Year by year the amount of visitors in Sorrento exponentially grows, a growth confirmed by data drafted by the most influential portals of this sector. Indeed in 2018 Sorrento has been the “most-searched Italian destination” on Booking.com, and not only. According to Travellers’ Choice Destination Awards of TripAdvisor, the “Mermaids’ Land” gains the fourth place (right after Rome, Florence and Venice) in the chart of the most visited Italian towns in 2018 (7th place for Ischia, 8th for Naples and 10th for Positano).
This is a never-seen-before success! But what does make this city so irresistible? Here’s all you need to know about Sorrento to travel as a guest and not as a tourist.
1. Sorrento, the name of a sweet maiden
In the name “Sorrento” lies one the most fascinating tales of the popular tradition. It is narrated that the origins of the name Sorrento are linked to Sirentum, a special maiden born by the union of Mirone, a farmer who used to live on the hills of Casarlano, and Leucosia, one the Acheloo’s three mermaid daughters. The baby girl had a charming beauty with blonde golden hair, a sweet attitude, a great joy and a kind behavior. Moreover, it seems that on the Marina Grande beach, one day Sirentum met the mermaid Parthenope who praised her beauty and forecasted her a future as queen. Indeed, later the beautiful maiden met the Durazzo family Prince, with whom she married. The two lovers travelled a lot and when they lived in Sorrento area they were very friendly and hospitable with everyone, offering wine, honey sweets, almonds, figs, gaining so love and respect from people. On a sad day of 1558, Saracens invaded Sorrento. They raided people riches, destroyed and took a lot of prisoners, among whom there was also the beautiful Sirentum. The inhabitants of her country were able to free her: they voluntarily donated all their properties and riches to Saracens to have their loved Sirentum back. The devotion of her people was so deep that Sirentum’s name also inspired the name of their town.
2. Sorrento and the mermaids myth
The origins of the connections between Sorrento and the Mermaids myth have ancient roots and one of the creators of this indissoluble link was the Greek poet Omero, who yet 3 thousand years ago praised the beauties of Sorrento Paninsula landscapes, making it the scenery of the meeting between Ulysses and the Mermaids. For those who read the Odyssey, it should be familiar the moment in which Ulysses, to resist Mermaids’ summon and to avoid his ship to crash on the rocks, put some wax in his crew members’ ears and asked them to tie him on the mast. This event, according to Omero, developed right in Amalfi Coast sea, more precisely near the archipelago Li Galli.
Indeed, following the myth, after that Ulysses avoids the Mermaids’ trap, because of their sadness they threw themselves in the sea becoming three big rocks, the three little isles of Li Galli archipelago: Gallo Lungo, Castellucio and La Rotonda. In fact, near Punta Campanella, the ruins of the Temple of Athena are still evident, which was built by Ulysses to thank the Goddess for having helped him with the Mermaids.
History and myth deeply weave together in this land: when it is impossible to clarify the past traces through the historical reconstructions, the myth is able to give explanations attributing to Sorrento a mysterious female charming recalling thousands visitors every year.
3. Sugared almond olive palms tradition
Sorrento is deeply attached to its traditions; despite the constant civil and urban progresses, some rites are considered as precious as gold, since that they represent the true essence of this land. One of the most symbolic is for sure the tradition of the sugared almond olive palms, blessed on the churchyard of each church on Palm Sunday and given to the dearest people.
The origins of this rite have historical roots: in an April morning of 1551, bells from all Sorrento Peninsula churches begun ringing to indicate the Saracens’ ships arrival, feared Turkish pirates who used to terrify inhabitants of the Coast with their assaults. Immediately, scared Sorrento people went into the Cathedral to invoke God’s grace. In that moment a terrible wind shook the sea and all the Saracens’ ships sank. From that sinking, only a young slave woman saved herself swimming to reach Marina Grande beach. Once in Sorrento, the woman arrived in front of the Cathedral where the Palm Sunday mass was being celebrated. She entered and knelt on the altar thanking God’s grace for having saved her life, she offered a pouch with colored sugared almonds to all the people there who kindly welcomed her.
At that time, sugared almonds were unknown in Peninsula and everyone was curious about them. So the young woman decided to teach the inhabitants how to create the sugared almonds olive palms, establishing a tradition that, passed down from mothers to daughters and from grandmothers to nieces, reached us.
Where to buy sugared almonds olive palms
Nowadays, unfortunately, there are always less people continuing this ancient tradition among the domestic walls. But, during the week before Palm Sunday, from Meta to Massa Lubrense, several bakeries sell these traditional products, especially in the historical city centers.
They are realized in every shape and colors: baskets, little trees and flowered branches. You’re spoilt for choice!
4. Sorrento and its Australian “twin sister”
Everyone knows that in Australia there is a city called Sorrento too, more precisely in Victoria, in MorningtonPeninsula County. It’s a little “sister” of 2 thousand inhabitants which borders Port Phillip Bay. How is it that this little town has the same name of our beloved Sorrento?
This quiet bathing area has been intentionally named as the Italian Sorrento from the first inhabitants of the town, even though the reasons are pretty unclear. In 1803 the first Europeans inhabitated Victoria State, near the current town on Sullivan Bay. Because of the lack of freshwater the settlement was abandoned and the colonists moved to Tasmania.
After the center was repopulated are there were founded the first courthouse, the first public hospital and the first post office of the entire state of Victoria. The city has a number of big historical houses and hotel dated back to 1860, almost all built with local rocks. In 1870 the Sorrento Park was founded and it contains a variety of trees among which there is an Aleppo pine grown from the seeds that some Australian soldiers brought from the Lone Pine Battle.
5. Important personalities who visited Sorrento
Several important people have visited and stayed in Sorrento:
- George Gordon Byron (1818)
- Percy B. Shelly (1819)
- Walter Scott (1831)
- Charles Dickens (1845)
- Teodoro Mommsen (1852)
- Paul Heise (1853-1877)
- Harriet Becker Stowe (1866)
- Federico Nietzsche (1876)
- Edward Grieg (1872-1881)
- Marrion Crawford (1895-1909)
- Leone Tolstoi (1898)
- Duilio Zanfirescu (Rumenno) (1891-1918)
Among these personalities it has to be mentioned the tenor Enrico Caruso, even if with non-completely optimistic circumstances, whose memory still remains vivid in Excelsior Vittoria Hotel where he stayed in 1921. In summer 1980 in that same suite Lucio Dalla, a regular guest of the hotel, was inspired by the tenor and composed his most known song “Caruso” dedicated indeed to the gone artist, and making that “terrace in front of Sorrento Gulf” famous all around the world.
In the end, but not for importance, how not to mention Torquato Tasso , to whom is dedicated the main square in Sorrento city. He was born in Sorrento on 11th March 1544, but his life brought him to leave Sorrento, where he always hoped to return one day, wish testified by a letter he wrote to his sister Cornelia in 1587: “… hoping to return, I will not say to enjoy, but to breathe in this heaven, under which I was born: to rejoice with the sight of the sea and of the gardens; to console me with your love; to drink of these wines or of these waters, which may perhaps diminish my infirmity…”.