Cenacolista David Cobb will summarize the history and present status of a remarkable villa and its gardens just off the main tourist trail in southern Italy. At this spectacular site in central Capri, on sheer cliffs dropping to the Bay of Naples, the second Roman emperor Tiberius built a vacation retreat—or perhaps a political hideaway—in the first century of the common era. A few hundred years later, the property had been abandoned to ruin until Axel Munthe, an eccentric young Swedish doctor, fell in love with and purchased the site in the late 1800s. The original foundations, floor mosaics, statues, and other treasures uncovered during construction were incorporated into the villa and gardens designed and built over decades by Munthe himself. During my visit this past May, tides of tourists flowed past the walled villa and gardens, taking selfies of the spectacular views from the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea. Most had ignored the little entryway to the villa itself. Once inside I shared Villa San Michele for hours with perhaps eight or ten other visitors, and before leaving to catch the ferry back to Sorrento, I was totally alone with my espresso in the villa’s little rooftop café, enjoying as beautiful a view of the sea as has ever been my pleasure.
David Cobb lives in Belvedere, California, working on his various projects, sailing on the Bay with friends, attempting to learn Italian, traveling, hiking, and reading a lot.