For a tranquil, seaside town, the Amalfi Coast has a lively history. First inhabited by the Romans, who built villas and small settlements along the cliffs, the town of Amalfi was originally a defensive point for the Byzantine province known as the Duchy of Naples. Declared an independent republic in 839 AD, the region was a prosperous hub of trading and culture until it fell under Norman control in 1073.
Sailors from the Amalfi Coast are credited with first creating and using a compass to navigate the ocean at the start of the 13th century; a revolutionary tactic that quickly spread across the Mediterranean. The invention is credited to a figure named Flavio Gioia, but even though there is a statue of this man in Amalfi it is thought that he is a fictional character invented to claim ownership of the compass.
The area remained successful until the 1300s, becoming one of the first places in Europe to manufacture paper. However, a plague and then a severe storm wiped out much of the Amalfi Coast’s power, and by the end of the century, it had come under the rule of the Kingdom of Naples.
It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th century that the southern coastline of Italy and its quiet fishing towns were rediscovered by travelling Europeans, who began to flock to the Amalfi Coast to enjoy its breathtaking scenery and tranquil atmosphere. Since then it has been a famous holiday destination, known for the incredible scenery and blissful atmosphere.
Cinque Terre’s history stretches back even further than the Amalfi Coast’s, with many archaeologists claiming that remains found in the Liguria area belong to the Bronze Age. This area was also occupied by the Romans, then the Islamic Saracens in the middle ages, and then was ruled by a noble Tuscan family in the 11th century.
It was in this century that architectural work began to shape the towns that remain today, as villagers built walls, terraces and houses on the cliffs, and began to cultivate vineyards. Cinque Terre translates to ‘Five Lands’, and it wasn’t until the 15th century that all five settlements had been built under the Genoan rule and this name was first given to the area.
These villages were in a prosperous position on the northern coast of Italy, and consequently suffered many attacks across the years from pirates or invaders from other countries. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Italy became a unified country, and a railway line was built to reach Cinque Terre and connect it easily with other towns and cities.
Cinque Terre has always been famous for its vineyards and wine production, but it did not become a popular holiday destination until mentioned in a guidebook in the 1970s. Since then, it has become a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Park has been founded in the area, making Cinque Terre an ideal location for day trips or hiking holidays.
Both coastal regions have a diverse and interesting history, and whilst all of Cinque Terre is considered a historical site, the Amalfi Coast has more to see in terms of historic landmarks such as churches and a castle.