The Amalfi coast is an area of great physical beauty and natural diversity. It has been intensively settled by human communities since the early Middle Ages. There are a number of towns such as Amalfi and Ravello with architectural and artistic works of great significance. The rural areas show the versatility of the inhabitants in adapting their use of the land to the diverse nature of the terrain, which ranges from terraced vineyards and orchards on the lower slopes to wide upland pastures.
The wall of the church of Santa Maria in Positano has a bas-relief by an unknown artist depicting a fishing fox. This is the symbol of the Costiera Amalfitana and the unchanging relationship between sea and mountains, the two elements that shape this landscape.
The nominated area covers 11,231ha in fifteen communes in the Province of Salerno. Its natural boundary is the southern slope of the peninsula formed by the Lattari hills which, stretching from the Picentini hills to the Tyrrhenian Sea, separate the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno.
Administratively, it is part of the Penisola Amalfitana, which corresponds almost exactly to the territory of the ancient Republic of Amalfi. It consists of four main stretches of coast (Amalfi, Atrani, Reginna Maior, Regimia Minor) with some minor ones (Positano, Praiano, Certaria, Hercle), with the mountain villages of Scala, Tramonti, and Ravello and hamlets of Conca and Furore behind and above them.
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic materials have been found in the La Porta cave at Positano, and the area was favoured by the Romans, judging from the villas of Positano, Minori, and Gallo Lungo. However, the area was not intensively settled until the early Middle Ages, when the Gothic War made it a place of refuge.
Amalfi was founded in the 4th century AD. A new Roman colony in nearby Lucania came under barbarian attack and the inhabitants moved to the fertile and well watered hilly area around modem Scala. In the first written reference to Amalfi (596) it was already a fortified town and the seat of a bishopric. It resisted Lombard attacks until 838, when it was conquered and looted by Sicardo. However, after his death the following year the town, which owed only token allegiance to Byzantium, declared its independence. The new Republic was governed by a ruler whose title had become Doge (Duke) by 958. This political autonomy enabled Amalfi to become a maritime trading power between the early 9th and late 11th centuries, when the sea power of Byzantium was in decline and a free market developed. Amalfi had a near-monopoly of trade in the Tyrrhenian Sea, with a vast networks of links, selling Italian products (wood, iron, weapons, wine, fruit) in eastern markets and buying in return spices, perfumes, pearls, jewels, textiles, and carpets to sell in the west.
The culture that developed made major contributions to, inter alia, maritime law and navigation (the nautical compass was invented in Amalfi) with close links with the east. The layout of the settlements that developed showed eastern influence: the closely spaced houses, climbing up the steep hillsides and connected by a maze of alleys and stairs, are reminiscent of the souks of the Levant. A distinctive Arab-Sicilian architecture originated and developed in Amalfi. The eastern connections also brought new or improved crafts to the area - stone-dressing, paper processing, tanning, silkworm culture and the weaving of silk, and polychrome glazed pottery production. Wool was also being spun and woven and exported all over Italy, coral worked for luxury objects, and pasta making and cooking refined.With the eclipse of the mercantile importance of Amalfi by Genoa, Venice, and, above all, Pisa, and its conquest by Spain, it fell into an uninterrupted decline. The only significant change to the landscape was the reinforcement of the system of watch towers along the coast, to give warning and protection against Turkish attacks.
The towns and villages of the Costiera Amahitana are characterized by their remarkable architectural monuments, such as the Torre Saraceua at Cetara, the Romanesque Cathedral of Amalfi and its "Cloister of Paradise," with their strong oriental influences, the Church of San Salvatore de' Birecto at Atrani, where the Dogi of Amalfi were elected, and Ravello with its flue Cathedral and the superb Villa Rufolo.
The Costiera has attracted tourists, Tom the grandees who followed the Grand Tour from the Renaissance to the thousands of more humble visitors of the late 20th century. Many literary visitors have written eulogies of its qualities and generations of artists have depicted it in different media. They have been brought there to see its architecture, its natural beauties such as the magical Grotta della Smeraldo, the deep fjord of Furore, and the tine beaches.Inland the steep slopes rising from the coast are covered with terraces, revetted with drystone walling and used for the cultivation of citrus and other fruits, olives, vines, and vegetables of all kinds. Further inland the hillsides are given over to dairy farming, whose roots are ancient in the area, based on sheep, goats, cattle, and buffalo.
In some parts of the Costiera the natural landscape survives intact, with little, if any, human intervention. It supports the traditional Mediterranean flora of myrtle, lentisk, broom, euphorbia, etc, which can withstand the windswept aridity of much of the area. Elsewhere there are stands of trees, such as holm oak, alder, beech, and chestnut. Other biotopes shelter pantropical ferns, butterwort, dwarf palms, and endemic carnivorous species. As a result of this immensely varied vegetation, resulting from the irregular topography of the area coupled with proximity of the sea, three natural reserves have been created.
The Costiera is also rich in wildlife. Ravens and peregrine falcons are residents, as are foxes, martens, and otters. The insect fauna is extremely varied, as a function of the diversity of the habitats that the area offers.
The higher mountain areas are noteworthy for the characteristic mule tracks (mulattiere) which are a notable feature of the landscape. These not only served as means of communication between the scattered villages and other settlements but also constituted an effective means of catching and channeling rainwater. They were also much used by smugglers after the decline of the Republic of Amalfi. There are many small streams which in places drop over impressive waterfalls; these streams provided the power for the early paper and iron industries, the remains of which are widespread.
There is thus an immense diversity of landscapes, ranging from the coastal settlements through the intensively cultivated lower slopes and large areas of open pastoral land to the dramatic high mountains. In addition, there are "micro-landscapes" of great scientific interest resulting from topographical and climatic variations, and striking natural formations in the limestone karst at both sea level and above.