Sorrento Introduction Walking Tour, Sorrento

Sorrento Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Sorrento

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus claimed that Sorrento was founded by Liparus, who also founded the city of Lipari on the island of the same name. According to the legend, three mermaids settled on the tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula, enchanting the seafarers in transit through those waters. Even the legendary Ulysses had to use stratagems to resist the deadly song of the Sirens.

Sorrento was ruled by the Ostrogoths, who were members of the Goths that conquered Italy in the 5th–6th centuries AD after the fall of the Roman Empire. Later, it was ceded to the Byzantine Empire. After Byzantium's influence faded, Sorrento was passed among several competing powers: the Duchy of Naples, the Amalfi, the Lombards, and roving bands of Saracens. There were periods of self-rule, followed by more duchies.

Starting in 1558, the Ottoman Navy made many calls. In the 17th century, there were the Spanish and the plague. In the 18th century, the Republic of Naples briefly held sway. At last, in 1861, Sorrento was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. The invaders had finally slacked off, but tourists have been answering Sirens' calls since then.

The waves of tourists were led by Lord Byron, John Keats, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Dickens, Richard Wagner, Henrik Ibsen, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The great Italian poet Torquato Tasso was born here. The town's main square is named after Tasso.

Celebrities and regular tourists alike may visit Big Marina, Port of Sorrento; Piazza Tasso, the main square; Museum Correale for archeology; San Cesareo Street, a shopping Mecca; the Cathedral of Sorrento from the 14th century; the Church and Monastery of Saint Francis; and the ominous Valley of the Mills. The city is also known for its small ceramics, lacework, and woodwork shops.

Today the songs of the Sirens are irresistible as they have ever been. The song says, "Come back to Sorrento." Once you have set foot in Sorrento, you will want to come back again and again.
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Sorrento Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Sorrento Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Sorrento (See other walking tours in Sorrento)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: Linda
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza Tasso (Tasso Square)
  • Valley of the Mills
  • Cattedrale di Sorrento (Sorrento Cathedral)
  • Corso Italia (Italy Avenue)
  • Via San Cesareo (San Cesareo Street)
  • Chiesa di Sant'Antonino (Church of Saint Antonino)
  • Chiostro di San Francesco (Church and Cloister of Saint Francis)
  • Villa Comunale Park
  • Piazza della Vittoria (Victory Square)
  • Marina Grande (Big Marina)
Piazza Tasso (Tasso Square)

1) Piazza Tasso (Tasso Square) (must see)

Torquato Tasso, born in 1544, stands on a granite pedestal in the square named for him. Tasso was the greatest poet of his era. He died in 1595, days before being crowned King of Poets by Pope Clement VIII. His statue shares the square with that of Saint Antonino, who sought asylum in Sorrento during the Lombard invasions of the 6th century.

The square was initially called Big Castle (Largo del Castello). Where the statue of Saint Antonino stands today was once the location of the 15th-century castle of Ferdinand of Aragon, demolished in 1843. The monument of Torquato Tasso was dedicated in 1870. The square sits astride the deep gorge that divides the center of Sorrento.

Surrounding the square are grand historical edifices. The Correale Palace, with its tiled courtyard, was rebuilt in 1768. The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine is in the square's northern part. Inside is a 1710 ceiling painting by Onofrio Avellino of the Virgin with Saint Simon. It also has 16th-century gilded reliquaries of saints' bones.

Tasso Square is the main square, regarded as the entry point to the historic old Sorrento. There are shops, restaurants, and bars all around. The Fauno Bar is a popular spot for cappuccino and pastry; Italy Avenue (Corso Italia), the shopping street branches off Tasso Square. There are many smaller shopping side streets.

Cross over the forbidding gorge to find access to Sorrento Big Marina. It is where one may catch the water bus (vaporetto) to the Isla of Capri, Tiberius's exotic playground. There are tour trolleys and hop-on, hop-off open-top sight-seeing busses from the square. Did we mention horse carriages as well? Yes, we did, just now.

