by Ugo Canfora
The Sentiero dei Fortini (Trail of the Forts), winds its way along the west coast of the island, the coast of Anacapri that stands out in sharp definition against the infinite expanse of open sea; it is one of the few parts of the island without a reassuring view of the mainland, which can always be seen from the eastern side. It is a route that embodies and encapsulates the essence of the island, with all its harsh and gentle features, through the three primeval elements that shape it: the surrounding, all-encompassing blue sea, the dolomitic rock that, in the space of a few kilometres, reveals itself as welcoming and pitiless at the same time, and the green of the Mediterranean scrub that adorns hills and rocks.
These primordial elements, like a sculptor’s raw material, have given form to and become the substance of the legend of Capri, an insignificant rock of unprecedented beauty that has held the balance of history, from ancient classical times to our own days. A history that chose those coasts to be the stage for some of its caprices: the medieval fortifications, the ‘Fortini’ in fact, kept watch for centuries, with varying success, for Saracen invasions, and have been destroyed, rebuilt and enlarged until, in the early 19th century, they became the defensive bastion for the British forces in the Gulf of Naples, and the scene of the “Capture of Capri” by the French army of Joachim Murat.
But for every big history, there’s also a little history: the history whispered to those who venture along the paths, rocks and walls corroded by the elements.
The trail lasts for a minimum of 3-5 hours and you can set off from two different locations: one from the Grotta Azzurra side and the other from the lighthouse at Punta Carena. If you start from the latter, you have a definite advantage in terms of ease, since you avoid the long steep climbs, while starting from the Grotta side gives the feeling of a “crescendo” that culminates with a well-deserved rest at the bay by the lighthouse at Punta Carena, from where you can admire the most beautiful sunset on the island.
The trail is not particularly difficult and it is fascinating at any time of year, obviously wearing the right clothing and suitable footwear, and taking plenty of water with you, especially in summer when the high temperatures and exposure to the sun can be a problem.
Starting at the entrance to the path just a few hundred meters from the Grotta Azzurra, near Punta dell’Arcera, after a short walk you come to the Fortino di Orrico, built on Punta del Miglio. It’s a stretch of coast high above the sea, fascinating both in the summer heat of August and in the face of the autumnal north winds, and it was here that the French troops landed, leading to the Capture of Capri. Looking out from the walls of the fort, you can see, not without some amazement, the cliff where the operations for moving the troops and logistical equipment took place. It’s difficult to imagine an easy way up that cliff, which is another reason why this maneuver by Murat’s army may be considered a little masterpiece of military tactics.
Continuing along the trail, dotted with illustrative ceramic tiles providing information about the species of flora and fauna typical of the area, you come to a deviation in the path that leads to a rock called the Spiaggia delle Capre (Beach of the She-Goats). After returning to the main path, there is a sharp change of scenery, as the walk continues through a sequence of different wooded areas, until, having passed the Cala del Rio, you see in the distance the second fort, Mesola, standing out from Punta Campetiello.
Right at the foot of the fort, you’ll see a small inlet where there is an easy walk down to the sea, perfect for a refreshing dip before the last section of the route. The last part leads over a gorge that looks like a fjord, with a small bridge suspended over the Rosola stream, to Cala di Mezzo and then on to the Fortino del Pino (Fort of the Pine tree), the last of the three main forts if you don’t count the so-called “Fort of the Cannon”, a smaller one that overlooks the Cala del Limmo.
From here you can end your excursion by joining the main road that leads to the lighthouse at Punta Carena, a place of great beauty, where the breathtaking sunset is a reward for what is the more tiring of the walks, before returning to the center of Anacapri in the comfort of a bus or taxi.
Tiles that tell a story. A good reason to look around you as you walk along the Trail of the Forts is to see the many decorated ceramic tiles at different points along the route, illustrating the history, toponymy, and flora and fauna that are typical of this stretch of the Anacapri coast.
The majolica tiles, in the shape of books or the more traditional floor tiles, were made and decorated by Anacapri artist and master ceramicist Sergio Rubino, and draw on texts by the naturalist and writer Tullia Rizzotti as regards the botanical, geological and historical aspects, and zoologist Gennaro Aprea as regards the fauna.
For more information: https://www.capri.net/en/s/towers-and-forts