Avventura nella Provincia di Salerno

A. J. Valentini (Aug 05, 2011)
For this year's Summer Program IACE was able to partner with the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania.

As the director of the Italian American Committee on Education’s Summer Program during the past eleven years, I, along with hundreds of amazing students, have had the good fortune to be hosted by some of Italy’s most beautiful and hospitable regions. This summer, from July 3 through July 13 was no exception. IACE was able to partner with the province of Salerno. South of the more visited Bay of Naples in the region of Campania, this area is no slouch in the realms of history and natural beauty.

We were logged and boarded in the four-star Mediterranea Hotel and Convention Center in the southern area of the city of Salerno. Located across the street from the Gulf of Salerno, we enjoyed gorgeous views of the city and the Amalfi coast from the rooftop terrace of the establishment. Later, we made friends with the personnel of the Eureka Lido Beach Club just steps away. We spent two days sunning and enjoying the warm sea waters, and evenings tasting REAL Italian pizza and crème di caffè while engaged in animated conversations with locals of all ages.

Our mornings were spent in a specially provided conference room where students received instruction in language, culture and history in preparation for the several excursions provided to us in the afternoons. Our first such excursion was to the town of Vietri, first stop on the famed Amalfi coast approached from the south. Vietri is famous for the production of ceramics. We visited Ceramica Artistica Solimene, where we witnessed an evolution from raw clay to a glazed and finished ceramic vase.

Of course, Solimene makes much more than that and in the showrooms we saw dishes, cups, sinks, chandeliers and decorative items of all sorts. After our visit we had a chance to walk the streets of this quaint town. I happened into one of the many other ceramic shops, Ceramica Pinto, whose showroom featured sample kitchen and bath exhibits that took my breath away.

Our second excursion was to the imposing Castello Arechi, perched 1,000 feet over the city of Salerno. It’s said that there was a fortification on the hill from Roman times. Under the leadership of Arechi II, the Lombard duke, who moved the capital to Salerno from Benevento in 759 AD, a great fortress was constructed which dominated the area and was never breached throughout its history. The views from the parapets of the solid walls were awesome. The same evening we were invited to another castle in Agropoli, where friends of co-chaperone Maria Abate DeBlasio, Elena and Gaetano Stella, well-known actors of the region of Campania were presenting a dramatic representation of the struggle of the local people during the Italian Risorgimento, particularly the unsung role of the Italian women in the drive for unification and independence of the Italian state.
One of our visits was to the Pinacoteca Provinciale of Salerno, where Dr. Anna Maria Vitale gave us a tour of an exhibit on the production of early books. We got to see some of the first guide books ever published in the world. We were reminded that from the 17th through the 19th centuries the area of Campania was on the “Grand Tour,” that obligatory trip in which all people of “a certain cultural status” were expected to visit the capitals of the world and cradles of western civilization. Campania was, and remains, such a place. Also in the historical center we visited the ancient Duomo of Salerno, founded in the 11th Century by the Norman King Roberto di Guiscardo whose goal was to unite all of Southern Italy under Norman rule and make Salerno its capital. We could see the use of ancient Roman columns scavenged from the surrounding area and ancient sarcophagi that were repurposed to hold Christian remains. Inside the church are absolutely gorgeous pulpits decorated in multicolored mosaics. We would return there on Sunday to be a part of a beautiful televised Mass, accompanied by a full choir…ethereal. Another favorite stop of the students was San Giorgio, Salerno’s best preserved baroque style church. Its lush decoration and interesting history captivated their young minds.

A day-long excursion took the group through the most modern addition to the province, the University of Salerno at Fisciano. A bit out of town, in the hills away from the sea, we saw an ultra-modern campus of many buildings, each dedicated to a different “facoltà” (school), modern dormitories (private rooms with baths and dedicated restaurants…wouldn’t our American students cherish that!) and one of the largest free shelf libraries in Italy (in many Italian libraries you can’t get direct access to the books). We had been invited there by Pasquale Nunziata, an attorney and professor of private law and were introduced to Professor Pasquale Stanzione, former Dean of the School of Law, who acted on behalf of the President of the university. Each student was presented with a key chain from the Unione di Giuristi Cattolici Italiani with his /her name printed on it. We, in exchange, presented Stanzione with a commemorative flag of the 9/11 tragedy to fly over the University in September.

From the university we went north to the Sorrentine peninsula to follow the entire length of the famed Amalfi Drive. With stops along the way for pictures in Positano and elsewhere, we spent the bulk of the afternoon in Amalfi, once one of the great maritime powers of Italy and now one of its most picturesque tourist stops. Students visited the famed cathedral in the town and made a hefty contribution to the local economy in the delightful shops and restaurants there.

Another intriguing visit was to the Abbey of Cava dei Tirreni. Founded in the 11th Century in a cave on the side of the mountain, the religious center came to be one of the most important of its kind. In 1394 it came under the direct patronage of Pope Boniface IX. The patronage of the Holy See is evident in the opulent decoration in baroque pietra dura in successive renovations of the building. We visited the cloister, the crypt, an underground cemetery and the attached museum in which we were able to see the original deed with its wax seal from the king to the church (1028 AD). Upon leaving, we were fortunate to see a wedding party exiting the church. We then traveled to the town of Cava where we walked along the portico-covered main street and enjoyed the ambience of a living Italian town whose prime purpose is not tourism.

We returned to the historical center of Salerno once more for a meeting with the President of the province, Onorevole Edmondo Cirielli, Assessore Antonio Iavone, Dr. Adriano Bellacosa, Dr. Francesco Rega, of the office of tourism of Salerno,Dr. Ciro Cataldo and Vincenzo Pascale of IACE. Greeted in the great hall of the provincial palace we were invited into the President’s reception room where we exchanged thoughts on our “avventura salernitana” and gifts. The President gave ceramic plates from Vietri emblazoned with the crest of province of Salerno to the two American chaperones and the Americans presented the President with a 9/11 flag. Also of note, a pair of hand crafted earrings was gifted to Roberta Basciano, assistant to Dr. Rega and our group’s liaison to the province.

Our last excursion was to the archeological park that contains the ancient Greek city of Paestum. Founded in the 7th Century BC this city was one of the most important of the ancient realm of Magna Grecia, the Greek-settled lands of Southern Italy. Its massive temples are the best preserved of that era on the Italian mainland. Students were able to follow in the footsteps of those ancient people through their religious centers, public spaces and private homes. The large swimming pool with the underwater labyrinth captivated the imagination and the immense columns of the Temple of Poseidon dwarfed us in size. We also visited the adjacent museum, which holds relics of prehistoric man, pottery, decorative sculpture from the archeological site and a complete ancient tomb with the only frescoes to survive from the Greek period to the present in modern Italy.

Ten days flew by for our young travelers. Each day revealed a new discovery. Each day created indelible memories. I would like to thank the Provincia di Salerno and IACE for making it all possible.


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