Sorrento, Italy is a verdant seaside city perched in the hilly countryside above the Amalfi Coast in southwestern Italy. Nestled between the Bay of Naples off the Sorrentine Peninsula and the Lattari Mountains, this ancient city offers unbeatable vistas and delectable foods that will take your breath away. In fact, it is adored by the public so much that it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997.
While it’s not part of the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento acts as a gateway to many classic Italian cities like Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. Here, we’ve put together 7 facts about the coastal city that we think you’ll find interesting:
The city gets its name from the mythological Greek Sirens
Before the Romans took over Italy, Greeks and Etruscans inhabited the Sorrentine Peninsula, as seen by the planimetry used in the layout of the town. Legend has it that the Greek warrior Odysseus (the main character in The Odyssey) founded a temple devoted to the cult of the Sirens; mythological mermaids who lured sailors to their death with their bewitching songs.
In the story, a benevolent sorceress who favours Odysseus, Circe, warns him that his ship will soon encounter the sirens. In a spur of ingenuity, Odysseus stuffs wax in his ears and the ears of his sailors. Odysseus then orders the sailors to tie him to the ship’s mast until they pass the alluring sea temptresses.
The city itself likely got its name from the sirens, rumoured to swim off the coast of Sorrento.
Sorrento is the home of Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina, or “Sorrento Style”
When you think about Italy, pasta is always quick to come to mind. Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina is a potato gnocchi covered with tomato sauce, pecorino cheese, basil, and mozzarella. It’s placed in the oven, broiled, and baked, and the cheese melts to form a crust.
Every area in Italy has different interpretations, but the gnocchi in Sorrento, with its ample usage of cheese, has really become an iconic staple of the region. No visit to Sorrento is complete without a sample of their delectable pasta.
Sorrento is the home of limoncello
Sorrento is also the birthplace of limoncello, a citrus-based alcohol developed in the sun-kissed city. It’s an after-dinner digestive usually made with lemons or oranges. Citrus rinds are the main ingredient, but the drink also requires water, sugar, and alcohol.
Due to its popularity, the city is home to many orange and Femminello-style lemon orchards, located close to the main square, Piazza Tasso. Lemons and oranges aren’t endemic to the region, so before their introduction, Greeks and Romans drank wine.
Lemons were brought to the region by Jewish immigrants traversing the Silk Road in the first century A.D. and became a staple in the city. Jesuit priests began developing a careful growing process in the 1600s. Femminello lemons have thrived in the Campania region ever since.
Notable intellectual luminaries and celebrities have a deep history in the Sorrentine Peninsula
Sorrento gained notoriety in the 1800s as a holiday spot for the wealthy and famous. Intellectual tourism boomed as the seaside town played host to names like Luciano Pavarotti, Lord Byron, John Keats, Charles Dickens, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Heinrich Ibsen.
The American writer Francis Marion Crawford fell so in love with Sorrento that he eventually settled in the town.
Films also have a lasting presence in the town. Sophia Loren, Italy’s adored Academy-Award winning actress hailing from Rome and starred in the 1955 ‘Scandal in Sorrento’ as a fishmonger’s wife. The romantic comedy is still referenced to this day, and you can still see some of the houses from the film on the beach.
Sorrento is perfect for day trips to many Amalfi Coast cities
Buses also operate between Sorrento and cities like Positano, Ravello, and Amalfi. A bus is the best way to get between these cities. Capri is accessible by ferry or hydrofoil and offers a funicular on the island. Once there, try their famous invention, the Caprese salad.
In the Middle Ages, the city was regularly attacked by pirates
The Sorrentine Peninsula has always supported an ample sailing and fishing culture due to its optimal setting right on the Bay of Naples. While the lush coastline currently attracts curious tourists looking for luxurious holidays, its location was not always the boon it now is.
The late Middle Ages were a turbulent time for Sorrento. Some made their livelihood by fishing, and others did by piracy. Once, the town was so besieged by pirate attacks that they finally agreed to build high, formidable walls, fortresses, and watchtowers. Ruins of those establishments are still there today.
There are many ruins and landmarks
Sorrento has many archaeological sites to visit, remnants of a town fused together by different cultures throughout its history. Some of the main historical stops to visit include:
Villa of Pollio Felice
Punta del Capo
The Cave of the Sirens
Villa of Grippa Postumus
The Mineralogy Museum
Museum of Villa Fondi
Be sure to check out the many churches and monasteries that add to the serene culture of the ancient city.
Sorrento is a gem in the diadem that is the Amalfi Coast. Spending any time in this city awash with rich food, complex history, and friendly people is time well spent. Interested in exploring Sorrento and its surrounding areas for yourself? Check out our Rome, Sorrento & Capri tour here!