Capri Stories and Tips

A Brief History of the Island

The Villa Jovis Photo, Capri, Italy

Capri has been inhabited since the paleolithic age, when it was still attached to the mainland. The Greeks were the first in recorded history known to occupy the island, which presumably gets its name from the Greek word for wild boar, "kapros," rather than the Latin word for goats, "capreae." Numerous fossil remains found on the island confirm that it was once the Island of Wild Boars.

After the Greeks, Capri fell into the hands of the Romans. Caesar Augustus was the first luminary known to have fallen spell to Capri’s charms. He visited the island in 29 B.C., and was so smitten that he struck a deal with the city of Naples in order to acquire it, giving up Ischia, a much larger island, in return. Tiberius, his stepson and successor, ruled the Roman Empire from 27 to 37 A.D. from Capri, using a lighthouse to communicate with the mainland. During his reign, Tiberius embarked on an ambitious building program, constructing twelve villas for himself in honor of the gods of Olympus. The remains of the Villa Jovis, the most magnificent of the twelve, can still be seen.

After the Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D., Capri once again fell under the control of Naples. Due to the frequency with which numerous dynasties gained—and subsequently lost—power in Naples, Capri usually managed to stay out of the political fray on the mainland, although this presented a whole other set of problems, not the least of which was marauding bands of pirates. Left by Naples to fend for itself when under attack, Capri’s population, forced to flee the coast, sought refuge on the high plateaus in the center of the saddle-shaped island. This largely crippled the local economy, which relied largely on fishing, but also led to the settlement of the towns of Capri and Anicapri around the beginning of the thirteenth century.

The island’s fortifications were eventually completed by the French, although Bourbon power was restored in 1815 after the fall of Napolean. Finally, Capri was ready to emerge from hibernation. Its rugged natural beauty, favorable climate, and rustic charms began to attract visitors, and its first hotel was constructed in 1826. Soon after, it became a favorite hangout for writers, artists, poet laureates, and travelers from Britian, Germany, and the United States.

By the end of the Russian-Japanese war of 1905, the great exodus of Russian intellectuals cemented Capri’s role as a place of literary and political refuge. Many luminaries have spent time on Capri, including D.H. Lawrence, Axel Munthe, Hans Christian Anderson, Maxim Gorki, Noel Coward, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemmingway, and Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda, the Chilean exile who lived in southern Italy in the 1950s, published "The Captain's Verses" during his 1952 stay in a white Bungalow overlooking the cliffs, and is portrayed in Michael Radford’s fictional 1994 film, Il Postino.

Today, the writers and poets are mostly gone, having been supplanted by waves of well to do vacationers, mostly from Europe and the United States. While somewhat of a luxury playground for affluent travelers toting Gucci shopping bags, Capri still offers glimpses of its tranquil, rustic past, although these pleasures must be sought out by the visitor. Capri still closely guards some of her secrets.

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