that adorned all the walls were brought to light. The Assumption of the Virgin has thus found its ancient splendour, and is divided in two scenes: the dormitio or death, and the coronatio or coronation, partly mutilated. Leaving behind the golden luminosity of the frescoes, the path continues towards Moiano, not far from the top of mount Faito. The air becomes thinner and embraces the houses that huddle around the cupola and the bell tower of the church of S. Renato, bishop of Sorrento in 425, whose wooden statue is conserved in the 16th century church. Continuing towards Ticciano, via Gradoni opens up leading to S. Maria di Castello. It features a handful of farmers houses, with farm yards and farm animals, cultivated fields and a long stairway that leads to a small 15th century chapel. This silent and peaceful place must have been a guard post in the 9th century, when the territory was the border between the Duchy of Amalfi and the Equense territory, and is where the people of Vico took shelter in 1656 to escape the plague. Diving into the trail that crosses thick coppice, chestnut tree forests, one arrives to a grassy open space with a splendid cliff view over Positano. It stands in front of Monte Comune, which divides the gulf of Salerno from the gulf of Naples, and can be reached through a marked pathway surrounded by broom and heath. Going back down the Raffaele Bosco road, you get closer to Ticciano and Preazzano where the wood of the chestnut trees, thanks to the ability and experience of an ancient form of craftsmanship, becomes baskets for fruit, fish, vegetables or are simply ornamental. The wood is put in the oven to dry, cut into long strips and then smoothed and woven; all of this is done by hand requiring much patience. Carrying on is Arola, at the feet of the Monte Comune. The name come from the latin root “rus”: cultivated field. In the many little roads that cut across the vegetable gardens and climb up the hill, there are still precious testimonies of farming constructions: the harmonious lines of the houses with “volte estradossate” were covered, until the last century, with stone beaten with lapillus and lime milk. The focus of this casale is the church of S. Antonino, dating the 16th century. The church was dedicated to the saint who, according to the legend, stopped in Arola on his way to Sorrento to quench his thirst. Past Arola and into via Camaldoli is the hill of Astapiana. Once past the archway surmounted by a crenellated tower is the 16th century convent Convento Camaldolese, now a private property. By 1800 the convent was run down, but was restored by Count Giusso who had become its owner. A large forecourt, shadowed by holm-oaks, offers an endless view of the Sorrento coast. The 1600s villa is flanked by a group of farmhouses which were once the monk cells. Beyond the charming monastic complex, down through Fornacelle, after admiring the small 18th century church of S. Pietro e Paolo with its curved facade and small bell tower that holds a majolica clock, one can divert to Pacognano. Down the small road of Casa Cafiero it is possible to admire the 16th century villa that hosted GiovanBattista Della porta: poet, scientist and philosopher. The property is now private and no longer in pristine condition. The 18th century church of S. Maria still retains parts of a beautiful majolica pavement, and in front of the entrance is a painting of the same period also in majolica, depicting the Christ on the cross. After admiring the church one may take the Raffaello Bosco road down towards the casale of Seiano, which dominates the plane of Equa. The name, of Roman origin, indicates the presence of a “una gens Seja”. The hamlet probably dates 1300, when the chapel of S. Maria della Grazie also arose. The Church featured a frescoed wall depicting the “Madonna with Child”, now found on the entrance door of the church of S. Maria Vecchia, built in the 16th century in the former church’s place, which collapsed but miraculously the wall with the fresco survived. The small church is a sanctuary that holds a unique collection of “ex voto”. The paintings were made by the people in different techniques, and almost all of them of seaside theme. Entering the casale is the church of S. Marco Evangelista, round and of neo-classical style, with a large dome. In the main altar, at the sides of the tabernacle, are kept the “chartae gloriae” in gold foil. Every three years, on the evening of Good Friday, from the chapel of the Cruficix begins a procession in costume that presents the main phases of the Passion of the Christ, and travels from Seiano to Vico. Once onto the small road called via Punta La Guardia, through the white farmhouses with vault ceilings and the stone balconies, one can venture through the tight paths amongst the lemon and orange trees, olive groves and orchards, and in a fifteen-minute walk can arrive to the tower of Punta Scutolo, which dominates the coast. Leaving Seiano and taking the highway towards Sorrento, after some panoramic curves, on the right-hand side is the deviation towards Montechiaro. A paved street, surrounded by white houses filled with flowers, leads to some steep slopes which open up to portals of tuff and stretches of lemon tree orchards interwoven with grapevines. The church of S. Pietro e Paolo dominates the small town square, whilst S. Maria delle Grazie, alone on top of a hill, faces a terrace that opens to the sea. By taking via Calvinia, then via Emanuele and via Casini, after a large stretch of cultivated land, one arrives to a hilltop with the remains of Ferdinand II’s hunting lodge.

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