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Capri (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkaːpri], pronounced /kəˈpriː/ in English) is an Italian island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, in the Campania region of Southern Italy. It has been a resort since the time of the Roman Republic.
Features of the island are the Marina Piccola (the little harbour), the Belvedere of Tragara, which is a high panoramic promenade lined with villas, the limestone crags called sea stacks that project above the sea (the Faraglioni), Anacapri, the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), and the ruins of the Imperial Roman villas.
Capri is part of the region of Campania, Province of Naples. The town of Capri is the main centre of population on the island. It has two harbours, Marina Piccola and Marina Grande (the main port of the island). The separate commune of Anacapri is located high on the hills to the west.
The etymology of the name Capri can be traced back to the Greeks, the first recorded colonists to populate the island. This means that “Capri” was probably not derived from the Latin “Capreae” (goats), but rather the Greek “Kapros” (wild boar).
Ancient and Roman times
One of the symbols of Capri: the Blue Grotto.According to the Greek geographer Strabo, Capri was once part of the mainland. This has been confirmed by geological surveys and archaeological findings.
The city has been inhabited since very early times. Evidence of human settlement was discovered during the Roman era; according to Suetonius, when the foundations for the villa of Augustus were being excavated, giant bones and ‘weapons of stone’ were discovered. The emperor ordered these to be displayed in the garden of his main residence, the Sea Palace. Modern excavations have shown that human presence on the island can be dated back to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age.
In his Aeneid, Virgil states that the island had been populated by the Greek people of Teleboi, coming from the Ionian Islands. Strabo says that “in ancient times in Capri there were two towns, later reduced to one.” (Geography, 5, 4, 9, 38). Tacitus records that there were twelve Imperial villas in Capri (or Capreae, as it was spelled in Latin). Ruins of one at Tragara could still be seen in the 19th century.
Augustus’s successor Tiberius built a series of villas at Capri, the most famous of which is the Villa Jovis, one of the best preserved Roman villas in Italy. In 27 CE, Tiberius permanently moved to Capri, running the Empire from there until his death in 37 CE.A general view of Capri. The funicular railway cuts across the picture, on the left.In 182 CE, Emperor Commodus banished his sister Lucilla to Capri. She was executed shortly afterwards.
Middle and Modern Ages
After the end of the Western Roman Empire, Capri returned to the status of a dominion of Naples, and suffered various attacks and ravages by pirates. In 866 Emperor Louis II gave the island to Amalfi. In 987 the first Caprese bishop was consecrated by Pope John XV.
In 1496, Frederick IV of Naples established legal and administrative parity between the two settlements of Capri and Anacapri. The pirate raids reached their peak during the reign of Charles V: the famous Turkish admirals Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha and Turgut Reis captured the island in 1535 and 1553 for the Ottoman Empire, respectively.
The first famous visitor to the island was the French antiques dealer Jean Jacques Bouchard in the 17th century, who may be considered Capri’s first tourist. His diary, found in 1850, is an important information source about Capri.
In January 1806, French troops occupied the island. The British ousted the French troops that May; Capri was turned into a powerful naval base (a “Second Gibraltar”), but the building program caused heavy damage to the archaeological sites. Joachim Murat reconquered Capri in 1808, and the French remained there until the end of the Napoleonic era (1815), when Capri was returned to the Bourbon ruling house of Naples.
Capri harbour, seen from AnacapriIn the 19th century, the natural scientist Ignazio Cerio catalogued the flora and fauna of the island. This work was continued by his son, the author and engineer Edwin Cerio, who wrote several books on life in Capri in the 20th century.
Norman Douglas, Friedrich Alfred Krupp, Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen, Christian Wilhelm Allers, Emil von Behring, Curzio Malaparte, Axel Munthe, and Maxim Gorky are all reported to have owned a villa there, or to have stayed there for more than three months. Swedish Queen Victoria often stayed there. Rose O’Neill, the American illustrator and creator of the Kewpie, owned the Villa Narcissus, formerly owned by the famous Beaux Art painter Charles Caryl Coleman. Gracie Fields also had a villa on the island, though her 1934 song “The Isle of Capri” was written by two Englishmen. Mariah Carey owns a villa on the island.