Capri The writers, artists and aristocrats who fell in love with Capri
In the latter half of the 19th century the Island of Capri became one of the most sought after destinations among young travelers participating in the Grand Tour and for European artists searching for the ideal place in which to paint, compose poetry or simply relax and wait for the inspiration to wash over them like the sea and the warm Mediterranean breeze. It was in this period that the Hotel Pagano was opened, the island's first hotel. The establishment's meticulously conserved guest books provide a unique glimpse of just how many famous artists and aristocrats graced its rooms with their presence.
Capri's fame, as both peaceful Mediterranean retreat and fashionable meeting place, continued to grow during the 1900's and it seemed everybody, from philosophers to princes, wanted to spend at least a week, if not months, experiencing the dramatically beautiful land and seascapes and the hospitality of the islanders. Many of these visitors decided to stay for the entire year on the Island of Capri, some even taking up permanent residence here. Thus the sunny island of Capri evolved into a cultural center of international renown.
Camille Du Locle (Orange, 1832 - Capri, 1903)
Highly acclaimed librettist, theater director, and director of the prestigious Opera Comique di Parigi from 1870 to 1874, the French-born Camille Du Locle was one of the very first prominent figures to visit Capri. Famous for having written, with Joseph Francois Méry, the libretto for the Don Carlos opera and for having brought Aida to the attention of Giuseppe Verdi, in 1876 Du Locle decided to move to Capri and construct his Villa Certosella, a luxurious hotel situated along the picturesque Via Tragara path. The islanders fondly referred to him as "u'francesiello", a clear reference to the Frenchman's distinctly short stature. Camille Du Locle died in Capri in 1903 and was buried in the island's non-catholic cemetery.
Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (Hadamar 1851 - Capri, 1913)
The painter Karl Wilheim Diefenbach, born in Hadmar on February 21st 1851, came to Capri in the early 20th century in an attempt to escape frequent vicious attacks on him by the press. On the Island of Capri, Diefenbach was inspired by the dramatically beautiful scenery, the soaring cliffs and enchanting panoramas, which he skillfully reproduced in works which he exhibited in his studio close to Capri's Piazzetta.
Karl Wilheim Diefenbach observed the principles of Theosophy and preached the return to a simple way of life, in harmony with nature: his let his hair grow long, walked barefoot and dressed in nothing more than a white robe, even in the coldest months. Many of the German painter's works were of notable dimensions and were created using unusual materials and unconventional techniques. Since 1975, Karl Wilheim Diefenbach's works have been displayed in the Charterhouse of San Giacomo.
Friedrich Alfred Krupp (Essen, 1854 - 1902)
The name Friedrich Alfred Krupp, the German steel magnate once known as the "Munitions king" is synonymous with the Island of Capri. The wealthy industrialist's passion for marine biology brought him to Capri where he resided for months in a suite of the Grand Hotel Quisisana. The land which he had purchased for a future construction bordered the Charterhouse of San Giacomo and, shortly after the Second World War this was transformed into the Gardens of Augustus, a public park with beautiful views of the Faraglioni and the bay of Marina Piccola.
During the early 1900's, Krupp personally collaborated with the Naples Zoological Station, as marine biologist, exploring the seas around Capri aboard his boat, Puritain. Krupp was responsible for Via Krupp, the panoramic coastal path which zigzags its way down the cliffs, from the Gardens of Augustus all the way to Marina Piccola. Designed by the talented engineer, Emilio Mayer, the island's director of public works at the time, the road opened in 1902.
In the same year, following accusations of homosexuality (still a crime at the time), Friedrich Alfred Krupp was expelled from Italy, only to die soon after in his home in Essen. Officially Krupp died for reasons of ill health, although, many hypothesized suicide as the real cause of his sudden death.
Axel Munthe (Oskarshamn, 1857 - Stoccolma, 1949)
Physician, writer and true cosmopolitan, Axel Munthe discovered the Island of Capri when he was still a young man, during a journey to Italy undertaken for health reasons. It was then that he decided that one day he would live here. Over the years, the Swedish doctor came to Capri whenever his various professional activities allowed. On the site of a small, derelict, chapel in Anacapri, he built Villa San Michele, a splendid house overlooking the Bay of Naples. Here Axel Munthe conserved the various antiquities and fossils which he had found on the island.
When the city of Naples fell victim to an epidemic of cholera, Axel Munthe volunteered to assist the population, just as in 1908 he had traveled to Messina to help the survivors of the earthquake which had devastated the Sicilian city. As a physician, Munthe was highly valued by members of Swedish Royal Family, and in particular by Prince Eugen, with whom he became friends.
