Positano – The Town that Steinbeck made Famous


Positano was a prosperous port in the Amalfi the first established of the Italian Maritime Republics, heavily involved in the Crusades. Larger ships meant it was no longer useful as a port and it became dependent on its fishing fleet. By the middle of the last century the decline of the fishing industry meant that more than half the population had emigrated, mainly to Australia.


HDR Sunchairs Positano 2

Then in 1953 John Steinbeck arrived in Positano, escaping from Rome’s summer heat. He was already a well established novelist, later to win the Pulitzer Prize, but then working as a columnist for Harper’s Bazar magazine . Below is a link to what he wrote about Positano, early setting the tone with this amazing statement.

“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

If you love good writing follow the link to this his description of this village in 1953 and consider my recent images.


ImageWe were told it was worth making our way down to the beach because we would find the world’s best gelato – it was good but so was the view back up the hill towards the town best described by Steinbeck.

“Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it……. The small curving bay of unbelievable blue and green water laps gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide.”

ImageOn the way down we passed The Church of St Maria Assunta, famous for its mediaeval art. However a wedding was just about to start so we couldn’t get in. Next best thing for a storyteller however, was the arrival of the bride. She walked up, all smiles, gave us a pirouette,  raised the flowers in salute that was a YES of triumph. I captured the her later, with new husband smiling for the video and  walking the narrow, main path through the shops to the beachImage

ImageThis is an eternal bride, walked past by 10,000 people a day, but she doesn’t get to go home at night. No wonder she doesn’t smile.


4 thoughts on “Positano – The Town that Steinbeck made Famous

  1. Beautiful colourful place, you would certainly keep fit walking around there. Did Steineck write The Pearl, the only one of his I have ever read, high school read. Like the eternal bride.

    • The Pearl was Steinbeck’s 4th book released in 1947, a significant year for me! It was a very short novella. I checked his book list and I read about 15 of his books, mostly in my teens, when I went through an American period (before my Russian one). Grapes of Wrath was his greatest. Reading that link to the Harpers article just confirmed What a wonderful writer he was.

  2. This certainly was a delightful experience. Thanks for sharing the photos and the Steinbeck article. Anyone who’s been there or contemplating a visit should read it. I don’t know what I enjoyed most, his description of the car ride with Signor Bassano, which reminded me of our own trek in the van, or the Thanksgiving dinner. Too bad we didn’t have enough time to meet some of the modern-day versions of the characters he described.

    • John I am so glad you read the Steinbeck link – wasn’t it wonderful! You know I look for a theme for each post and decided that this one was to be Steinbeck. I went through a phase of American novelists in my teens. I checked Steinbeck’s catelogue and found I had read 15 of his books starting with Of Mice and Men and finishing with Travels with Charlie. Reading that Harper’s piece reminded me what a great people’s writer he was.
      About the characters though. Since I published the blog post I have been wondering about going back and adding a piece because I think Steinbech got it wrong. He couldn’t imagine Positano with tourists or with rich people. He didn’t think the locals would ever sell out. He rejoiced in the barefooted communist Mayor.
      Today with a population of less than 4000 there are seven banks, the villas are all owned by billionaires, tourists abound and characters couldn’t afford to live there!

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