Piazza Tasso Sorrento

In Sorrento near Naples, southern Italy, there's a deep valley, also known as 'The valley of the mills'. There, between dense vegetation there's the old mill, functioning since the beginning of the 900's and used to produce flour. The mill was abandoned around 1866 when the creation of Tasso square isolated the mill from the sea, provoking a rise in the humidity, which soon forced the mills abandonment. Today the mill is among the tourists attractions of Sorrento. Sorrento like Massa Lubrense has always been called "The Land of the Sirens", that's why I got interested in this theme and started doing some research. Here's to you what I found Enjoy! Sirens, mystical creatures of an ancient past who are said to have inhabited Sorrento area since Greek times; statements of sirens existence are mainly found in Greek stories among which the most important is Homer's "Odyssey". Sirens physiognomy changed a lot during their first appearances, in early Greek art in fact, they used to be represented as birds with huge women's heads, bird feathers and scaly feet, turning later into female figures with bird's legs, with or without wings, who rejoiced themselves playing variety of musical instruments, especially harps. It is believed that their bird element was chosen because of their beautiful voices. According to the "Odyssey", Odysseus was so curious to hear the Siren's chant that in order to do that, on Circe's advice, he had all of his sailor's ear plug with beeswax and ordered his men to tie him to the mast and to not unbid him no matter his begging. When they came to pass near the Island of the Sirens, Odysseus heard their fascinating chant and begged his sailors to free him, but they did not give up to his entreaties. Once out of the earshot, his sailors released Odysseus. According to popular beliefs, Sorrento Peninsula is strictly related to the myth of the Sirens, and is commonly known also as the "Land of the Sirens". Scholars retains in fact that, according to Homer descriptions, Siren's liar would match exactly the morphological appearance described by the Greek poet. It is believed that those mythological creatures found in the mouths of Capri their ideal setting, being related, for the Greek imaginary, to a liminal situation between land and water, and for being those who rule over the elements and in particular to the condition and to the essential elements for navigation. The story goes that Sirens would have had a temple in the Sprrento Peninsula, possibly in Ieranto's Bay, and that their mythical lair would have been the famous "Li Galli" islands "Sirenuse" to the ancients. Some post-Homeric authors stated that the Sirens were fated to die if someone hearing their chant would have managed to escape them, according Licofrone in fact, having failed to attract Odysseus, "Li Galli" island's sirens, threw themselves into the sea letting the sea carry their dead bodies respectively to Terina (Ligeia), Licosa (Leukosia) and the other one in Naples (Parthenope). From the name of the sirens would derives the name of those places. Please find at the end of the page the direct link to download a calendar of the available events related to the wonderful Bay of Ieranto and to the story of the Myth of the Sirens.