Tasso Square is a busy place. Be wary of motor traffic, especially scooters.
Valley of the Mills

2) Valley of the Mills

Some 35,000 years ago, in today's Sorrento, a volcano erupted. It cut a deep gorge through the limestone on the spot where the city's center is currently located. Waters, moving through the canyon, sculpted out fast-running channels to the sea. Over the centuries, settlements arose, leaving historical evidence of their passing in the area's caves.

There are mysteries and legends about the caves. Many people of Sorrento believed the gorge was patrolled at night by a huge medieval figure, armed head to foot. It was the mission of the ghost to kill anyone who did not know the magic words to unlock the treasure of the caves.

While there may not have been a ghost, there was "treasure." In 1885, Leonardo Lorenzoni, director of the Technical School of Vigiano, discovered several rare and precious artifacts of early settlers. He donated his find to professor Justinian Nicolucci of the University of Naples. He called the artifact cave "Nicolucci's Cave."

A good view of the mills is from behind Tasso Square. There are two streams, the Casariano-Cesarano, and Saint Antonino. Where the two streams meet is where the mills were built. Mills of one sort or another have been in the gorge since the 10th century. A grain mill, a sawmill, and an old washhouse are among the ruins.

The mills were isolated from the sea when Tasso Square was built in 1866. They were later abandoned. The gorge was taken over by exotic vegetation and rare ferns.
Cattedrale di Sorrento (Sorrento Cathedral)

3) Cattedrale di Sorrento (Sorrento Cathedral)

The Sorrento Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption and the Apostles Philip and James. The cathedral was consecrated in 1113. It underwent several significant changes in the years 1450 through 1573.

Its appearance was initially in the Baroque style, but the facade was redone in 1924 in a neo-Gothic style. The church is built on the remains of an ancient Greek temple (thought to be dedicated to Zeus). There are three entrances. The 16th-century main entrance, in the center, is flanked by antique marble columns.

The columns support the ogival arch of the center. On the three entrances are lunettes. The central larger lunette is for the Virgin; the smaller lunettes are for Philip and James. The upper part of the facade has battlements and a blind rose window.

The interior takes the shape of a Latin cross with three naves. The naves are set off by 14 pillars. The ceiling is flat with canvas paintings of 2nd-century martyrs. The dome was frescoed in 1902 by Pietro Barone and Augusto Moriani. On the right side of the altar is the chapel where the poet Torquato Tasso was baptized.

The bell tower is almost 200 feet away, from the church, with an 11th-century Romanesque base. It has four square sections with arches, niches, cornices, ceramic tiles, and a clock.
Corso Italia (Italy Avenue)

4) Corso Italia (Italy Avenue) (must see)

Italy Avenue is the main shopping street. It is busy with bars, restaurants, and shops. Most of the road is pedestrianized, and shoppers may enjoy their strolls without fear. The Tasso Square also is a Controlled Traffic Zone where the rights of motorists may suffer some abridgment.

Prices on the street are more moderate than those on the connecting side streets. Products include leather goods, hand-sewn tablecloths, olive oil, wines, groceries, novelties, and souvenirs. There is a wide variety of lemony things like candy, soaps, and Limoncello, a local liquor made from lemons.

The street is also known for its carved and inlaid wood products, like tables, music boxes, and boxes for jewelry. The shop, Primavera Gelateria Sorrento, should not be overlooked. They have dozens of flavors. Italy Avenue will lead to a view of the Big Marina, a colorful fishing village.
Via San Cesareo (San Cesareo Street)

5) Via San Cesareo (San Cesareo Street)

San Cesareo Street has always been a "main" street. In Roman times it was the central cross street of ancient Sorrento. It is a bit shorter than Italy Avenue. On Italy Avenue, the shops are sizeable and the street roomier. San Cesarea Street is often cramped with people and merchandise together.

