Capri's Blue Grotto

Capri’s Blue Grotto

Capri is an island located in the Tyrrhenian Sea on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region of Italy. It has been a resort since the time of the Roman Republic.

Some of the main features of the island include the following: the Belvedere of Tragara (a high panoramic promenade lined with villas), the limestone crags called sea stacks that project above the sea (the Faraglioni), the town of Anacapri, the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) and the ruins of the Imperial Roman villa. The island has two harbors, Marina Piccola and Marina Grande (the main port of the island).

Capri map

The city has been inhabited since early times. Evidence of human settlement was discovered during the Roman era when the foundations for the villa of Emperor Augustus (the first Emperor of the Roman Empire) were being excavated where giant bones and stone weapons were discovered. Modern excavations have shown that human presence on the island can be dated to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. Augustus developed Capri; he built temples, villas, aqueducts and planted gardens, so he could enjoy his private paradise. Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, built a series of villas in Capri, the most famous of which is the Villa Jovis, one of the best-preserved Roman villas in Italy. In 27 AD, Tiberius permanently moved to Capri, running the Empire from there until his death in 37 AD.

Statue of Emperor Augustus

Statue of Emperor Augustus

After the end of the Western Roman Empire, Capri returned to the status of a dominion of Naples and suffered various attacks and ravages by pirates. In 866 Emperor Louis II gave the island to Amalfi. In 987 Pope John XV consecrated the first bishop of Capri. In 1496 Frederick IV of Naples established legal and administrative parity between the settlements of Capri and Anacapri. The pirate raids reached their peak during the reign of Charles V when the famous Turkish admirals, Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha and Turgut Reis, captured the island in 1535 and 1553 for the Ottoman Empire.

The first recorded tourist to visit the island was French antiques dealer, Jean-Jacques Bouchard, in the 17th century. His diary, found in 1850, is an important information source about Capri.

Capri

French troops under Napoleon occupied Capri in January 1806. The British ousted the French the following May, after which Capri was turned into a powerful naval base but the building program caused heavy damage to the archaeological sites. The French reconquered Capri in 1808 and remained there until the end of the Napoleonic era (1815), when Capri was returned to the Bourbon ruling house of Naples.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Capri became a popular resort for European artists, writers and other celebrities. Norman Douglas, Friedrich Alfred Krupp, Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen, Christian Wilhelm Allers, Emil von Behring, Curzio Malaparte, Axel Munthe and Maxim Gorky are all reported to have owned a villa there or to have stayed there for more than three months. Swedish Queen Victoria often stayed there. Rose O’Neill, the American illustrator and creator of the Kewpie, owned the Villa Narcissus, formerly owned by the famous Beaux Art painter, Charles Caryl Coleman. Dame Gracie Fields also had a villa on the island, though her 1934 song “The Isle of Capri” was written by two Englishmen. Mariah Carey owns a villa on the island.

Capri 2

Capri is a popular tourist destination for both Italians and foreigners. In summer, the island is heavily visited by tourists, especially by day trippers from Naples and Sorrento. The center of Capri is the Piazza. Piazza Umberto I, better known as the Piazzetta, is a surprisingly small little square enclosed within ancient edifices. In the past, the Piazzetta was home to a lively fish and fruit market – that was until 1938, when a young islander, Raffaele Vuotto, opened a bar and arranged a few small tables and chairs outside, where customers could relax over a cup of coffee or glass of wine. A number of his fellow citizens soon followed suit and, from that moment on, the Piazzetta became the heart of Capri’s social life, so much so that, in no time at all, the square earned itself the label of “salotto del mondo” (the world’s sitting room).

Caprisidewalkcafe

Capri is home to the Mediterranean plant, the Arboreal Euphorbia, and the Ilex Wood. The native inhabitants on the island include quails, robins, peregrine falcons, woodcocks, blackbirds, geckos, red goldfish, conger eels, sargos, grouper, mullet and the blue lizard of the Faraglioni. Capri has twelve churches and seven museums and monuments.

Capri is known for the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), a sea cave that is flooded with a brilliant blue or emerald light. It is the most visited attraction in Capri. The Grotta Azzurra was discovered in the 19th century by foreign tourists and has been a phenomenon ever since.

Capri-train

There are no cars on the main part of Capri. Capri is served by ferry or hydrofoil from Naples, Sorrento, Positano or Amalfi, as well as by boat services from the ports of the Bay of Naples and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Boats arrive in the morning and leave after lunch (3–4 pm). From Naples, the ferry takes 80 minutes and the hydrofoil 40 minutes. From Sorrento, the ferry takes about 40 minutes while the hydrofoil takes about 20 minutes. From the port, a funicular (a cable railway)transfers tourists to Capri town. From Anacapri, a city in the center of the island, a chair lift takes passengers to the top of the island.

