At the turn of the 20th century, great minds from all over Europe, from luminary scholars to eccentric aristocrats, turned towards Capri. The island soon became a refuge for those in search of an inspirational place, where they would be able to express their diverse artistic and intellectual passions in total freedom.
All those who fell in love with Capri - from Compton Mackenzie to Friedrich Alfred Krupp - dreamed of having their very own house on this paradisiacal island, a peaceful retreat far from the responsibilities, the stress and the social whirl of everyday life. A number of those dream homes became a reality and have become part of the history of Capri.
Casa come me (a house like me): this was the name which Curzio Malaparte chose for his home on the island of Capri, a massive block of masonry set on the rocky spur of Punta Masullo and clearly visible from the Pizzolungo coastal path. Built in 1938 following the designs of Curzio Malaparte, Villa Malaparte is a daringly provocative example of Italian Razionalism and how modern architecture can simultaneously conflict with and complement the natural landscape.
In stark contrast with the surrounding blue of the sea and sky and green of the luxuriant Mediterranean shrub, the external walls of the villa are painted in brick red. Reverse pyramidal stairs lead to the roof terrace with free standing curving white wall, all completely exposed to the elements. The interiors are simple yet, at the same time, contain details worthy of the greatest contemporary schools of architectural design. The living room is filled with the light which floods in through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and has a magnificent fireplace, positioned so that guests are able see the sea through the flames. It was here that Curzio Malaparte wrote part of his best seller, Kaputt.
In his will, Curzio Malaparte stated that a foundation be created, to promote relations between the populations of Italy and China, and that his Casa come me should be made available to Chinese artists visiting Capri. Today, Villa Malaparte is the private villa of Malaparte's heirs and it is closed to the general public.
Villa Lysis, or Villa Fersen as it is often called, was designed at the beginning of the 20th century by the artist and architect Edouard Chimot for Jacques d'Adelsward-Fersen, the disgraced French aristocrat (and poet) who, following a number of sex scandals, fled Paris and sought refuge on the Island of Capri. The edifice, completed in 1905, has many of the characteristics of the Art Nouveau style popular at the time. The villa is located just a few minutes away from the ruins of Villa Jovis, arguably the most impressive of the imperial villa's built by Emperor Tiberius on Capri. The count named his island home after the young boy, Lysis, mentioned in Plato's famous dialogue on the nature of friendship.
In the early 20th century, Villa Lysis became a meeting place for many of the illustrious personages visiting the Island of Capri - from the British writer Norman Douglas to the enigmatic Italian marquise, Luisa Casati Stampa.
The entrance of the Villa features four exquisitely decorated Ionic columns, and an architrave on which the Latin phrase amori et dolori sacrum (a shrine to love and sorrow) is inscribed. Columns similar to those of the portico can be seen in the little round temple in the villa's gardens, from where a pathway descends all the way to the sea. In the main hall or atrium of the villa, an impressive marble stairway with wrought iron balustrade leads to the first floor and the dining room, guest rooms, and to the panoramic master bedroom once used by Baron Fersen and his lover, Nino Cesarini. Via the basement, visitors access the Chinese Room, decorated with mosaics and oriental ideograms, where Fersen used to smoke opium.
Following Fersen's death, due to a cocaine overdose, the villa was inherited by Nino, who subsequently sold the property to the late Baron Fersen's sister. For many years left derelict, Villa Lysis has been recently restored and is now open to the public. During the summer months, its rooms are used to host art exhibitions and cultural events.
Situated next to the famous Capri Piazzetta, close to the cathedral of Santo Stefano, Palazzo Cerio is an ancient edifice, dating back to the late 14th century, when it was built by Giacomo Arcucci, secretary of Queen Giovanna I of Angiò and the first count of Capri. Today the building houses one of the Island of Capri's most important cultural institutions, the Cerio Museum, founded by Edwin Cerio in memory of his father, Ignazio Cerio, the influential physician, archeologist and philosopher.
During his working life, Ignazio Cerio supervised a number of important natural history projects and collected exhibits of various origin. His most significant works include the archeological excavations in the Grotta delle Felci and in the grounds of the Grand Hotel Quisisana. His studies of the Podarcis sicula coerulea, the famous blue lizard which inhabits the Faraglioni of Capri, make essential reading for budding herpetologists. Today the results of his research can be seen in the museum, which contains over 20.000 exhibits, collected on the island of Capri and beyond, displayed in four rooms: the geo-palaeontology room, the archeology room, the pre-history room and the biology room.
The Cerio Museum and library, this latter containing some 5.000 texts regarding Capri, are both open to the public. Guided visits are available, by reservation, outside normal opening hours.
Villa Il Rosaio is one of the best known houses on the Island of Capri, thanks to the number of famous people who chose it as a Mediterranean retreat. The engineer and writer Edwin Cerio purchased what was, at the time, a country dwelling in 1911, and adapted it according to his own personal architectural tastes. The house is named after the splendid roses which grow in the garden amidst the vines, pergolas, and the old mill.
Although Edwin Cerio rented Villa Il Rosaio to a number of the artists and writers who in the first half of the 20th century frequented the Island of Capri, he often stayed there himself, finding the peace of Anacapri, particularly conducive to study. Whilst residing at Villa Il Rosaio he wrote some of his best known books, such as Aria di Capri', 'L'Approdo and Capri nel Seicento. From 1914 to 1916 Compton Mackenzie lived in the villa, and 1948 Graham Greene stayed there. Other illustrious residents of Villa Il Rosaio include the Futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the painter Rosina Viva and the composer Ottorino Respighi.
Villa Orlandi is situated just steps away from Piazza Boffe, the heart of the historic center of Anacapri. Since 1939, the villa has been owned by the island's Cerio Foundation. Like Villa Il Rosaio, Villa Orlandi was originally built as simple country residence and was relatively uninfluenced by the more sophisticated architectural styles used for the other important houses of Anacapri, such as the Casa Rossa and Villa San Michele. Before its restoration by Edwin Cerio and purchase by Giuseppe Orlandi, the edifice was part of the Teresian Convent and was known locally as the 'Casa della Badessa' (House of the Abbess).
The entrance drive to Villa Orlandi is lined with a classical colonnade. The interiors are characterized by elegant details in stucco, typical of Capri's 18th century homes. Today Villa Orlandi houses the University of Naples' International Center of Scientific Culture, and its rooms are used to host seminars and academic meetings of international importance.
The colonnades of Capri are reminders of those of the Ancient Roman residences which were constructed on the island. Over the centuries, the custom of lining the approach to villas with columns, made from marble or stone, proliferated to such an extent that it became part of the local architectural tradition and a characteristic trait of even the most humble houses on Capri; almost as common as the majolica tiled benches which the islanders use to furnish their pretty sea view terraces.
Where to see the typical colonnades
- Villa Monacone - Via Pizzolungo
- Casa La Solitaria - Via Pizzolungo
- La Certosella - Via Tragara, 13
- Villa Moneta - Via Tiberio, 32
- Villa La schiava - Via Tiberio, 35
- Villa San Michele - Viale Axel Munthe
- Hotel Bellavista - Via Orlandi, 10
- Casa Orlandi - Via Finestrale, 2
- Terrace of the Funicular railway - next to Piazzetta of Capri