Set within an azure sea, Capri is the quintessential embodiment of Mediterranean privilege. It was here that the wealthy and powerful flocked long before the Rivieras and Costas were born.

Like a limestone outcrop that sticks out of the deep blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the little island of Capri is a siren that has been attracting people since the earliest of times. Set just below the Sorrentine Peninsula, near the point where that famous home of classic resort towns like Amalfi and Positano meets Sorrento, and with it the Bay of Naples, Capri’s charms have beguiled and bewitched since the Greeks first landed here and the Romans made it a pleasure haven for their wealthy and powerful.

In a way, this coastline is the first Riviera in the world, for long before the Côte d’Azur or the Ligurian coastline were dotted with anything but fishing villages, places like Capri were already home to a concentration of villas and mansions that made them the St. Tropez or Marbella of their day. Or should one say Monaco, for to have a summer home here marked one out as a member of the Roman’s inner circle – and naturally the Emperor himself could not be absent either.

For us it is a very contemporary concept, the thought of owning a summer residence on the shores of the Mediterranean, but in reality this practice goes back well over 2,000 years, showing that once again our modern society is merely repeating what was already normal practice to the Romans long ago. In spite of this Roman love for Capri and the region of Naples as a whole, it was Greek settlers who first created towns and cities here.

Classical Connections

The very name Naples reveals this Hellenic connection, coming from Neapolis – new town – and into Italian as Napoli. The Greeks named the pretty island loitering on the edge of this coastline Kapros, after the wild boar they encountered here, and while they founded its little capital it is the later Romans who left more of a mark with their villas and splendid gardens. Remnants of these can still be found, and they form an interesting point of comparison with the classic villas that line the Belvedere of Tragara.

One can only imagine the bacchanalian parties, perhaps even orgies, that took place here in the summer as one prominent host tried to outdo the other. Lavish spending would have produced rivers of wine, mountains of food, exotic entertainment and an army of servants to attend to the every need of hundreds of guests. There are tales of slaves being thrown into the breeding ponds of carp and moray eels, and said to have been devoured there, so the picture is not always a happy one.

The Emperor Augustus is particularly associated with Capri. So enamoured was he with this little paradise that he built not just his own mansion there, but also temples, aqueducts and villas for his friends and family. Roman gardens were established to enhance the sense of paradise, and remnants of the Roman presence remain strong throughout the rocky isle. Augustus’ stepson and successor, Tiberius, later even moved to Capri permanently, and it became the unofficial capital of the Roman Empire when he continued to run the state’s affairs from there…

Words Michel Cruz

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