Punta Campanella and the ancient path of Minerva

by Claudia Grillo

Punta Campanella it is the extreme termination of the Sorrento peninsula, the edge of land from which the beautiful island of Capri seems to be only a few steps away. To access it you have to walk a long path made of white pebbles and subtle voices of nature. The beauty of the territory, the suggestion of the landscape with the islands embedded in the sea and the strategic position for maritime traffic have meant that the area was frequented since the eighth century. B.C 

We are talking about almost three thousand years ago!

Evidence of this long history are the Etruscan, Greek-Italic and Roman amphorae, the remains of ships (especially from the Roman era) and the architectural elements in marble, belonging to the ancient Roman villas, all found in the seabed of the Sorrento coast.

Ancora Greca di Punta Campanella
Greek anchor prior to the fourth century. B.C

The temple of the goddess Athena at Punta Campanella

The wealth of Punta campanella derives from the fact that the stretch of sea that separates it from the island of Capri is an almost mandatory route for sailors from Greece and the Greek colonies of Sicily, heading towards Neapolis. This has made our center a privileged and functional transit destination for Mediterranean businesses.

Some sources attest to the presence of a temple in honor of the goddess Athena, built right on the summit of Punta Campanella. According to an ancient Greek legend, the mythical one would have built this sanctuary Odysseus, the same hero who had made the siren die of love Parthenope. Legends aside, the real existence of this ancient temple is testified by the historian Strabo (lived between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD) and was demonstrated in 1985 by a rock epigraph in the Oscan language (III-II century BC) discovered by the archaeologist Mario Russo.

Punta Campanella e l'antichissimo sentiero di Minerva
rock epigraph in Oscan (III-II century BC)

The inscription mentions three Meddices Minervii, an osca expression to say "Magistrates of Minerva ", who would have taken care of the works for the construction of an entrance staircase to the sanctuary. According to the Latin historian Livio, in fact, the staircase would have been built on the occasion of the visit of some Roman priests "in Campania at Minervae promontorium ", therefore, right in our Punta Campanella. In addition, ex voto objects were found for libation rites: the prayers and sacrifices made in honor of the goddess ensured good navigation for passing sailors.

Punta Campanella e l'antichissimo sentiero di Minerva
Tower of Minerva


The severed tower and the lost bell

A few centuries later, the strategic position of the promontory was exploited again. In 1335 the king Roberto D'Angiò he had a lookout tower built there, known as Tower of Minerva. It was refurbished in the 16th century, after the invasion of Massa and Sorrento by the Turks. It is now cut off, but still clearly visible.

In this tower there was one bell, whose sound was fundamental to warn the locals in case of danger. Thus it was that, over the years, the ancient and Latin-like name of Promontorio di Minerva gave way to the more modern and characteristic name Punta Campanella.

Claudia Grillo

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