You can’t miss the looming presence of Salerno’s impressive cathedral, widely considered to be the most beautiful medieval church in Italy. Built by the Normans in the 11th century and later aesthetically remodelled in the 18th century, it sustained severe damage in a 1980 earthquake. It is dedicated to San Matteo (St Matthew), whose remains were reputedly brought to the city in 954 and now lie beneath the main altar in the vaulted crypt.
Take special note of the magnificent main entrance, the 12th-century Porta dei Leoni, named after the marble lions at the foot of the stairway. It leads through to a beautiful, harmonious courtyard, surrounded by graceful arches and overlooked by a 12th-century bell tower. Carry on through the huge bronze doors (similarly guarded by lions), which were cast in Constantinople in the 11th century. When you come to the three-aisled interior, you will see that it is largely baroque, with only a few traces of the original church. These include parts of the transept and choir floor and the two raised pulpits in front of the choir stalls. Throughout the church you can see extraordinarily detailed and colourful 13th-century mosaic work.
In the right-hand apse, don’t miss the Cappella delle Crociate (Chapel of the Crusades), containing stunning frescoes and more wonderful mosaics. It was so named because crusaders’ weapons were blessed here. Under the altar stands the tomb of 11th-century pope Gregory VII.
2.Vicolo della Neve
A city institution on a scruffy street, this is the archetypal centro storico trattoria, with brick arches, fake frescoes and walls hung with works by local artists. The menu is, similarly, unwaveringly authentic, with pizzas and calzones, peperoni ripieni (stuffed peppers) and a top-notch parmigiana di melanzane (baked aubergine). It can get incredibly busy: book in advance.
3. La Cantina del Feudo
Frequented by locals in the know, this restaurant is tucked up a side street off the pedestrian corso. The menu changes daily, but the emphasis is on vegetable dishes like white beans with chicory, noodles and turnip tops, and ravioli stuffed with cheese. The interior has a rural trattoria feel and there’s a terrace for al fresco dining.
This place, tucked behind the cathedral, has that winning combination of an earthy and inviting atmosphere and unfailingly good, delicately composed dishes. Exposed stone, shelves of wine and an open-plan kitchen set the scene for traditional Campanian cuisine like pasta with seafood and chickpeas, or a mussel soup that tastes satisfyingly of the sea.
5. Ristorante Santa Lucia
The surrounding Via Roma area may be one of the city’s trendiest, but there’s nothing remotely flash about the delicious seafood served up here. Dishes such as linguine ai frutti di mare (flat spaghetti with seafood) and chargrilled cuttlefish may not be original but taste great – as do the top-notch wood-fired pizzas.
6. Pizza Margherita
It looks like a bland, modern canteen, but this is, in fact, one of Salerno’s most popular lunch spots. Locals regularly queue for the lavish lunchtime buffet that, on any given day, might include buffalo mozzarella, salami, mussels in various guises and a range of salads.
If that doesn’t appeal, the daily lunch menu (pasta, main course, salad and half a litre of bottled water) is chalked up on a blackboard, or there’s the regular menu of pizzas, pastas, salads and main courses.
7. Castello di Arechi
Hop on bus 19 from Piazza XXIV Maggio to visit Salerno’s most famous landmark, the forbidding Castello di Arechi, dramatically positioned 263m above the city. Originally a Byzantine fort, it was built by the Lombard duke of Benevento, Arechi II, in the 8th century and subsequently modified by the Normans and Aragonese, most recently in the 16th century.
The views of the Gulf of Salerno and the city rooftops are spectacular; you can also visit a permanent collection of ceramics, arms and coins. If you are here during summer, ask the tourist office for a schedule of the annual series of concerts staged here.
8. Museo Pinacoteca Provinciale
Art enthusiasts should seek out the Museo Pinacoteca Provinciale, located deep in the heart of the historic quarter. Spread throughout six galleries, the museum houses a collection dating from the Renaissance right up to the first half of the 20th century.
There are some fine canvases by local boy Andrea Sabatini da Salerno, who was notably influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, plus a diverse selection of works by foreign artists who were permanent residents around the Amalfi Coast. These include intricate etchings by the Austrian-born Peter Willburger (1942–98) and a colourful embroidered picture of a local market by Polish artist Irene Kowaliska. The museum also hosts free classical concerts during the summer months.
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