Maybe it is the crowding or the lemon liqueur, but San Cesareo Street seems to be more entertaining than Italy Avenue. Ultimately San Cesareo Street merges into Fuoro Street, essentially a continuation of the same street.

San Cesareo Street is a short walk from Tasso Square. Find the Bar Ercolano on the square. To the right of the bar is the beginning of San Cesareo Street. Close by the street is the Inlaid Wood Work Museum (Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea), dedicated to the art of inlaid wood.

The Dominova Seat (Sedile Dominova), built in 1319, is an ancient meeting place where nobles would meet for discussions. Now it is a venue for card players. To the left of the Dominova Seat is the Addolorata Church, a Baroque-style church built in 1739. Sorrento Cathedral is on Italy Avenue, only a short distance away.

Since the old days of the Roman Empire, the street has remained essentially the same. It has always been a go-to street for shopping. Here one can stuff shopping bags with souvenirs, merchandise, novelties, curios, arts and crafts, and whatever else.
Chiesa di Sant'Antonino (Church of Saint Antonino)

6) Chiesa di Sant'Antonino (Church of Saint Antonino) (must see)

Leaving Tasso Square, walk along De Maio Street. Shortly, you will arrive at Saint Antonino Square. The Church of Saint Antonino will be on the right. Saint Antonino is the patron saint of Sorrento. He came to Sorrento in the 6th century, seeking refuge from the Lombard invasions of Italy.

One day a whale came up to the beach at Sorrento and swallowed a boy. Antonino got the boy out, safe and sound. Saint Antonino is credited with this and other miracles. He is the patron saint of shipwrecked seafarers. At the entrance to the church is a set of whale bones to memorialize the miracle of the boy meeting the whale.

The Church of Saint Antonino, constructed in the 11th century, stands over a 7th-century oratory built to cover the bones of Saint Antonino. The grey tuff facade features a Romanesque architectural style dating from the 18th century. Three naves were divided by twelve Corinthian-style columns salvaged from ancient Greek and Roman buildings.

At the time of his death, the story goes, Saint Antonino said he did not wish to be buried within or without the city. So, he was put to rest between the walls. In the crypt is a life-like statue of the saint. On one wall are paintings of ships at sea. On another wall are silver talismans of believers saved by Saint Antonino's grace.
Chiostro di San Francesco (Church and Cloister of Saint Francis)

7) Chiostro di San Francesco (Church and Cloister of Saint Francis) (must see)

The Church and Cloister of Saint Francis are near the public gardens of Sorrento, with stunning views of the fabled Gulf of Naples. The church was built in the 8th century. Originally it was an oratory founded by Saint Antonino, dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, and reconstructed in the Baroque style by the Franciscans in the 14th century.

The church has a simple white facade divided into two parts. The well-preserved 14th-century portal is flanked by five pilasters, on each side, on the lower part. There are two arched blind windows on either side of the portal. In the left window is a painting of Saint Francis. A similar portrait of Saint Antonino appears on the right.

The upper part of the facade has a mullioned rose window flanked by two pilasters on each side. A scalloped roof front surmounts the crenelated edges of the upper side.

The church has one nave and six chapels. On the right facing the altar, in the first two chapels, are the statues of Saint Francis and Saint Antonino. On the left, we find the statues of Saint Rita of Cascia and the Immaculate Madonna. Above the altar is a 1735 painting Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata.

In the sacristy are several marble artifacts from different eras. In the reception hall, it is a 16-century painting of Madonna and Infant with Saint Michael and John the Baptist.

Next to the church is the monastery cloister of Saint Francis. The cloister was founded in the 7th century but ceded to the Franciscans in the 14th century. It presents a mixture of architectural styles. Two sides of the porch have crossed 14th-century tuff arches. Two other sides have rounded arches on octagonal columns.

