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Many churches on the Amalfi Coast are decorated with marvelous floors of colorful majolica tiles, produced thanks to the ancient craft tradition of Vietri sul Mare.

by Roberta Cascone

In churches throughout the Amalfi Coast it is not uncommon to come across majolica floors of many colors and subjects. The production of majolica took place within the "faenzere" and has its roots in the history of the Coast, becoming over the centuries one of the most successful and notorious activities taking place here. Indeed, majolica tiles are used for a thousand different purposes: for everyday objects, but also as "riggiole," that is the tiles, to decorate bell towers, domes and floors. Quaint little stores can be found everywhere in the alleys and are among the most popular with tourists: the millions of visitors who visit the Coast each year never leave their stay without taking a souvenir of colorful ceramics with them. But where did this magnificent tradition originate? Let's find out!

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Vietri sul Mare

A story of a thousand colors

The city of Vietri sul Mare has a long tradition of working with ceramic objects and tiled floors; certain documents on this production date back to the 16th century, although it is probably even older. The ceramic workshops in which the materials were processed were called "faenzere." The term comes from the city of Faenza, which is considered the birthplace of ceramics. Initially used only in the creation of everyday objects such as pottery, containers and bowls, ceramics soon became the favored material for the production of objects of worship and for the decoration of the churches of the Coast, which were endowed over the centuries with marvelous bell towers, domes and tiled floors. The 17th century was the century of greatest expansion and growth for Vietri faenzeras, thanks in part to the increase in sea trade with Calabria and Sicily. The 19th century also saw an increase in the range of colors available (prominent among which were green and blue, reminiscent of the mountains and the sea), and faenzeras multiplied until, at the end of World War I, Vietri ceramic production also became internationally famous. This phase was precisely named the "German period," since Dutch and German artists came to the coast to forge business ties and export Vietrese art around the world. Some of the most beautiful Vietri tile floors were produced in these very faenzeras: let's see where you can find and admire them!

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Church of Saint Luke in Praiano

The Church of St. Luke the Evangelist has a Baroque layout and is dedicated to Praiano's patron saint. It dates from the 16th century and has a three-story bell tower. The interior is divided into three naves separated by round arches, and a number of chapels open on either side. The 1789 tiled floor is of considerable interest, since it depicts flowers, birds and in the center the image of St. Luke, shown in the act of painting.

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Church of Saint Luke in Praiano. Credits: FB Page of the Church

Church of Saint Biagio and of the Holy Trinity in Amalfi

The church of S. Biagio in Amalfi is located in the upper part of the Vagliendola district, where it occupies a very singular position: in fact, its bell tower stands out at the apex of a block of flats built in clusters on a rocky spur overlooking the sea. Here the majolica floor was affixed in 1779, the year in which some restoration work took place. The glazed ceramic tiles depict a single design in floral type and cover the entire liturgical hall in the colors green, blue and yellow.

Church of Saint Peter the Apostle in Tramonti

In the hamlet of Figlino in Tramonti is the church of St. Peter the Apostle, of Byzantine origin. In the 18th century it acquired a Baroque style, and the church was enriched with fine stucco work, canvases by the painter Domenico Ferrara and, above all, a floor of majolica (in this case from Capodimonte) depicting natural scenes, including birds, floral motifs and fruit.

Cathedral of Saint Lawrence in Scala

Scala Cathedral is the religious heart of the city. It dates back to the 11th century and has undergone many transformations, going from Romanesque-Gothic to Rococo style in the 18th century. Many precious artifacts are kept inside, and in the transept we find a valuable majolica floor, in which angels and floral decorations are depicted, framing the gridiron, the instrument symbolizing the martyrdom of St. Lawrence.

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A detail of the Cathedral's floor. Ph by tripadvisor

Church of Saint John the Baptist in Praiano

In the city center of Praiano is the Church of St. John the Baptist, built in the Romanesque style between the 11th and 12th centuries, which has a rectangular plan and a barrel vault. Inside, however, there are also elements of the Baroque style, including the floor with majolica tiles featuring natural elements of both flora and fauna. 

Church of Saint Gennaro in Vettica Maggiore

The church dedicated to St. Gennaro probably dates back to the 1300s, but was remodeled in the 17th century. The structure has a Latin cross and three naves, and the floor is entirely tiled, although the 1777 original was replaced by a copy in 1966. It reproduces polychrome geometries and floral elements in very bright colors.

Inside San Gennaro's church. Ph. by tripadvisor

Church of Saint Anthony Abbot in Vietri sul Mare

Dating from 1607, the church of St. Anthony has a single nave with six side chapels. Here the Vietri majolica floor, from the De Simone/Tajani faenzera, was assembled in 1720 during renovations. It reproduces colorful geometric motifs.

Church of Saint Maria delle Grazie in Montepertuso (Positano)

In the hamlet of Montepertuso, that is, in the upper part of Positano, we find the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, also called the "New Church." Endowed with a distinctive elliptical shape and a domed roof, here too we find a fine majolica floor with phytomorphic decorations, that is, reproducing plants and other vegetal organisms, typical of Campania's churches of the 1700s.

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The church in Montepertuso. Ph by positanomylife

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  • If you want to tour the churches on the Coast to admire their tiled floors, always be sure to check their opening hours!