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Guide to the ancient monuments of the island of Capri

Famous men and big visitors of Capri

Auguste was the first Roman to take an interest in the island of Capri.
The emperor stayed there at the time when the island still belongs to the city of Naples. Chance is that the branches of a secular oak, languid and curved towards the ground, abruptly resume the passage of the emperor. He is so impressed by this unexpected resurrection that he acquires Capri, giving in exchange to Naples the island of Ischia, though much larger. To take advantage of the splendid panorama offered to those who live on the northern coast of Capri, Auguste builds a large villa composed of a series of buildings scattered on a promontory. This house, relatively modest compared to the splendid resorts of the Neapolitan coast, is surrounded by gardens and a forest. The imperial family is used to come and stay in this “Palace of the Sea” (“palazzo a mare”) where it can enjoy the calm of the island. You can still see the ruins of this palace (and its tiny port) from the sea or from the lookout at Villa San Michele in Anacapri. A pebble beach is sunny there until lunch because of the shade that then takes to him the Monte Solaro. A nice walk is to walk down Anacapri by the stairs called Phoenicians to get to this beach.

Tiberius, the first and most famous

It is Tiberius who first launched the fashion of the sumptuous villas in Capri and it is unique in the world: for more than ten years an immense empire was directed from an eagle’s nest posted at the end of a small island, Capri. The ruins of Villa Iovis are witness to this incredible story of two millennia.

Largely looted, they are not very readable to those who visit them.

Thanks to this watercolor and this text of two experts (published in “Voyage chez les empereurs romains”, Editions Acte Sud), we finally understand the functioning of this very clever “machine” to live and to govern – in the middle of nowhere – what was Villa Iovis.

In Campania too many people can approach the imperial residences. So he thinks that only an island is able to bring him total security. Capri has on other islands the advantage of being able to be approached only on one side and on a small extent. From 27 until 37 Rome is ruled at a distance by an emperor cloistered in his island. Nothing, neither family events (deaths or marriages), nor political problems, nor external dangers can force Tiberius to return to Rome. Through emissaries he informed the Senate and the Romans of his decisions. Very few friends had the opportunity to come to Capri to visit the emperor. In 31 he sent for him his adopted grandson, the young Caligula, nineteen years old, whose family he had exterminated. He has only him as future heir and must prepare him for his duties as future sovereign …

Like the tortured personality of Tiberius, the real eagle’s nest of Villa Iovis, “Villa of Jupiter”, raises its proud silhouette on a steep hill ending in a dizzying 300-meter peak. in Vesuvius and the Sorrentine Peninsula.

From the nineteenth century, Capri becomes a resort destination for the Roman aristocracy

From the nineteenth century, Capri became a resort destination for the Roman aristocracy, in seasons when the temperature is too high in the capital. The island is frequented by many personalities (Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Rainer Maria Rilke, Maxim Gorky, Victoria of Baden, or Curzio Malaparte, German artists, American lesbians and Russian revolutionaries also elect a home time) . The doctor Axel Munthe has the villa San Michele restored and Fritz Krupp, heir to the Prussian steelworks, built a steep path to his villa, and an artificial cave in the port of Marina Piccola.

Capri was regaining popularity in the late 1930s, but especially in the 1950s and 1960s, when it became a popular jet set destination (Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Duchess of Windsor, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Marisa Berenson, Penelope Tree, David Bailey, Valentino, Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy, etc.). The island gives birth to a style of clothing from local crafts (large collars coral and turquoise, spartan or the Capri trousers with hem), inspiring fashion designers (Dolce & Gabbana for example). Laurent Cotta, in charge of contemporary creation at the Palais Galliera, Paris Fashion Museum notes: “In full Glorious Thirty, everyone is parading here … It’s enough to have a yacht. We welcome the atmosphere (so-called) friendly, as in Saint-Tropez where we play bowls with the fishmonger. A kind of social mix of holidays.

The island has welcomed many illustrious guests like Jean Cocteau, Andre Gide, Colette, Maxim Gorky who came to exile in Capri between the two Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, Oscar Wilde, James of Adelswärd-Fersen, Pablo Picasso, and it has become a popular destination for tourists. We visit the Villa San Michele and its collections, which belonged to the Swedish physician and writer Axel Munthe (1857-1949), as well as Villa Malaparte, or Villa Vismara, transformed into a hotel.

