While not one of the big travel destination names on the Amalfi Coast – such as Amalfi, Ravello and Positano – the peace and quiet of Scala is what makes this towns so charming. Along with its beautiful setting in the mountains above Amalfi and convenient location just across a pretty valley from Ravello. While nearby Ravello attracts most of the tourists, the town of Scala has much to offer visitors, especially those interested in exploring, hiking and experiencing daily life on the Amalfi Coast.
Known as the oldest village on the Amalfi Coast, Scala has a long and fascinating history tied very closely with the medieval Republic of Amalfi. Hiking up in the mountains surrounding the town, you can still spot some of the medieval walls that once protected Scala and Amalfi, further down the valley on the sea. During the Middle Ages, Scala was an important defensive point of the Republic of Amalfi, and the close connection brought much wealth to the prominent merchant families of Scala. The town is spread out across the mountainside and divided in to many frazioni, or hamlets, including Scala Centro, Minuta, Pontone, Campidoglio, San Pietro and Santa Caterina. Each little hamlet has its own unique feel and center surrounding a church.
The heart of town is the Duomo of San Lorenzo in the center of Scala. Dating back to the 12th century, this grand church – far larger than any of the churches in Ravello – retains its Romanesque central portal surrounded by medieval sculptural decorations and two griffins standing guard. Traces of frescoes above the door are all the remain of what once must have been an elaborately decorated façade. The bell tower dominates the town’s main piazza, which is surrounded by shops, the city hall and the town’s elementary school.
Stepping into the Duomo, you immediately get a sense of the splendor and wealth of Scala in the Middle Ages. Although the town is quiet today, the size and grandeur of the Duomo reflects the city’s prominent past. The church was redecorated in the Baroque style in 1615, and the ceiling features painted panels depicting scenes from the life of the martyr San Lorenzo, the patron saint of Scala. In the center of the church you’ll find an elaborate and decorative scene on the floor created with hand painted ceramic tiles. The central shield depicts of lion climbing a ladder, which is the symbol of Scala—the word “scala” in Italian meaning “ladder” or “stairs.”
Spotted from across the valley in Ravello, a little church marks the hamlet of Minuta in Scala, which cascades down the side of the mountain. This little hamlet deserves its name, which means “small.” But what it lacks in for in size, Minuta makes up for with knock out views from where it sets on a little promontory between two mountain valleys leading down to Atrani and Amalfi respectively. The beautiful 11th-century church of Minuta is dedicated to Santissima Annunziata, and is thought to be the oldest churches in Scala.
The views from the little piazza next to the church of Minuta are splendid. Looking down the valley you’ll spot the hamlet of Pontone and the ruins of the church of Sant’Eustachio dating from the 12th century. Hikers will enjoy the walk from Minuta to Pontone and continuing down the valley directly to Amalfi or up to the Valley dei Mulini to explore the mountain valley and see the ruins of Amalfi’s paper mills.
One of the best ways to see Scala is to follow the main road that leads through Scala Centro by the Duomo of San Lorenzo and connects almost all of the hamlets of Scala. It is a nice drive, or an even more enjoyable walk, offering fine views overlooking Ravello across the valley and the Amalfi coastline. Most people visit Ravello for the incredible views, but one of the local secrets is that the views from Scala are even better. From near the top of Scala in the hamlet of Campidoglio, the panoramic view includes all of Ravello, with the lush green gardens of the Villa Cimbrone at the tip of the promontory, the rugged mountains and coastline and the Bay of Salerno. Stop at one of the benches along the road, sit back and enjoy one of the Amalfi Coast’s quietest and most stunning views.
Photo Credits: Laura Thayer