Hiking Through Capri’s History

Addison O’Dea follows in the footsteps of a Roman emperor.

The pathways of Capri are narrow and bear the wear of two thousand years of foot traffic. It is the history of a place that always captures my imagination. I have come for the wedding of a lifelong friend Antony and his gorgeous Roman bride Maria Novella, but even with the duties of an usher on my plate I plan to still find time to fulfill my sense of discovery.

Capri first became a destination when the Roman Emperor Augustus built a villa here during his reign. According to Suetonius (Hadrian’s personal secretary), during the excavation of Augustus’ villa the workers discovered ancient tools and pieces of art that were installed as decorative items in the main residence. Modern carbon dating has shown these pieces to date back to the Bronze Age.

Tiberius, the successor to Augustus, built his own home, Villa Jovis, on Mount Tiberio, with its grand views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the tip of Sorrento. This being at the second highest peak on Capri, it is an investment to get to – but a worthwhile one.

I depart Capri with my best friend Alex joining me, his Neapolitan girlfriend pointing us in the general direction. As we pass by the chic boutiques and the throngs of tourists I ask him, “Have you ever been up to the Villa Jovis before?” to which he responds, “In all the years I have been coming here, this is my first time.” Discovery is better when shared.

As the din of the town fades behind us the views afforded become grander with each step. Lemon tree groves permeate the air with their familiar scent and the jacaranda and oleander spill over walls providing brilliant punctuations of color. The goal is to go as high as possible. We notice several restaurants along the hillside, some more charming than others. Alex wonders aloud “Who comes up here to eat at these places?” and I find myself agreeing with him. Convenience is not a hallmark of these destinations.

We stop at one close to the top for some water and to drink in the view. Everything about it is welcoming, and while not easy to find or get to, there are plentiful reasons to find it.

The first glimpse of what remains of Villa Jovis lights my mind with visions as to what once existed in this place. Hurried men in togas delivering news, slaves transporting goods and wares, everyone moving quickly and with purpose in order to serve the emperor.

As I make my way to the top of the ruins I find my thirst for knowledge sated, and a sense of accomplishment achieved. On the precipice of a 1000-foot drop I wonder, ‘Has Tiberius stood here?’

Capri got a score of 59 out of 100 in Traveler’s 2007 Island Destinations Rated guide. Read more about the Italian isle of Ischia, which is also along the western coast of Italy, in the September issue of Traveler.

Photo: Addison O’Dea