Positano, Amalfi Coast

Positano forms a colourful splash on the Amalfi Coast, bringing together ramshackle buildings and historical sites that are bursting with Mediterranean style.


Set into the hillside, Positano appears to have been carved out of the cliff on which it sits. The pastel-coloured buildings emerge from the vibrant greens of the surrounding plants and contrast with the bright blue of the sea. The town itself is small and can be accessed entirely on foot. There are a lot of stairs to climb when exploring Positano but strolling up and down the steps allows you to take in stunning views from almost any position.

History of Positano

Positano, Italy

As well as stunning sights, the town has a rich history that still imbues its winding streets today. It all began when the Ancient Romans constructed a selection of opulent villas on the coastline of where Positano sits today. Visitors can still see these ruins in the area surrounding the Church dell’Assunta.

The name ‘Positano’ originates from an ancient legend. Long ago, on the shores of Italy, a Turkish boat had become beached and the crew didn’t know what to do. On board the ship was a painting of the Virgin Mary that whispered to the captain “posa”, meaning ‘set me down’. After hearing this, the captain hurled the painting into the sea and, remarkably, the ship began to float. Locals constructed a church at the place where the painting washed ashore, believing it to be where Mary chose to come to rest. Another theory states that the town was named after Poseidon, God of the Sea.

It is thought the town itself grew from the central focal point of a Benedictine abbey that was founded in the 9th century. From there, the town flourished after an influx of residents arrived from Paestum.

A few years later, in 1268, the town was pillaged by Pisa. This caused Positano to go all out on its defences, bringing it in line with its powerfully protected neighbour, Amalfi.

To do this, locals constructed tight, steep roads, imposing walls, and a collection of watchtowers that look out over the surrounding region. Today, the stylish dome of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta can be seen from every corner of Positano, inside which the iconic Black Madonna reflects the Byzantine history of the town.

Over the years since, the fortunes of Positano have fluctuated. 100 years after the pillaging by Pisa, the town was tragically flattened by a tsunami. And, later in the 15th century, it was the continual victim of attacks by plunderers and Ottoman pirates.

Thankfully, its luck changed in the 18th century, when it enjoyed a number of years of prosperity after becoming a highly-coveted trading point. But, when Italy was unified and opened a series of other commercial trading routes, it lost its sheen and quickly reverted back to the charming fishing village it had been centuries before.

Visit Positano

Positano Today

History-lovers arriving in Positano can visit the Museo Archeologico Romano where they can learn about the town’s Roman history. The museum is built upon the site of an ancient Roman villa and displayed here fragments of the ancient architecture as well as decorations taken from the buildings.

Above the museum is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which was a beautiful example of Medieval art. The look of the church today dates back to its last renovation in 1783. The yellow building is topped with a dome, decorated with coloured tiles in elaborate patterns. Inside, there are three naves with white walls and golden embellishments that appear in contrast to the relatively simple but more colourful exterior.

If you are visiting Positano to relax and unwind then the pebble beach of Spiaggia Grande is the perfect spot to spend a day soaking up the Italian sunshine. This is one of the largest beaches along the Amalfi coast and it attracts many visitors each year. However, if you’re not looking for the large crowds that a beach like this attracts then you can walk along the coastal path from Spiaggia Grande to Fornillo beach, which is more intimate.

After a day at the beach, or perhaps to escape the intense midday sun, you can stroll amongst the streets and visit some of the shops. Images of lemons can be found everywhere in this town and you can purchase bowls and other ceramics adorned with the images or buy the famous liqueur, Limoncello. The town also has several talented shoemakers that will create a pair of sandals for you to your preferred design.

After a day of exploring, relaxing (and maybe some shopping) you can head to a roof-top bar for a drink as you watch the sun set over the stunning buildings and glittering sea. The town has many restaurants to choose from but be aware that some of them are pricey and dining on a budget can be a challenge. Despite this, Positano can cater for all budgets with a bit of careful planning and research.

Today, Positano is an eclectic mishmash of old and new. On the one hand, you have the rustic old buildings from years gone by that reflect the charm and pizzazz of the original villas, and on the other hand you have modern restaurants, luxurious eateries, and hip cafes lining the narrow lanes it has become known for.

If you want to delve into the rich and turbulent history of Positano, a trip to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is a must-do. Elsewhere, you can dip your toes in the shimmering shallows of the waters that still retain the glitz and glam of Positano from many years ago.

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