Far from the lively life of the Amalfi Coast and characterized by an unusual peace, Ravello develops , with its small streets that rise, the magnificent architecture in perfect Arab-Sicilian style and the lush gardens that recall its glorious past when, in its maximum splendor , was the queen of trade with Sicily and the Levant.
It was the thirteenth century and the population of Ravello was far superior to the current one.
Its beauty has inspired artists and writers , from Boccaccio who remembers it in a short story, to Richard Wagner who lived there identifying the garden of Villa Rufolo with that of one of his works, the Parsifal .
As you may already know, in his honor, this magnificent village comes alive in July thanks to a series of concerts and events that take place with the magnificent scenery of the Amalfi Coast.
If you visit Ravello you cannot fail to take a tour right at Villa Rufolo , one of the symbolic places of this town.
The square tower in Piazza del Vescovado welcomes you to this complex of buildings, located sheer above the sea, built between the 13th and 14th centuries, betraying its Islamic inspiration. The most beautiful environments are the garden which, embellished with exotic plants, overlooks the Amalfi Coast and the Annunziata Church, located below, and the courtyard that looks like a cloister.
Villa Rufolo, however, has a long history behind it that we are going to discover.
The history of Villa Rufolo
The Rufolo di Ravello family was among the most prominent and powerful dynasties of the city for about two centuries. Of very ancient origins, it seems to derive from the Rufos , a Roman gens to which Publio Rutilio Rufo belonged , Roman consul in 105 BC who apparently had possessions with a villa right along the coast.
In medieval times they represented the economic power of Ravello , but then due to their position in favor of the Angevins, they underwent a rapid decline towards the end of the thirteenth century. Naturally it was precisely in the period of their maximum splendor that they built a grandiose and rich villa that was able to testify the social status of this powerful family. Pope Adriano
was also hosted here in 1156 and Boccaccio also probably knew the villa and stayed there, so much so that he described it in a short story.
The fortune of Ravello was linked to that of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi , as well as that of the Rufolo family, which was enriched thanks to the numerous trades, especially in wheat, together with the Della Marra family with whom they became arbitrators of the customs of Trani and Barletta.
We owe to Nicola Rufolo the great architectural development that took place in the 13th century in Ravello and Giovinazzo , in the province of Bari.
Right here he had an imposing farm built where oil was produced which was then sold everywhere. In this period Nicholas devoted himself mostly to the economic management of a kingdom that was now increasingly in chaos.
With the decline of Amalfi also trade, especially with the East, began to become less profitable and the progressive ruin of the Rufolos followed ; the villa became the property of the Confalone family , the Muscettola family and then the D’Afflitto family of Scala .
In the meantime, however, the building had suffered serious damage so much so that at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was practically in ruins and little or nothing was left of the beauty of the past.
It was a Scottish nobleman, Sir Francis Nevile Reid , who, despite his state of neglect, decided to buy the villa anyway, having it completely restored to bring back its ancient splendor . Thanks to him we owe the construction of the garden and the rebuilding of the terraces, but on his death the heirs again caused the buildings to fall into disrepair.
It was only in 1974 that the Provincial Tourist Board of Salerno bought a part of it and since 2007 the management has been entrusted to the Ravello Foundation which has taken on the task of restoring the monument.
What Villa Rufolo holds: secrets and treasures
It is thanks to Reid’s intervention that today you can still admire Villa Rufolo in all its beauty and enjoy the view from the gardens.
Thanks to the intervention of the EPT, however, ancient rooms were brought to light which were lost over the centuries due to the neglect to which the villa was left.
During the various excavation campaigns, ceramic fragments were found not only attributable to the 13th century, but also more ancient, attributable to the Roman era, a detail that would confirm the distant origins of the family .
The finds found and the reconstruction of some environments have shown how trade with Africa and the East had contributed to making the villa particularly precious, with the presence of various kinds of furnishings and an architecture very similar to the Arab one.
What to see in Villa Rufolo
The tower at the entrance welcomes you as soon as you enter the villa; its function from the beginning has never been defensive, but only ornamental.
It is powerful and adorned with arches supported by small columns, with a beautiful umbrella-shaped dome. The portal has a typically Gothic ogival shape and is embellished with polychrome tuff strips and terracotta columns; on the four sides there are statues depicting the 4 seasons.
After you have passed the entrance you will find yourself walking along an avenue surrounded by cypresses and lime trees , which will lead you to the Moorish cloister , one of the most evocative areas of the monumental complex. Pause to admire the columns that follow one another on the front, the arches and the terracotta friezes.
Leaving the courtyard, through a staircase you reach the Torre Maggiore , probably the oldest part of the complex, which stands 30 meters high and is divided into three floors.
Originally it represented the power of the Rufolo family and from it the view swept far away, from the sea to the mountains.
In the garden is the Hall of the Knights , once connected to the Tower with a series of rooms that have now been completely destroyed.
The real beauty, however, is that of the Gardens so wisely recreated by Reid and in which you can find all the romanticism typical of the nineteenth century, which even bewitched the great composer Wagner.
It, also known as the Garden of the Soul , is spread over two levels. Around the Well, in particular, you can admire rare plant ruins and tall trees that contribute to creating an almost fairytale environment.
Along the north side of the Gardens is the Balnea , once an area dedicated to the thermal baths and brought to light thanks to archaeological excavations.
A little further on you can see the Turkish Bath with the remains of the ancient canalizations.
Reaching the lowest part of the whole complex, there are the lower rooms of the residence and the colonnade that supports the Cloister, on the side of which today is the space dedicated to the Theater.
Walking through Villa Rufolo, you can also admire the Dining Room, characterized by a beautiful cross vault supported by columns and the Chapel which hosts numerous events throughout the year.
The events today at Villa Rufolo
The restructuring and revaluation of the monumental complex of Villa Rufolo has made it possible not only to visit it in all its beauty, but also to organize artistic events that have made it famous all over the world.
During the year and especially in summer, each room hosts numerous exhibitions and it is also possible to rent it to celebrate your wedding, in an undoubtedly very exclusive setting.
The splendid Belvedere of Villa Rufolo , then, is the setting for the now indispensable Ravello Festival , a musical event that every year renews the close link between this village and music.
This is the oldest Italian exhibition after the Florentine one.
The program, always very rich and varied, includes symphonic and chamber music concerts, literary meetings, screenings and exhibitions.
You can visit Villa Rufolo from Monday to Sunday from 9 to 20.
It remains to wish you a splendid visit to Villa Rufolo and Ravello between history and nature.