Just A Water Mill

The hotel we had reserved overbooked the night we arrived. After all, we had driven out of Naples and explored Pompeii earlier in the day–meaning we got into Sorrento after 8pm. They set us up at a place just up Fuorimura Street at the Plaza Hotel. Plaza as in Piazzo Tasso.

As for our car, the sweet lady of the hotel let us take her parking spot and scratched off the appropriate date on a permit for me to put on the dash of our Fiat.

As we lugged our luggage up the street to the hotel which we had been reassigned for the night, we shared the narrow asphalt with bypassing cars. Eventually, we noticed that this particular stretch was outlaid over a bridge. A very steep one, in fact. So we leaned over the railing and saw some deeply colored flood lights over what seemed like lush, green vegetation covering a stone, castle-like structure. We paused a bit to admire the steep descension and tested our fear of heights. But, it was so steep and dark–it was at night, after all–that we couldn’t see to the bottom. The flood lights changed from deep purple to a dark blue.

We’d have to take a look in the morning.


Il Vallone dei Mulini in Sorrento The family-run Hotel Savoia let us know to please join them for their continental breakfast in the morning and someone would take our bags over for us. They called up to the room to remind us of their invitation. I was impressed by their warm hospitality. (For those of you who haven’t traveled to Europe, breakfasts in the morning are always included in your stay as a standard and are even generally used to help determine the quality of the hotel. Hotel Savoia’s continental breakfast would be remembered by me to be the best on our trip. In addition to the great selection of meats, rolls, fruit jams and cereals, they specially cooked eggs and/or pancakes for each individual guest. A very warm family, indeed.)

Our interim Hotel Plaza room had a balcony facing the street we had walked up; this also meant that the balcony allowed us to have an even higher overlook of that “castle-like” structure enveloped in vegetation underneath the bridge. As it was daylight now, we could see that Fuorimura Street was positioned over a bridge with beautiful rounded arches built into it. And the stone “castle” below was so interesting, especially with the lush, green vegetation overpopulating it. The greenery looked so rich, the “castle” ancient.

Il Vallone dei Mulini in Sorrento

As we passed the front desk, we turned in the key and said our thanks (Grazi!) before pausing to ask, “You know that bridge right there?” The concierge waved over his partner, who apparently spoke better English. “Yes?” he answered.

“What is that? It’s like a stone castle with a lot of plants.”

“Oh, it’s a water mill. Old.”

“Oh yeah?” I said. “Does it have a name?” Roycifer asked.

“No, it’s just a water mill.”

“Oh.”

Royce and I looked at each other and shrugged. But as we passed it again back to Hotel Savoia, we paused to look–and we would every time we crossed that bridge on our way back from Piazza Tasso, the main plaza of the city. There were also many other onlookers who would stand, rested against the railing as they peered over, obviously just as curious as we were.

It wasn’t til we got home when, of the two, Roycifer thought to Google the thing. And of course, the explanation was more than we could have fathomed (that is, or the hotel concierge could apparently explain). The following article from Historic Centre Itineraries helped us shed light on our little discovery.

The Deep Valley of the Mills
(Il Vallone dei Mulini)
by Concetta Caccaviello

In the historical centre of Sorrento, behind Tasso Square, it is possible to admire from above – in a suggestive perspective – a natural extraordinary spectacle: The Deep Valley of the Mills.

The Deep Valley encircles on the south-east side, the tuffaceous block of the present historical centre of Sorrento; observing it from above a characteristic rift of the rock is visible, that carves profoundly and transversely the tuffaceous platform. This incisive rift has originated from the vastest eruption which shook the Mediterranean about 35,000 years ago.

The potent eruption filled the entire calcareous valley with debris between Scutolo Point and the Cape of Sorrento; the waters which passed through the valleys – finding them clogged up with volcanic materials – searched for a new path towards the sea cutting progressively through the tuffaceous bank.

The valleys became privileged places of the human’s settlement. The pre-historic cave of the Conca (Nicolucci Cave), on the uphill of the Valley of Large Seashore (Marina Grande) and the settlement of Gaudo in Piano of Sorrento, remain two tangible traces of this phenomenon.

The Valley of the Mills is incised by two streams of water: Casarlano-Cesarano and Saint Antonino. The lack of water has contributed to form very narrow gorges, only in the point where the two streams of water meet the gorge widens and forms a vast area at the feet of the Villa “La Rupe”.

The name Valley of the Mills, derives from the existence of a mill – functioning since the beginning of the ‘900’s – used for grinding wheat. Attached to the mill, rose a sawmill which furnished chaff to the Sorrentine cabinet makers. Everything is completed by a public wash-house used by the women of the people.

The creation of Tasso Square, since 1866, determined the isolation of the mill area from the sea, provoking a sharp rise of the percentage of humidity, which made the area unbearable and determined its progressive abandon. The new microclimate favoured the development of a thriving and spontaneous vegetation in which the dominant element is the Phillitis Vulgaris, a splendid and rare model belonging to the fern family.

Today it is possible to have access to the remaining part of the Deep Valley crossing antique ramps engraved into the tuff with entrance from a trapdoor near the Stragazzi parking.

My suggestion: Equip yourself with binoculars and camera and observe from above the remains of the mill and the splendid savage vegetation. The best position is Fuorimura Street, behind Tasso Square.

Amazing how there is a unique type of fern that flourishes in that valley. Well, and that valley actually has a name. Indeed, “just a water mill” was actually built in 900 A.D. And then I wonder how mind-boggling it is to be growing up in regions that have been rebuilt and rebuilt with histories as far back as Pompeii, for example. And, our entire country is 200 years young.

Love,
*e

A slideshow of the pictures I took in Sorrento, if you please:
(or you can view them on my Flickr)