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THE AMALFI COAST AND THE AMALFITAN NATION


The territory, perched over the sea and marked by the Lattari Mountains above and the waters of the Tyrrehnian sea below, is not mentioned in the documentary sources of the Classical world.    The only written reference regarding the stretch of coast from Sorrento to Paestum is attributed to the Greek historian abut was leter
Strabo in the 1st century BC: the Etruscan town of Marcina is mentioned, probably coinciding with present day Vietri sul Mare.  The first signs of permanent settlements are considered to be the Roman seaside and country villas which appeared in Tramonti, Amalfi, Minori, Agerola and Ravello, which were reached along the Via Stabiana, a long arterial road that connected Nuceria Alfaterna with Stabiae via the Valico di Chiunzi and the Lattari Mountains, the docks of Gallolungo to Conca dei Marini and Fonti, and the cultivated terraces to the fisheries
We must remember that the Romans introduced the cultivation of grapes to the Amalfitan territory as is evident from the ruins of the villa in Polvica in Tramonti.
The late Middle Ages saw the spread of vineyards to all the settlements of the maritime duchy of Amalfi; those producing high quality grapes were situated in the area Lacco in Ravello as we can deduce from the high costs of the trellises in the 11th century.  Greek wine was produced in the Stabia territory, which belonged to the Amalfitan Republic, and was sold mostly in Minori.  Some of the oldest activities which were common to the whole population of the coast  were the cultivation of chestnuts and lumber trade which favoured the growing wealth of numerous families in many of the towns of the small coastal State.
Human presence both in the mountains and along the rivers was interrupted from the 1st century AD but the area was later re-populated by the Germanic invasions of the 5th century, when refugees from the cities fled up into these areas.  This continuous presence has been confirmed by the recent research which reveals the existence of one huge beach stretching from Amalfi to Maiori;  this was destroyed by a disastrous flood immediately after the the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and had disappeared completely by the 6th century.  During this far-off, mysterious period of the origins of Amalfi and Atrani, all the settlements divided into two distinct ethnic groups:  the Amalfitans and the Atranienses.  An explanation for this ethnic phenomenon of the origins is still hidden due to the impossibility of finding documents or archaeological evidence.  The concept of “Amalfitan nation” was formed at the beginning of the 9th century;  it is spelt  out clearly in the proud reply the Amalfitans, who remained in the town, gave to their fellow  citizens who had decided to follow prince Sicardo to Salerno:  “Dona multa et ampla principis vestri vobis sint: nobis autem sufficit haec montuosa terra!”  This was the manifesto for the official constitution of the Amalfitan Res Pubblica, which was established on 1st September 839.  The autonomy of this new State resisted until 17th February 1131; then the duchy of Amalfi became part of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily.  Despite the demise of the republic, the Amalfitans continued to administer their own laws and customs until the Suebian period.  The English poet, Samuel Rogers, commented that the Amalfitans were often assailed but never subjected.  Each town in the Amalfitan duchy contributed to the success and the civil, social and economic development of the entire population.  Shipyards were active on the shores of Amalfi, Atrani, Maiori, Minori, Positano; lumber was provided by Agerola, Tramonti, Scala, Ravello and Cetara.The productive activities, using energy from the river torrents, were active all over the territory: the mills were one of the oldest examples of these activities and were a remarkable source of economic investment;  felting and wool dyeing, and paper mills constituted a natural, technological evolution of the simplest and most primitive systems.
Sailors and peasants who came from Agerola, Tramonti, Ravello and Scala, always ready to venture by ship en route to the far seas and distribute foodstuffs and textiles all over the Mediterranean.
The unity of the populations of the Amalfi Coast has always been marked by a common participation in religious events, still strongly felt today in manifold celebrations and evident in the presence of churches and places of worship, perched on the steep slopes or washed by the waves of the sea. A sea which, although often threatening and devastating, destined the merchant and maritime fortunes into possessing a creative force within the minds of its people suspended between rocky terraces and salty sea foam.