Positano, Province of Salerno, Campania

"Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone." John Steinbeck, Harper's Bazaar, May 1953
Positano is also internationally renowned for its tailoring tradition: many little elegant boutiques and ateliers for men and ladies line the narrow streets and lanes, catering to the demands of a cosmopolitan clientele.


  • Population: about 3,800 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 84017
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 089
  • Patron Saint: St. Vito, celebrated on 15 June
  • Frazioni & Localities: Montepertuso, Nocelle.

The Territory

This small town on the Amalfi Coast is located in the center of a land rich in history and art, at the feet of the Lattari Mountains, protected from the Northern winds and therefore enjoying a mild climate that favours a luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation.

The main part of the city sits in an enclave in the hills leading down to the coast. John Steinbeck called it the only perpendicular village in the world, which well explains the peculiarity of this little town, whose houses and hotels in beautiful pastel colors are only accessible by one of the long, winding stairways leading up into the center and going down to sea level.

History - Antiquity

The legend tells that Positano was founded by Neptune for his beloved nymph Pasitea, from whom the place took its name. It was inhabited by the Oscans, and was a port of the Phoenicians, then a Greek colony and, still later, a Roman town with fine villas for the vacationing Patricians of the capital.

History - the Middle Ages

After the fall of the Roman empire there was a long sequel of invasions: Saracens, Normans, Angevins and Aragonese, with frequent raids of Turkish pirates, against whom the inhabitants built 3 huge towers in Fornillo, Trasita and Sponda and other smaller towers in other spots along the coast.

During the Middle Ages for centuries Positano was a prosperous port of the Amalfi Republic, trading with the Middle East spices, silks, and precious timberwood; the new wealth gave rise to many Baroque houses with terraces on the sea. In the late 15th century it became a fiefdom of Giovanni Miroballo and then came under the Mastrogiudice and Cossa families.

History - Modern Times

After the unification of Italy in 1861 the town - as all the South - experienced hard times, and over 50% of the population emigrated to the Americas;d those who stayed survived on a poor fishing economy.

But things started to change in the early 20th century, when more and more writers and artists from Germany and Russia - among them Semenov, Zagoruiko, Essad Bey, Clavel, Escher, Massine, Kovaliska, Ghillausen - started to discover this little jewel of the Amalfi coast, until a seminal essay by John Steinbeck in Harper's Bazaar (May 1953) brought Positano into the limelight.

Film directors, painters, writers, started to restore the old houses turning them into wonderful villas, and many moved here permanently. A true tourist boom followed, so that today Positano is nowadays among the most famous tourist destinations in the world.

What to see

  • The Torri saracene, sighting towers built to defend the area from pirate raids, signaling the arrival of attackers with cannosn, so that the population could take refuge into the steep mountain villages of Montepertuso and Nocelle).
  • The church of Santa Maria Assunta, with a dome covered with hundreds of majolica tiles.
  • The beautiful beaches of Spiaggia Grande and Fornillo, which can be reached only on foot, and the other beaches of La Porta, Arienzo, and San Pietro Laurito mostly accessible only from the sea.
  • Boat trips to the Sirenuse (or Li Galli) Islands , 3 miles off the coast, composed of the three islands of Castelluccio, Gallo Lungo and Rotonda; the 3 islets according to the ancient Greeks were formed by the Mermaids rejected by Odysseus and therefore thansformed into sea rocks; they are included in the "Punta Campanella" marine sanctuary, and here Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev established a study centre for ballet.
  • World renowned hiking trail Sentiero degli Dei (=Path of Gods): eleven kilometers of awe-inspiring peaks reaching towards the sky into the mountains in the hinterland of Positano and Amalfi.

Events and Festivities

  • Good Friday, the "Schiodazione". A suggestive procession of hooded characters, the only one bare faced carrying a hammer and pincer, take down the cross and remove the nails, placing then the deposed Chist into a coffin and a sad procession begins, with the statue of black-robed Mary immediately after the coffin, along the narrow alleys, to the light of feeble torches.
  • 15th of August, celebrations for Santa Maria Assunta in Positano
  • Cartoons on the Bay Festival, at which "Pulcinella" awards for excellence in animation are given.
  • International Award for the Art of Dancing in memory of the great dancer-choreographer Leonide Massine.

Where to stay

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Provinces of Campania
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