Capri 4

Capri’s traditional cuisine is prepared using the produce grown on the island and the fish caught in the surrounding sea. Typical island recipes make liberal use of fresh fish, caciotta and mozzarella cheese, sun-ripened tomatoes, aubergine, garlic, peperoncino, olive oil and aromatic herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley and rosemary.
Limoncello is a liqueur made with Capri’s organically grown lemons. The island has any number of shops selling Limoncello in every shape and size of bottle, but, for those keen to make their own, the procedure is surprisingly simple.

Pennette Aumm Aumm

Capri pasta

This typical summer dish is made with garden vegetables, fresh cheese and basil.

Ingredients for 4 people

  • 14-16 oz Pennette (penne) pasta
  • 1 lb aubergines (eggplant)
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 lb Mozzarella di Bufala cheese, diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Basil

Directions

Dice the aubergine and brown it in the olive oil. Remove to a separate bowl and reserve. Add the garlic to the pan and the tomatoes (sliced in two). Cook for 5 minutes on a high flame, take off the heat and add the aubergine.

Cook the pennette “al dente”, drain and toss in the tomato and aubergine sauce. Before serving: add the cheese (in small cubes), the fresh basil, mix and serve hot.

Fish cooked in crazy water – Pezzogna all’acqua pazza

Capri fish

While the dish originated from fishermen of the Neapolitan area, who sautéed the catch of the day in seawater together with tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil, the term itself most likely originated from Tuscany. While peasants would make wine, they had to give most of it to the landlord, leaving little left for them to drink. The peasants were resourceful, however, and mixed the stems, seeds and pomace leftover from the wine production with large quantities of water, brought it to a boil, then sealed it in a terracotta vase and fermented it for several days. Called l’acquarello or l’acqua pazza; the result was a water barely colored with wine, which the fisherman may have been reminded of when seeing the broth of the dish, colored slightly red by the tomatoes and oil. Acqua pazza became a very popular dish with tourists on Capri Island in the 1960s.
The pezzogna fish (also known as “occhione” or “big eye” because of the size of its eyes) is caught in the Bay of Naples and is highly prized for its delicious meat and is used in a variety of dishes. In this recipe the pezzogna is cooked “all’acqua pazza” with tomatoes.

Ingredients for 4 people

  • 1 pezzogna about 1 ½ to 2 lbs (in the US substitute red snapper)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (peperoncino)
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions

Clean and season the fish with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil and lightly fry the garlic and peperoncino in a large skillet with a cover. Add the tomatoes, fish, white wine and water. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Serve immediately, dressed with the cooking liquid and sprinkled with parsley.

Limoncello

limoncello_01

Ingredients

  • Four cups (1 qt) good vodka, 80 proof
  • Nine (9) small/medium sized lemons, cleaned with a pastry brush and patted dry.
  • One Jar, 1 1/2 to 2 quart size, with a lid.
  • Simple Syrup, recipe below

Directions

With a potato peeler, peel (zest) all the lemons avoiding any of the white part, as this will make the limoncello bitter.
Put the zest in the jar and add the vodka. Place the cover on the jar and give it a good shake.
Place it in a cool dry place for five (5) days and each day give it a good shake. The more it is shaken, the more flavor is released by the lemons.
At the end of five days, strain the liquid into a large bowl or jar. Squeeze and, then, discard the lemon zest. Add the simple syrup and mix well.
Transfer to decorative bottles for storage.
Keep in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Simple Syrup

Four (4) cups of water and four (4) cups of sugar.
Without stirring, bring to a boil and simmer for five to ten minutes until the liquid is clear.
Let it cool completely.

Capri Chocolate Cake

Capri cake

Ingredients

  • 5 oz almonds, chopped
  • 3 ½ oz butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 ½ oz dark chocolate, chopped
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons crème de Cacao Liqueur or Strega liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Directions

Cream the butter with the sugar in an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.
Add the beaten eggs and mix well.
Then add the almonds and finely chopped chocolate mixed with the baking powder. Add the liqueur.
Grease a 9 inch cake pan and line it with parchment paper.
Pour in the cake batter.
Bake in a 350°F oven for 50/55 minutes. Invert the cake on a serving dish.
When cool, dust with powdered sugar.

 

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