During the last years of his life, when he was all but blinded by a serious eye disease, Munthe wrote The History of San Michele in which he described the construction of his house in Anacapri. Villa San Michele and its gardens now belong to the Swedish state and represent one of the island of Capri's most important tourist attractions.
Norman Douglas (Thuringen, 1868 - Capri, 1952)
The British writer, George Norman Douglas, visited the Island of Capri for the first time with his brother in 1888, in order to capture some of the blue lizards which lived on the Faraglioni rocks. He returned to the island on numerous occasions and in 1897 he bought a house just across the water, in Naples. After he divorced his wife, Norman Douglas moved to Capri, where he wrote a great number of works, including a series of monographs dedicated to the island, in which he described the flora and fauna and wrote about the habits of the islanders.
South Wind was Norman Douglas' most successful novel: a work which he started writing in London during the First World War and completed whilst in Capri, encouraged by Faith Mackenzie. After the Second World War he returned to Capri where he lived in a house situated in the picturesque Via Tragara. He remained on the island until his death, in 1952. George Norman Douglas was buried in the Capri's non-catholic cemetery.
Thomas Mann (Lubecca, 1875 - Zurigo, 1955)
Thomas Mann was one of the most important figures in the history of 20th century literature. In 1885 he left his previous work to dedicate all his time to his one true passion: writing. Only a few years later he began writing his 1901 masterpiece, "Buddenbrooks: the decline of a family", in which he recounted the gradual demise of the German bourgeoisie.
In 1929 Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize. In 1933, with the rise of Nazi power, he decided not to return to Germany and moved from Switzerland to the United States and Los Angeles. Even after the Second World War had ended, Mann did not return to Germany, despite being indicated as possible President of the post war republic. In 1953 the author's daughter, Monika Mann, arrived in Capri where she lived for a period of time in the panoramic Villa Monacone (overlooking the Faraglioni), together with her lover, the local fisherman Antonio Spadaro.
Edwin Cerio (Capri, 1875 - 1960)
An eccentric scholar with diverse interests, Edwin Cerio (son of the physician Ignazio Cerio) is, arguably, one of the most important men in the history of Capri. For almost twenty years, from 1900 to 1920, he worked as naval engineer in a number of important shipyards and collaborated with his friend Friedrich Alfred Krupp until he reached the age of 45, when he decided to return to Capri. In his role as mayor of Capri, a position which he held for three years, Edwin Cerio attempted to put in place regulations which would protect the architectural style of the island.
Edwin Cerio was, in fact, a talented architect and designed a number of the island's villas. This said, Cerio is most often remembered for his literary works, including Capri nel Seicento, L'Ora di Capri, Flora Privata di Capri, and as founder of the Centro Caprense Ignazio Cerio, a museum and cultural center, now used to host important exhibitions and conferences.
Compton Mackenzie (West Hartlepool, 1883 - Edimburgo, 1972)
Sir Compton Mackenzie, the British writer, knighted in 1952, nurtured a lasting affection for Capri and used the island as the setting for two of his early 20th century novels – Vestal Fire and Extraordinary Women. Compton Mackenzie came to Capri for the first time in 1913 together with his wife, Faith. He made lasting friendships with other resident intellectuals, such as Massimo Gorkji, Axel Munthe and Edwin Cerio.
Compton Mackenzie lived first in Villa Caterola, then Villa Il Roasio before accepting Edwin Cerio's offer of hospitality in Villa La Solitaria, a fabulous property situated directly above the sea, along the panoramic Pizzolungo coastal walk. His attempts to construct his own house on the island failed and he decided to purchase a building in the Cetrella district. This has villa recently been restored by a voluntary organization. The gradual disenchantment for life on the island eventually led Compton Mackenzie to leave Capri and return to Britain.
Jacques d'Adelsward Fersen (Parigi, 1880 - Capri, 1923)
Without shadow of doubt, Jacques d'Adelsward-Fersen, better known as Baron Fersen, was one of the more eccentric characters to inhabit Capri. Fersen first visited the island in 1897 and shortly after decided to seek refuge here following his involvement in a number of sex scandals in his native France. After living for a period in Villa La Certosella, in 1905 the count decided to construct his Art Nouveau style villa, close to Villa Jovis, the ancient residence of Emperor Tiberius.
In the garden of Villa Lysis, fragrant myrtle and bay trees encircle a small temple with Ionic columns and a pathway which links the house with the sea. The imposing entrance of the villa features four columns, again in Ionic style, and decorated with gilded motifs. Baron Fersen lived on the Island of Capri for two decades, accompanied by his faithful secretary, Nino Cesarini and, when he died (of a cocaine overdose) he was buried in the island's non-catholic cemetery.
