Capri is a world famous resort, the playground for jet setters. It’s an ancient Roman island in Southern Italy still peppered with the villas of Emperors. I’ve heard it called the Beverly Hills of Italy because of its luxury boutiques and grand dame hotels.
To me, Capri is about the quiet moments, the local back streets, the flora and fauna and places like the beautiful, very off the beaten path 19th century non-catholic cemetery. The cemetery is in a residential, slightly run down section between Capri town and the Marina Grande but it overlooks the sea and is incredibly charming. Artists, writers, Anglo Saxons, Nordics and French in love with Capri are all buried here. There are Jewish graves and non-religious tombs and plenty of Madonna statues. And in modern Capri, plenty of Catholic Italians choose this idyllic spot with a sweeping view of the Tyrrhenian Sea for their final resting places.
I walked to the cemetery on the rather harrowing, not very pedestrian “old road down to Marina Grande” and found the graveyard after a ten minute “stroll” sidestepping uncomfortably close vespas, cars and buses like a veteran Italian. When in Rome, eh? You may want to take a taxi from the bus station in Capri Town.
Ask for the Cimitero acattolico di Capri. On Capri – not the pretty, much smaller catholic cemetery on Ana Capri – though that is also lovely. This is the spot with character and history and angels.
all photographs were shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film and are copyright rebecca price butler – alovelettertorome.com – firstname.lastname@example.org
I took a lot of shots in this magical spot and will be posting more soon!
A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.
The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.
The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.
The bird’s eye view.
The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.
The tiny chapel in the garden.
Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.
There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.
Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.
The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.
The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.
Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.
Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!
A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.
The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.
Potted urns along the walk.
Herbal garden, leaves and trees.
Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.
Another angle of the sphinx’s view.
A tiny boat leaving the shore.
The clouds and mist find each other.
Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.
I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.
A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.
This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!
More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
I had one shot. I couldn’t blow it. I wanted to hide and be invisible and take his portrait across the piazza. I had one frame. And then it would be lost, the moment, the intensity of feeling, his direct gaze before self awareness gets the best of him. He gave me more than I could have hoped for, my Neapolitan. My soldier. I cannot hide from his direct gaze.