The landing of the Saracens in Positano and in Salerno

Sbarco saraceni a positano 770x370

In the Middle Ages, a dark period in the history of Positano and of which, today, little or nothing is known, an ancient panel representing a Byzantine Madonna reached the coast. From where it came and who brought it, is not clear. However, around this painting, which is still intact in the village church, the legend of Positano flourished. It is a religious belief that the faith of the Fathers has always kept alive, and whose memory still has the magical power to inflame and win the hearts of the inhabitants of Positano.

The origins of Positano can be traced back to the incursion of the Saracens in the Middle Ages.

The words “Arabs, Saracens, Moors, Turks and Berbers” were used without distinction and indicated Muslim soldiers who, from the 7th century, sailed the Mediterranean Sea in search of booty.

According to legend, on the night of August 14 a band of Saracen pirates landed on the Grande Beach in Positano. After setting fire to the town with a series of raids and violence, the raiders stole the sacred image of the painting of the Black Madonna, a 12th-century Byzantine icon. They were almost offshore when a furious storm broke out. Between the howling of the wind and the roar of the stormy sea, the voice of the Virgin was heard asking to be left on the ground: “Posa, Posa!” This is where the name Positano came from. The sailors obeyed and, converted to the Christian faith, managed to direct the ship towards the cove where the Madonna was left. In the place where the sacred image was found, a church was built in honour of the Virgin and the village was built around it.

Over the centuries this myth has remained in the local people’s memory with religious celebrations and spectacular fireworks. Hundreds of boats and small yachts arrived  every year in the small bay from all the towns of the Amalfi and Sorrento coasts, from Castellamare to Sorrento,from Salerno to Amalfi to admire the fireworks from the sea as they rise in the sky at midnight, then fall back as reflections on the waves…

On each terrace and balcony groups of friends and entire families gathered to watch the spectacle of lights and colours of a festival that mixes sacred and profane rituals, ancient beliefs (such as that of perforated stones collected after the passing of the Madonna to which curative powers are attributed) , folk songs and dances and a spectacular historical re-enactment: about four hundred actors and figures with characteristic costumes staged the landing of the Saracens and the miraculous intervention of the Madonna, then the fake fire of the town and the kidnapping of the virgins. Finally, they went to the beach until late to eat bread and melon, in the most classical Positano tradition.

For years now, this ancient event no longer takes place, with the regret of those who remember it as a celebratory moment, not only a religious one, but also a bond of the inhabitants of Positano with their history and the traditions of an ancient time, in which the sacred and profane mingled very strongly.Only the fireworks remain, which for one night make the “vertical city “ even more fascinating.

In 2015 the first edition of the event entitled “Principatus Salerni” was held in Salerno: the Saracen siege where the siege by the Saracen troops was recalled at the Lombard outpost of southern Italy. The evocative historical re-enactment transformed the historic centre of Salerno into a scenario of the past that led spectators to the Salerno of the Longobard court that occurred in 871-72.

Salerno suffered a violent siege by the Saracens who were driven away by the Lombard prince Guaiferio who won a bloody battle outside the walls of Salerno. His victory removed the Saracen danger from the coastal area of Campania forever. The evocative historical re-enactment of the episode lends itself to the union of spectacle, art and culture, while favouring local tourism and the rediscovery of the city’s historical heritage. The military camp was recreated, home to spectacular duels, exhibitions, demonstrations and archery tournaments. In addition to the spectacular aspect of the event, the historical re-enactment was also the right occasion to learn the way of living of the people of Salerno at that time, an opportunity to learn about the arts and crafts of the Lombard period faithfully reproduced in the Lombard-themed market. Inside the event it was also possible to visit the Lombard buildings located in the heart of the city.


The history of watch towers

The Sorrentine Peninsula and the Cilento in particular are underpinned by a myriad of watch towers, ancient bastions that tell eight centuries (IX-XVII centuries) of raids, first by the Saracens and later by pirates.

Most of the towers, however, were built during the period of the Spanish viceroyalty following the edict of 1563 issued by Don Parfan de Ribera Duke of Alcalà, who ordered the construction of coastal towers manned by the military. With the Bourbon restoration in 1815, most of the towers were disarmed and used for other purpose like housing, traffic lights or telegraph signals.

From each tower it was possible to scrutinize the sea and usually see the surroundings with the possibility of sending luminous or smoke signals to transmit a message or request assistance, from some of them (so-called “horse-riding towers”) a horse guardian would leave to alert the inhabitants of the hamlets.

Along the Amalfi coast, from Vietri sul Mare to Positano, and up to Sapri, the last town in Campania, the towers are truly innumerable and sometimes correspond to important fortresses.

To see the bell towers, go to places like Punta Campanella, Massa Lubrense, Vietri, Velia, in the Gulf of Policastro up to the inlets that precede Maratea.

From 2005, in June, the Saracen Towers Regatta takes place, which runs through the gulfs of Naples, Salerno, Policastro and Sant’Eufemia, over a total distance of about 200 miles. A sailing regatta that tests the ability, preparation, speed and tenacity of the competitors, both in coastal navigation and in rough seas.

Today there are numerous Saracen watch towers: some are crumbling, others have become hotels, houses, renowned restaurants, others still stand alone as nobles in exile.