Amedeo Maiuri (Veroli, 1886 - Napoli, 1963)
Professor of archeology and art history, an archeologist of international acclaim and a prolific writer, Amadeo Maiuri was the first scholar to conduct excavations according to scientific criteria of Villa Jovis, one of the Emperor Tiberius' residences on the island of Capri. Thanks to his meticulous work, initiated in 1932 and lasting for 3 years, all the ancient halls and their surroundings which can now be visited were brought to light. Before his Villa Jovis period, Amedeo Maiuri worked as director of the Archeological Museum of Rodi, of Naples' Archaeological Museum and of the sites of Pompei and Herculaneum.
Curzio Malaparte (Prato, 1898 - Roma, 1957)
Curzio Malaparte (born Kurt Erich Suckert) was an Italian writer and journalist (of an ambiguous persuasion) who was particularly active during the politically turbulent 1920's. In 1922 he participated in the March on Rome and was subsequently employed as editor of the la Stampa newspaper. He was confined for five years on the island of Lipari because, according to Mussolini's regime, he was guilty of anti-fascist activities beyond the Italian borders.
During the Second World War he worked for the Corriere della Sera newspaper and recorded all the terrible experiences of war in his highly acclaimed novel Kaputt, published in 1944. A few years later, in 1949, he published La Pelle, a book inspired by the allied forces liberation of Naples. Curzio Malaparte came to Capri for the first time in 1936 to visit his friend, Axel Munthe and in 1938 decided to enlist the services of the Italian Rationalist architect, Adalberto Libera to design a villa, Villa Malaparte, on the panoramic Pizzolungo coastal path.
Curzio Malaparte's island residence, which the author referred to as Casa come me (a house like me), is a striking example of ultra modern architecture. In 1963, was used by Jean Luc Goddard as cinematographic set. Villa Malaparte is now owned by the Giorgio Ronchi Foundation and is, sadly, not open to the general public.
Pablo Neruda (Parral, 1904 - Santiago, 1973)
Pablo Neruda was not only a great name in International literature but also had a number of important political and diplomatic roles. Linked to the Chilean communist party and elected a senator in 1945, Pablo Neruda publicly accused the president Gabriel Gonzalez Videla of committing abuses on the population. Videla ordered Neruda's arrest, forcing him into a long period of exile.
In 1953 – the same year in which he was awarded the Stalin Award – the Chilean poet arrived in Capri where he was Edwin Cerio's guest in the splendid Casa di Arturo, a villa situated on the Via Tragara, overlooking the bay of Marina Piccola. During his time on the island he published his The Captain's Verses, a collection of love poems. In 1971 Pablo Neruda received the Nobel Prize for literature.
Graham Greene (Berkhampsted, 1904 - Corsier-sur-Vevey, 1991)
An important British novelist and playwright, and for a period even a secret agent for the MI6 in Siera Leone, Graham Greene achieved success in various literary genre. Extremely interested in both religious themes and international politics, he began writing from an early age and became a wealthy man thanks to bestselling novels such as The Quiet American, Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter and Our Man in Havana. Graham Greene loved traveling and discovering places which would stimulate his writing. In the 1940's he found inspiration on the Island of Capri where he lived in Edwin Cerio's Villa Il Rosaio in Anacapri.
The lively pedestrian road which winds its way through the historic center of Anacapri is named after Giuseppe Orlandi, the provincial councilor who, in the second half of the 19th century (in 1877) actively promoted the construction of the carriageway connecting Marina Grande with Anacapri. The road, vital for the development of the island, was realized by Emilio Mayer, the engineer responsible for the Via Krupp, who had reputation for his ability to overcome the difficulties created by the island's often impervious terrain. Via Giuseppe Orlandi leads to a number of Anacapri's most important monuments, such as the Casa Rossa and the Church of San Michele.
The german Gustravo Giulio Ottone Dobrich, better known as Miradois, was a hermit monk who arrived in Capri shortly after the end of the First World War. He lived in Grotta di Matermania, the ancient nymphaeum situated on the Pizzolungo pathway, and survived on a diet of herbs, roots and goats milk. When he decided to leave the island he "donated" the cave to the Council of Capri together with a bizarre inventory which listed four stone beds, eight pillows of sand and chalk, four walls, and the sun. Miradois may not be a particularly well-known character but he does appear alongside Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, founder of the Futurist movement, in one of Edwin Cerio's works.
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