It has been a month since the re-opening of the wonderful piece of art and history, which is Marina Grande Ancient Gate. The site, which once was the only way to access the port, dates back to roman times and is linked to the devastating Turkish Invasion in 1558, which almost destroyed Sorrento city. In fact, the story goes that a traitor, slave of the Correale family, opened the gate during the night of the invasion, allowing pirates to plunder the city. The ancient gate, which often figure on Sorrento’s postcards, was threatening to collapse, reason why important recovery activities have begun. During the intervention, the expert restorers discovered a secret ancient passage, which dates back to the sixteenth century, and that allowed entering and exiting the gates of the ancient city, from Marina Grande. Endless tunnels, long hundreds of meters , dug without delay "offering up" a "hidden path ", a route to take when the city gates were closed in times of: war, bloody battles and sieges, and which is said to emerge near the cave of St. George in Villa Tritone.
The mansion has always been considered one of the most prestigious property of Sorrento also for its position, one of the most beautiful of the Sorrento Peninsula. In fact, as an eagle, the villa overlooks the village of Marina Grande, which was the natural set of the famous movie "Pane, Amore e ..." with Sofia Loren, from a two hundred feet high ridge of tuff, which is dominated by the triangular Vesuvius. Former residence of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Augustus, the villa became in 1200 the convent of cloistered nuns, violated by the Saracens in 1558. Rebuilt by the Dominicans, the property was honoured by the presence of Torquato Tasso visiting prior to the friar in 1577. Abolished as a monastery in 1799 it passed to the Jesuits in 1835 and was later purchased by Baron Calabrian Labonia who built his house on the ruins the Roman villa of Agrippa, passing later in the hands of the publishing magnate William Waldorf Astor who built the magnificent garden full of exotic plants.
Among the years, the Villa has had several owners, among them the publisher Astor in Geertsema with whom the property definitely took the name of Villa Tritone. In addition to its unparalleled beauty, which we have already talked about earlier, the Villa was made famous also for having given hospitality to: tycoons, intellectuals, aristocrats and artists, in the immediate post-war, among whom figure the philosopher Benedetto Croce during the bombing of Naples in 1942. During those years, the Villa also became the Reference point as well as the counterpart of Villa “La Rufola”, owned by the Marquis Ruffino Benzoni, who for years played host to the death to Gaetano Salvemini, returned from long exile in the United States.
In the sixties, Rita and Mariano Pane bought Villa Tritone, making it recover its past splendour forgotten during the years. Many were the improvements: the reorganization of the apartments, the care of the garden full of exotic and local, some of which are higher than the building itself.  In the Villa we also find many archaeological finds, all of rare beauty, and then basins, grassy paths, areas of greenery, hundreds of steps towards the sea, secret caves and huge tanks, which were in the Roman period, nurseries for fish. When Mariano and Rita began to live at Villa Tritone, they used to receive and accommodate some of the greatest exponents of the international culture, allowing sharing the beauty of this wonderful place to the knowledge of many.
Villa Tritone is today the only Villa in southern Italy, which has been included in the prestigious volume of “Giardini d’Italia” of Marella Caracciolo Agnelli and Federico Forquet.
Villa Tritone is considered to be one of Italy’s most unique and elegant seafront villas. Perched dramatically on top of a sheer, 100-foot cliff it is ideally positioned to view the delights of the Amalfi coastline, the Mediterranean Sea, Naples and of course, the magnificent Mount Vesuvius.
This 19th-century show-piece was bought and improved by William Waldorf Astor in 1905 while living in Italy as Ambassador for the United States of America. In fact it stands over the remains of an important ancient Roman villa which dates back to the 1st century AD. Some parts of which are still visible within the grounds. As historic and beautiful as it is, it is not the villa I am interested in, but the gardens.
Under William Asters close supervision, the grand architectural style of the gardens were designed by the famous landscape architect Harold Peto, and are considered by some to be one of the finest in Europe. Furthermore, the garden holds one of Italy’s most important botanical collections containing upwards of 1000 plant species!
Secret mossy paths and covered alleys run throughout the lush vegetation, revealing Greek and Roman statues, fountains and making the gardens appear much bigger than they actually are. Rather than have the gardens open straight out onto the breath-taking Mediterranean views, Harold Peto designed a wall along the coastal edge of the garden. This created both privacy, but more importantly intensified the vistas by creating large Gothic 'windows' which perfectly frame and contain the full majesty of the landscape beyond.
In the 1970's Villa Tritone became the residence of Rita and Mariano Pane, a wealthy shipping family. As soon as they moved in with their young family, Rita Pane became the custodian of the garden, and continued to do so for the best part of 40 years!
During this time Rita has gently allowed the gardens to take on a romantic style, '...a garden of the poets...' as she would say, rather than a garden of the architect. Her technique of allowing the plants to naturalise just out of their original design, but without 'out-competing' with neighbouring plants. By allowing the gardens to take an element of control, by not over-managing the plants or trying to keep the original design no matter what, Rita has created one of the world’s great Romantic gardens.
Villa Tritone is a private house and so the garden is not open to the public. However I had the good luck to visit Sorrento earlier this year and so took the opportunity to contact Rita Pane to see if an impromptu visit could be arranged.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the timing of my visit was absolutely terrible as the property had recently been sold to a Russian property developer for a mind blowing 35 million Euros!

Sorrento boasts a excess of restaurant serving top mark Italian cuisine from pizza and pasta to gelato and tiramisu. Throughout the city's you'll find a fine selection of places to choose from, whether you're looking for a slice on the run or a sit-down meal. All budgets are catered for too, with some great menu deals and daily specials offered.
Some of the most popular restaurants in Sorrento can be found in and around Piazza Tasso, but that's not the only place to check out when you want to eat. There are quite a few places in the streets just off Piazza Angelina Lauro too, and despite being quite close to the Train station and a quite touristy area, many of them are really good value.


Piazza Tasso Sorrento
Sorrento private guided tours 2016



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