Why does the Cathedral in Amalfi look so Arabic, and especially the ʻParadise Cloisterʼ does?
Because the Arabic-Norman Romanesque style that characterizes it had a strong oriental influence. Since the XI century the Normans reigned in Sicily: they were French coming from today’s Normandy and first settled down in Sicily, then they conquered the rest of Southern Italy. But before them in Sicily there had been a long Muslim domination. The Romanesque architectural style brought here during the Norman domination, was adapted and got as particular mark an Arabic touch, certainly due to the many Arab artisans who still lived and worked in Palermo and in all Sicily.
The trade exchanges throughout the Mediterranean Sea made possible that that style born in Sicily was ʻimportedʼ to the independent Duchy of Amalfi too. Not only the Cathedral but also many other churches and aristocratic buildings were decorated with intertwined arches and rosettes in this charming Arabic style. You will see it in Ravello, especially in the buildings of Villa Rufolo, and in Salerno’s Cathedral too.
The vaulted ceilings of churches and houses in Amalfi, Positano, Ravello also remind of the same origin. They give the whole Coast a sort of ʻArabicʼ charm. And it is not by chance that lemon terraces and wine pergolas are everywhere to see here. The traders from Amalfi learned from the Arabians how to gain out of their mountainous vertical country some horizontal surfaces to farm: they started building dry walls and filling them with earth. Until today those terraces determine the landscapes of this wonderful peninsula.
The ceramics add one more touch that can be defined oriental, although they are completely different from the Arabic ones. The dome of the main church in each village on the Amalfi Coast is always covered with painted ceramic (majolica), providing so lightning colors among the full white of the houses. Plants, flowers, wine and lemon groves add charm and remind of magic, ancient Arabic hanging gardens.
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