Architectural artifacts extracted from ancient temples and buildings have been integrated into the construction of the cloister. The cloister is often used for art exhibitions and musical events. It is also a popular venue for weddings.
Villa Comunale Park

8) Villa Comunale Park (must see)

Villa Comunale Park in Sorrento is a beautiful and historically significant location that attracts visitors with its natural charm. Positioned near the Saint Francis Church and Cloister, this small park is a lush haven filled with palm trees, oaks, holm oaks, and ancient pines. Perched on the cliffs of Sorrento, it offers stunning views of Marina Grande and the coastline, making it more famous for its panoramic vistas than its greenery.

One distinctive feature of the park is its elevators, which provide access to Marina Piccola ferry and the San Francisco swim towers, offering a convenient route to the sea. Elevated above the bay and Mount Vesuvius, the park boasts well-maintained flower beds, manicured lawns, and tall palm trees. A cozy café within the park serves espresso, pastries, and ice cream, with sunset being the ideal time to enjoy its tranquil atmosphere.

Located a short walk from Tasso Square in the city center, the path to Villa Comunale Park passes by the historic 11th-century Church of Saint Antonino, adding a touch of history to the journey. Established between 1877 and 1879 on the former gardens of Franciscan friars, the park reflects the region's cultural heritage. Visitors can relax in the shade, stroll through well-kept gardens, and admire centuries-old olive trees.

The park also features two notable busts from the early twentieth century, honoring historian Bartolomeo Capasso and magistrate Francesco Saverio Gargiulo, contributing to its cultural ambiance. Additionally, it houses a museum displaying archaeological discoveries from Sorrento and a precious mosaic depicting a nymphaeum, adding to the historical appeal.

Villa Comunale Park serves not only as a natural oasis but also as a cultural center. Its terrace often hosts musical and theatrical performances, and during the Christmas season, it is adorned with festive lights. For those interested in exploring the beach below, the park offers access to the sea and an elevator for convenience, ensuring that all visitors can enjoy Sorrento's beauty and the majestic Gulf of Naples, with Vesuvius in the background.
Piazza della Vittoria (Victory Square)

9) Piazza della Vittoria (Victory Square)

The Victory Square snuggles between two Marinas of Sorrento, the Big Marina (Marina Grande) and the Small Marina (Marina Piccola). In the middle of the square is a garden with plenty of shade under the palms. People often stop there to take in the incomparable views of the bay and the Gulf of Naples.

On one side of the area, the Imperial Hotel Tromontano overlooks the harbor. The famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen stayed in the Imperial Hotel Tromontano for six months in 1881, where he wrote his masterpiece play "Ghosts." Disenchanted with his native home in Norway, Ibsen took his family into self-imposed exile and settled in Sorrento for four years.

On the corner of Victory Square and Vittoria Veneto Street, just next to the Imperial Hotel Tromontano's elegant bridge across Vittorio Veneto Street, one can find a plague commemorating Ibsen's stay.

Part of the building that forms today's Imperial Hotel Tromontano was known as Villa Laurito Mastrogiudice. It was here Sorrento's favorite son, poet Torquato Tasso was born on March 11, 1544.
Marina Grande (Big Marina)

10) Marina Grande (Big Marina) (must see)

It's not a great idea to take the names of the two Marinas literally. Big Marina (Marina Grande) is the smaller of the two. It is a fishing village, and it has restaurants. Small Marina (Marina Piccola) is a large marina, but it is a ferry terminal and transport hub. One is a destination. The other is but a link to a destination.

Big Marina is a community in itself. It has restaurants and bars, hotels, and a church. It is also a pretty place to walk in. The Marina nestles in a nook of the Amalfi Coast. It is like a world waiting to be discovered but much better than Rockaway Beach in the old days. It has kept its rustic insouciance.

The Marina port is secluded from the rest of busy Sorrento by a rocky promontory which is said to be the site of a Roman villa of Emperor Augustus's nephew, Marcellus. Marina village still clings, in some ways, to its pre-industrial life. See a bit of that life at sunset, when the fishermen clean up their nets and boats for another day.

Walking Tours in Sorrento, Italy

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles