Historical Background


The origins of this seaside village probably date back to the Early Middle Ages. During the Ancient Ages its territory, almost completely uninhabited, belonged to the jurisdiction of the Etruscan city of Marcina, probably coinciding with Vietri sul Mare.

The seafaring settlement had to be established in the second half of the ninth century, when a colony of Saracens settled there, then driven out towards the end of that century. In 1030 Cetaresi paid the fishing taxes (ius piscariae) to the archbishop of Amalfi, while in 1120 Duke Guglielmo assigned to the Benedictine monastery of Erchie the right to collect the tithe paid for fishing in the sea of Cetara.

Around 988 the church of St. Peter the Apostle was already in operation, around which the settlement on the sea and on the side hills began to develop. Cetara was protected to the north by Mount Falerio, while to the south, on the sea side it had a boundary wall along which turreted and fortified buildings stood; the defense of the Cetara coast was further strengthened in the sixteenth century by the construction of a viceregal tower.

In the Middle Ages the eastern part of the territory of Cetara belonged to the Lombard principality of Salerno, while the western part was part of the Romanesque-Byzantine duchy of Amalfi. The landscape of those areas was characterized by woods, chestnut trees, most of which belonged to the Amalfi-Atranese aristocracy and the monastery of S. Maria and S. Benedetto di Erchie.

The rugged orography of the coast forced the ancient Cetaresi to build terraces supported by dry walls, still called macerine. The terraces were planted with orchards, vineyards and lemon groves. However, the olive tree spontaneously grew. The harbour of Cetara was in direct contact with the classical port of Fonti, where in the early Middle Ages the ships of the Badia di Cava de’ Tirreni anchored.

Cetaresi, like all the inhabitants of the Duchy of Amalfi,  engaged in some  maritime and commercial activities of the small coastal state. Thus, embarked on the ships of the Republic, the Cetara sailors contributed to the triangular cycle of Amalfi trade, which had as summits southern Italy, northern Africa, the empire of Byzantium.

At the time of the maritime republic, moreover, the best fishermen of the Coast turned out to be the Cetaresi, whose sea was very fishy; in the waters of Cetara and the nearby coast they fished for snappers, groupers, morays. Other qualities of fish caught with nets were tuna, palamides, mackerel. For their fishing was organized the trap which consisted of a wall of massive nets of hemp and scattered, supported by a large amount of cork and stops in the bottom with mallets tied to large gomene and anchors.

The traps started from the coast and went west and east, forming a cubic framework with various compartments. This ‘labyrinth’ had only one opening, called door, from which the fish entered. From the sea Cetaresi also extracted large quantities of anchovies and sardines that salted in barrels along with various fish bones.

The fishermen of Cetara, like all those of the Amalfi Riviera, applied in their activities the chapter on the distribution of profits mentioned in the collection of maritime laws better known as Tabula de Amalpha. It is the ‘half-profit’ or ‘part-profit’ agreement that provided for the division of profits derived from fishing and the consequent sale of the catch in three parts, one of which was up to the owner of the boat, another to the head fisherman and the third to the crew.

At the time of the infeudation of the duchy Cetara remains ‘free land’; in those years the Cetaresi contributed validly to the liberation of Frederick, second son of the king of Naples, held prisoner in Salerno.

At that time, unfortunately, the Amalfi coast was infested with Turkish pirates. In May 1534, Sinan Pasha’s fleet sacked the villages of Erchie and Soverano and then attacked Cetara, taking three hundred inhabitants as slaves and slaughtering many others. But ten years later, a terrible storm swept the ships of Kheir-Eddin, known as Barbarossa.

Following the birth of the Neapolitan Republic in 1799, the French fleet that supported the Neapolitan Jacobins, after having saved Amalfi from a powerful cannonade in exchange for a large sum of money, began the construction of a fort at Conca dei Marini. Some republican plushes, hidden in the natural inlet of those waters, guarded the work. At a certain point, however, from Fonti, armed spears and shackles with English and Cetara sailors left, in order to take possession of these feluches. After a first repulsed attack, the English and the Cetaresi overthrew the French fort of Conca dei Marini.

Of the ancient coastal fleets today there is only the memory; only that of Cetara continues to cross the waves of the western Mediterranean. Only on 1 January 1834, after centuries of quarrels and disputes, Cetara was elevated to a municipality with independent administration and separated from Vietri. A first attempt of the Cetaresi, for the constitution of a municipality separated from Cava, had happened centuries ago, in 1486: with deliberation of the University of Cava, however, in the sitting that request was rejected.

With the installation of the municipality the Cetaresi felt satisfied in their secular aspiration to be administratively autonomous.