The legend of Montepertuso: the power of nature in Positano

by Gerardo Russo

Positano is an iconic town on the Amalfi Coast, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Campania. It owes its fame to the sense of perpendicularity of its profile between sea and mountains, whose precarious encounter is softened by a fascinating climbing architecture. In the hamlet of Montepertuso precariousness materializes in a gash in Monte Gambera which gives its name to the small village. In fact, a curious hole appears in the rocky wall, capable of inspiring feats and legends in centuries.

La leggenda di Montepertuso: il potere della natura a Positano
The perpendicularity of Positano.

The traditional legend

Monte Gambera is characterized by a large hole, which in Neapolitan is called "pertuso“, Hence the name of the Montepertuso hamlet. The possible derivation from Latin is underlined pertūsus (washed, transformed), which is however the basis of the Neapolitan.

Legend has it that on the mountain, in 6th century AD, lived uncivilized men, dedicated to hunting and settled in caves. These primitive lifestyle tribes were awakened one night by loud thunder. A girl, wrapped in a light, would have heard the maternal voice of the Madonna at that moment.

Do not be afraid anymore, the devil has been cursed and his efforts against this mountain are over, because the evil spirit is destroyed. Remains of his snake-shaped body are found on the other side of the living rock. So come with me and accompany me to the hill of the holy forest, where we will stop forever.

(The words of Our Lady according to legend)

There Madonna had collided with Devil, right at the summit of Positano. Evil would have challenged the Madonna to crumble the mountain, to demonstrate its strength, but only managing to scratch it. The Madonna, on the other hand, would have succeeded in the enterprise simply by touching the mountain with a finger, creating the hole still visible today. Right next to the hole there is a cave of almost the same size, evidence of the previous failed attempt. The defeated devil would have fallen among the rocks, leaving as a trace the silhouette of a snake still visible.

Following the surrender of evil, the uncivilized people would have left the mountain to find shelter in the more hospitable surrounding area. Here stands today the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, whose faithful recall each 2nd of July the ancient legend.

La leggenda di Montepertuso: il potere della natura a Positano
The "hole" seen from below.

Goths or Byzantines

Which people inhabited the caves of Monte Gambera at the time to which the legend refers? It is assumed that they were men who came from the East.

In the sixth century AD, fights between Goths and Byzantines were frequent throughout Italy. According to some sources, the protagonists of the legend could have been mercenaries of the Byzantine army, taken from the eastern territories of the empire. But it could also have been Lost Goths, since defeated by the Byzantines in 552 AD, in the battle of the Lattari Mountains. The last king of the Goths, Teia, died in ancient Nuceria Alfaterna, inland on the slopes of the mountain range.

That nameless people, made up of refugees coming from afar and perhaps returning from a bloody struggle, it could probably have given rise to the community of the territory, if one tries to trace the real historical context beyond the legend of the hole. A handful of missing men who was able to reconstruct, in the narrow caves of the Lattari Mountains, the roots that fate and wars had forcibly severed.

La leggenda di Montepertuso: il potere della natura a Positano
Natural landscapes near Montepertuso.

The miracle of nature

There are many scientific explanations behind the Montepertuso forum. However, no theory can deny the miraculous force of nature, capable of being hostile and benevolent in the same territory. We are then close to the hamlet of Nocelle, where we immerse ourselves in the fabulous Path of the Gods.

Among the steep peaks of the Lattari Mountains, where spaces seem apparently inhospitable, a gash in the rock face it revealed a new horizon to pursue, capable of showing the sky from a new point of observation. The real miracle of Montepertuso is to have laid bare what is beyond a peak, spurring the people to overcome difficulties and to storm terrace crops the steep slopes that sink into the waters.

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