Art and literature

The Book of San Michele, by Axel Munthe, is located in Capri.

The Book of San Michele is a book of memories written by the Swedish physician Axel Munthe (1857 – 1949) and published for the first time in 1929 by the British publisher John Murray, under the original title: The Story of San Michele. Written in English, it has been a bestseller in many languages ​​and has been constantly reissued for seven decades following its publication.

Munthe grew up in Sweden. At seventeen, he was on a sailing boat on a journey that included a quick visit to the Italian island of Capri. As he climbed the Phoenician stairs leading to the village of Anacapri, he came across a ruined chapel belonging to an inhabitant of the neighborhood, Maestro Vincenzo, and immediately dreamed of acquiring the property and restoring it. The chapel, dedicated to St. Michael, was built on part of the ruins of one of the villas of the Roman emperor Tiberius in Capri.

Munthe studied medicine in France, then opened a medical practice on Avenue de Villiers in Paris. Later he helped during the cholera epidemic of 1884 in Naples. In 1887, he managed to buy the chapel in ruins, and later spent most of his life building this Villa San Michele in Capri. He also had a medical office in Rome to help pay for the work.

The San Michele Book has 32 chapters and approximately 368 pages. It is essentially a series of short narratives that overlap, roughly but not entirely chronologically. It contains many reminiscences on periods of his life. Munthe was in touch with a number of celebrities of his time, including Charcot, Pasteur, Henry James and Guy de Maupassant, all of whom appear in the book. He also rubbed shoulders with the poorest people, the Italian immigrants in Paris, the victims of cholera in Naples and, in rural areas, the inhabitants of Capri and the Lapps of the Far North. He loved animals passionately, and they are prominently featured in many stories, including his alcoholic baboon Billy.

These stories, more or less authentic, vary in their tone from the most serious to the most humorous style. There are several discussions with animals and various supernatural beings: the last chapter actually takes place after the death of the author and staged his discussions with St. Peter before the gates of Heaven. At no time does Munthe seem to take himself particularly seriously, but some of the topics he addresses are serious, such as his description of rabies research in Paris, where he refers to euthanasia of patients1 and recounts the suicide attempt of a man who was wrongly convinced of having contracted the disease.

Many people who have played an important role in Munthe’s life are not mentioned in The Book of San Michele. Neither his wife nor his children figure in history, and the author speaks very little of the time he spent in England, when he married an English girl, that her children had been largely bred in England, and that he himself had become a British subject during the First World War. Her role as personal physician and confidant of the Queen Victoria consort of Sweden is mentioned only very indirectly although it lasted several decades; in one place, where he only designates her as “the mother of the whole nation,” he mentions that she regularly brought flowers to the grave of one of her dogs buried at Villa San Michele; besides, one of his servants, who has gone out to walk his dogs, meets the queen, who tells him that he has given the dog to Munthe.

Munthe has published other memoirs, some of which have been incorporated into the Book of San Michele, which eclipses most of his other writings in both its length and popularity. Some episodes of his life, cited elsewhere, are not mentioned in the book. It does not include the story of his collaboration with a body of French ambulance during the First World War, reported in another book, Red Cross, Iron Cross (“Red Cross, Iron Cross”).

On a global scale, the book was a huge success; 1930 saw twelve editions for the English version only, and Munthe added a second preface. A third preface was written in 1936 for an illustrated edition.

Capri c’est fini – Hervé Vilard

The singer Hervé Vilard started his career at the age of 19 singing his first success Capri c’est fini. Since then, have fun doing the test around you: evoke Capri and you will see that we will answer systematically “but Capri is over.” Capri is over! “, The fault of the first single of the French singer Hervé Vilard.

The French song written and sung by him was released on Mercury Records and became a huge French and international success in the summer of 1965. The song sold 3.3 million copies. Vilard has published 7 language versions of the song. The inspiration came when Vilard saw a promotional travel poster from the Italian island of Capri in a Paris metro station. “C’est fini” comes from a popular song by Charles Aznavour of the same title. The song speaks of a breakup of an earlier relationship that had begun in Capri.

