Villa Rufolo in Ravello

Published in Out of Town
07 July 2017

Benedetta de Falco, President of the Premio GreenCare, accompanies us to discover the garden that enchanted Wagner and Gore Vidal and which has been hosting the Ravello Festival for 65 years

Overlooking the blue sea of ​​Minori and Maiori, embedded as an emerald in the silvery rock of the Amalfi Coast, outstretched as the spine of a ship that sets sale, the garden of Villa Rufolo, in Ravello, hasn’t stopped charming Italian and foreign visitors since the Rufolo founded it, in the thirteenth century, to complete their imposing Moorish castle.

An Arabic style garden, initially developed on two levels, with a spectacular setting, the sea on three sides, so as to surprise the visitor.

Exciting effects from the entrance: a tree-lined avenue, pergolas, fountains, small cloisters, as in a miniature Alhambra which, in literature, welcomed the "delighted brigade" of the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio and, in the music, bewitched Richard Wagner. Visiting it, the German composer had the stunning perception that it was the exact scenery of the garden, full of delights, which he had imagined for Parsifal.

From the Rufolo’s to Wagner, the garden met the happy season of the Scottish Sir Francis Nevile Reid, an art expert, botanist, and philanthropist, who, in the nineteenth century, had bought the ruined villa with a very damaged tree plant. He chose to make it a spectacular garden, respecting its historical memory but also adding some innovations and experimenting.

Thus, the Mediterranean scrub, a natural element of the Amalfi landscape, was corroborated by rare and foreign plants, collected throughout Europe, often reluctant to adapt to that garden so exposed to the salt-rich winds. But Reid's obstinacy prevailed and with his stubbornness, and the precious collaboration of gardener Luigi Cicalese, he was able to make exotic plants flourish alongside local species, in a dialogue that never stops: the representation, in the garden, of that international character that Ravello has earned over time. From the Grand Tour to today, with "Ravello Costa d'Amalfi" candidate as "Italian Capital of Culture 2020".

A garden like a small world where many types of roses bloom, especially Dijon, while there is no longer trace of the pink "Bella Napoli" rose, disappeared due to a famous flood that affected the whole area. The site's architectures - towers, arches, columns, stairs, terraces - are supported by the vegetation: trees, shrubs, flowering plants and fruit. The visitor is led to the discovery of a unique and romantic place that gives the feeling of being in paradise on earth, now entrusted to the care of the Fondazione Ravello.

In the garden, during the summer, you can hear a classic concert of an international orchestra.

On the stage suspended on the sea, the Ravello Festival (see page 14) is a 65-year-old music review, dedicated to Wagner, as well as to ballet and new trends.

Gore Vidal, who had elected these places as good retreat until 2006, loved to attend it. In the garden of Villa Rufolo, this impressive image flourished: "When the orchestra plays Wagner, the full moon rises from the mountains whose contours remind you of a dragon whose head is softly reclined on the beach towards east, while the birds, musically trained after all these years, make the counterpoint from the top of the dark pines”.

My wish is for you to be able to visit this place at least once in your life.