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John Steinbeck Positano Essay

For the 1996 television miniseries, see Positano (miniseries). For the Italian diplomat, see Vito Positano.

Positano is a village and comune on the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana), in Campania, Italy, mainly in an enclave in the hills leading down to the coast.


Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times, and prospered during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the town had fallen on hard times. More than half the population emigrated, mostly to America.

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the twentieth century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper's Bazaar in May, 1953: "Positano bites deep", Steinbeck wrote. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."[1]

Main sights[edit]

The church of Santa Maria Assunta features a dome made of majolica tiles as well as a thirteenth-century Byzantine icon of a black Madonna.[2] According to local legend, the icon had been stolen from Byzantium and was being transported by pirates across the Mediterranean. A terrible storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano and the frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying "Posa, posa!" ("Put down! Put down!"). The precious icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm abated.


Positano has been featured in several films, including Only You (1994), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), as well as more recently in Kath & Kimderella (2012) and being mentioned in the 2009 musical film Nine in the song "Cinema Italiano". It also hosts the annual Cartoons on the Bay Festival, at which Pulcinella Awards for excellence in animation are presented.

From July 1967 and through most of the 1970s, Positano was home to singer-songwriter Shawn Phillips and where most of his best-known work was composed. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones wrote the song "Midnight Rambler" in the cafes of Positano while on vacation.

Renowned director and producer Franco Zeffirelli owned the Villa Treville in Positano, where he took residence over a 35-year period and hosted a coterie of literati and stars of the stage and screen. He hired his friend, Renzo Mongiardino, who collaborated on many of his theater and opera projects, to design the exquisite interiors which reflect the local design sensibilities and craftsmanship. The Villa Treville has since been converted into a five-star boutique hotel.[3]

German pianist Wilhelm Kempff made Positano his summer retreat and there he taught a summer course on the Beethoven piano sonatas and concerti. Since his death in 1991, the Beethoven Kurse has continued under the organization of the Wilhelm Kempff Kultursting, having had as teachers Gerhard Oppitz and John O'Conor. Today tourism is by far the major industry. Positano is also very popular for Limoncello and "L'Albertissimo", an alcoholic tipple that can only be found at a small stall at the main harbour.


Positano can be reached by the SS163 Amalfitana national road, or by the SP425 provincial road.

The nearest airports are the Napoli-Capodichino (NAP) and the Salerno-Pontecagnano Airport (QSR).

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Positano.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Positano.
Positano seen from seaside.

“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” -John Steinbeck, Harper’s Bazaar, 1953

Italy's Amalfi coast from a hike along the Trail of the Gods

Last week, my family and I traveled farther south in Italy than we had ever visited, to the Amalfi Coast, a region of soaring mountains beside a jewel-toned Sea. We stayed in a village beside Positano, called Praiano, where we even saw donkeys used as means of transport. And so our pace of life slowed considerably, and having a seaside cappuccino became the most pressing item for each day. It was spectacular! I’m so glad I had my camera with me, because after we returned from the trip, the beauty of it all didn’t seem possible, or real.

A Church high above Positano, and the view of Capri's Faraglioli (Fingers)

I will always remember the Amalfi Coast as a place unlike no other I have ever seen. It’s a region of village steps and tiny walkways (350 steps down to the Sea in Praiano), of one long coastal road that winds in dangerous turns precariously above the Sea, and of daily seafood, stunning sunsets, and rich ancient legends. But the photos say so much more than I could in words …

Positano and the Bay of the Sirens, from The Odyssey, Italy

La Sirenetta, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Waves Crashing, Positano, Italy, in the background

Thousands of Steps above the Sea, the View from the Trail of the Gods, Praiano, Italy

The Colors of the Amalfi Region

A Slower Pace, Donkeys as Transport, Praiano, Italy

Exquisite Tile Church Dome, Positano, Italy

Boats in the Bay, Amalfi, Italy

Amalfi, Italy

Positano, Italy

The Bell Tower, Praiano, Italy

Driving near Positano, the tiny roads, 3 buses passing

Reflections of Capri along the Mediterranean, from Praiano, Italy

(Jennifer Lyn King) Oil Painting en Plein Air on the Balcony, Praiano, Italy

the Ever-Changing Skies along the Amalfi Coast

Stunning Painting in the Sky, above Capri and the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Amalfi, Positano, Praiano, Ravello, Minori — if you ever have the chance to visit the villages along the Amalfi Coast, your time and experiences will linger in your mind. It’s a place like no other. Just don’t forget to bring your camera!

A big thanks to Erika Robuck for sending the quote and John Steinbeck essay on Positano my way!

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