The Exile of Capri

The book of Roger Peyrefitte, The Exile of Capri is a fictionalized biography of the French poet Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen (1880-1923).

We can not forget in the history of homosexuality the importance of the great national lawsuits against homosexuals at the turn of the two centuries (19th and 20th centuries). After that of Oscar Wilde in England, that of Prince Eulenbourg in Germany, that of Baron D’Adelsward-Fersen in France, homosexuality has never again been a taboo subject, and has acquired, despite insults and condemnations , the right to be “said”. Here Roger Peyrefitte romance around characters and a true story, that of the trial for “blue ballets” which led the beautiful descendant of the lover of Marie Antoinette and King William in exile in Capri. Then live there, in this island known as a homosexual haven of peace in this tolerant Italy of the years I9OO to I9I4. He shows all the gratin homo of the beginning of the century, and describes quite well all the homophobia of the great bourgeois of the Belle Epoque.

The singer Tino Rossi performed It’s in Capri

“It’s in Capri that I met her
I was charmed even more than surprised
From a thousand flowers she was surrounded
In the middle of a garden of Capri
Among the fresh morning flowers blooming
She looked on a clear sky background
To be the most beautiful among the roses
Embalming green bocages
Just like in a poem
Seeing me, she smiled

Achille della Ragione

A great lover of the island, Achille della Ragione has owned a magnificent house for more than 30 years. He has assembled in this book on Capri a compilation of articles and readings on Capri as well as a sum of photos that testify to the history and worldly life of Capri

Cinéma in Capri

The islands have always attracted cinema whether for movies or commercials. Capri also has a long history as a film set, from the beginning of the 20th century until today.

The first one to think of is often the contempt of Godard. Part of the film Le Mépris, directed in 1963 by Jean-Luc Godard, takes place in Capri.

Difficult to forget the sensual beauty of Brigitte Bardot, on the roof of Casa Malaparte in the film “The Contempt” or the charm of Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale in “The Skin” by Liliana Cavani, who represented the famous Piazzetta of Capri under the German invasion.

In a 1963 edition of Cahiers du cinéma, Jean-Luc Godard commented on his new film: “The contempt appears to me like the story of shipwrecked people from the Western world, survivors of the sinking of modernity, who approach a day, like the heroes of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, on a desert and mysterious island, whose mystery is inexorably the absence of mystery, that is to say the truth. ”
The filmmaker also added: “The Mepris proves in 149 shots that in cinema as in life, there is nothing secret, nothing to elucidate, there is only to live and to film.”

Paris screenwriter Paul Javal and his wife Camille join filmmaker Fritz Lang on behalf of American film producer Jeremy Prokosch, on the set of Ulysse (an adaptation of the Odyssey) under construction at Villa Malaparte in Capri. Italy.

It is proposed to Paul Javal to resume and finish the script of the film, which he accepts, for economic reasons. During the stay, Paul Javal leaves the rich producer alone with Camille and encourages her to stay with him, while she, intimidated, insists on staying with Paul. Camille thinks that her husband leaves her at the mercy of Prokosch out of weakness and not to offend this new employer. From there arise misunderstandings, scorn and disintegration of the couple.

Difficult to forget also the sensual beauty of Brigitte Bardot, on the roof of Casa Malaparte in the film “The Contempt” or the charm of Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale in “The Skin” by Liliana Cavani, who represented the famous Piazzetta of Capri under the German invasion.

Some of the most popular Italian films of the 1950s were also shot on the island, including “Avventura a Capri” and “Bellezze a Capri”, making Capri the main character and participating of course at the same time in his promotion

The classic “Emperor of Capri” by Luigi Comencini, where appeared the comic Neapolitan Totò on the island, or “The Bay of Naples”, which brought the international stars that were then Sophia Loren and Clark Gable on the coasts of Capri and the cohort of paparazzi behind them contributed to the island’s reputation and prestige.

The Vanilla Strawberry film was almost entirely shot in Capri :

Posters of Capri