Salerno, the town of Saint Matthew, the Medical School and the Artistical Christmas lights

The inattentive tourist who travels to the Amalfi Coast and continues towards the South, often forgets to have a detour stop in Salerno. What a pity because this beautiful town has passed 20 centuries and several times it has gone through the passage of landmark history


In particular from February to July 1944, the field Marshal Badoglio established in Salerno the first Italian Government after the Fascist period. In those six months the town was officially elected as the Italian Capital. With our diary today we are going to tell you about Salerno by starting with the ‘Scuola Medica Salernitana’ [Medical School of Salerno].

Four Physicians and a rainy night

The “Schola Salerni” was the first medical institution in history, a reference point for the future development of the medical discipline in the whole of Europe, thanks to its innovations in the method and the medical practice.

The legend says that the school was founded under the arches of the Aqueduct dell’Arce by the meeting of four physicians during a heavy rainfall.

The origins ascribed to each physician (Latin, Greek, Arab and Jewish) represent the four heritage upon which the Scuola Medica is established.

The philosopher Tommaso d’Aquino said about Salerno: “Sono altre quattro le città preminenti, Parigi nelle scienze, Salerno nelle medicine, Bologna nelle leggi, Orleans nelle arti attoriali” [There are also four prominant towns; Paris for the sciences, Salerno for the medicine, Bologna for the law, Orleans for the arts of recitation].

Some centuries after Wolfgang Goethe wrote in his “Viaggio in Italia” [Italian Journey]: “Un altro disegno nacque la sera dalle finestre di Salerno ed esso mi risparmierà ogni descrizione di una terra deliziosa e fertilissima. Chi non sarebbe stato disposto a studiare in questa cittadina nel tempo in cui vi fioriva una università?” [Another painting was born in the night from Salerno’s windows and it will make me save every description of a land so delightful and fruitful. Who will ever never be ready to study in this small town at the time the university was flourishing?]

The Medical School was a source of enlightenment for the development of the Universities, what happened shortly afterwards was that the teaching was revolutionary for the role of women: for the first time in the history of medicine they were allowed to teach and practice the branch of knowledge, and for this they were called the “Mulieres Salernitane”.

Why are so many people named Matthew?

Taking a stroll on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main shopping street in Salerno, one quickly realises how many people have the name Matthew. After a few minutes we will discover the reason why. This street brings us directly to the Via dei Mercanti in the historical centre of the town. We find ourselves suddenly surrounded by the colours of the tiny historical shops and the tempting fragrances flooding the narrow streets.

Amongst the one thousand temptations, we arrive at the Duomo, the Cathedral, which is the first milestone of our itinerary. This building was erected in the XI century and it is the most important Christian Catholic monument of the town. We discover that it is consecrated to Saint Matthew, patron of the town, which explains why the name is so widespread! To company the Cathedral is the grandiose belltower of Arabic-Norman style. Deep inside the Duomo are hedged the remains of Saint Matthew.

Luci d’Artista: the Artistical Christmas lights

From one of the narrow streets that goes through the historical centre we arrive at the Villa Comunale, the “garden” of the town and the second milestone of our tour. Salerno in fact is rich in important green areas at everyone’s disposal also remembering that there is the historical Minerva Gardens, the most ancient botanical garden in Europe, the Seminary Park and Mercatello’s Park.

The Villa ‘turns on’ during the Christmas period with the famous ‘Artist’ lights’, bright artworks that makes the route sweeter for the traveller in the city centre. The Villa is transformed into a magical enchanted park where we could lose ourselves for hours in it’s beauty. The fabled scenery in front of our eyes transports us back to our childhoods and for a moment we imagine we are on a chariot with the appearence of a pumpkin or we are a captain of a pirate galleon. What a pity it is not Christmas! But luckily it’s Spring and we have nice sunny weather to look forward to.

We will return at Christmas time hopefully.

The importance of the sea

The Villa Comunale acts for us a prologue to the municipal Theater Giuseppe Verdi, built upon the proportions of the Real Teatro San Carlo of Naples and inaugurated in 1872, but above all it introduces us to the third stop of our itinerary . Now we arrive to the Lungomare Trieste [the promenade].

The promenade makes us understand what is today Salerno. If the historical buildings on our back give us an idea of our history, on the other side there is the promenade with it’s modern port, that projects the town towards the future and allocates Salerno as a center for the business ship traffic of the Mediterranean Sea. Clearly the port is not the only point to observe. From here we stop to delight in the surrounding landscapes which characterize the evocative Gulf of Salerno. There is also one who says that Dante’s Alighieri profile is eased down above one of the hills surrounding the town, where the sun is hidden behind every night.

The Arechi’s Castle as a protection of the town

All day long , we have felt watched by something that from above was following our every move: we look up and discover the Arechi’s Castle, a Medieval fortress wanted by Arechi II, allied of Carlo Magno and Prince of the Duchy of Benevento and Salerno.

The building guards and overlooks the town today still and hosts a historical museum dedicated to the Lords Angevin, Normans, and Aragonensis who occupied it. We reach it by taxi. Once there, the landscape takes your breath away to all who visit and has few equal of it’s kind in the world.

We couldn’t choose a better milestone to finish our exciting tour of Salerno.

The stunning view makes us think about Alfonso Gatto’ words, the most famous Salernitan poet, who here quotes to salute you and who said of his town: “Salerno rima d’eterno” [Salerno rhyme of eternity].


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