Ischia Island

FORIO D'ISCHIA 

Historical notes and useful information

Initially scarcely frequented by thermal and beach tourists, due to its location on the west side of the island (which is the most windy one and consequently exposed to sea-storms), the town of Forio had been long an agricultural centre. Even the lush Poseidon Gardens, nowadays one of the most renowned thermal parks of the world, were just cultivated fields where an abundant and prosperous production of wine grapes, citrus fruits and tomatoes was ensured by the volcanic origin of the soil and the irrigation with thermo-mineral water.

Nevertheless, Forio was not completely excluded by the first tourist flows: the Borbonica Road connecting the town to Ischia Ponte (through Ischia Porto, Casamicciola Terme and Lacco Ameno) was the ideal place to enjoy sleigh rides, admire the magnificent sunset of Forio and, sometimes, the rare phenomenon of the green ray. At that time, tourists were reluctant to explore the southern side of Ischia, due to the uncomfortable mountain paths of Epomeo; as a result, Forio was the ultimate tour destination.  

Though over the first half of the 20th Century, Forio was not a jet-set destination, it however attracted intellectuals and artists thus becoming the core of cultural tourism on Ischia. Infact, Luchino Visconti chose to reside there in summer, where he hosted many personalities from the world of cinema in his Villa La Colombaia (today seat of a foundation managing a good number of events); many writers such as Auden, Moravia along with Morante, Maraini and Pasolini spent there several holidays; German artists like Bargheer painted there many of their works and were an example for the local population by giving birth to a kind of Forio painting school. 

Over the second half of the 20th Century the transformation of Forio into an important tourist-residential destination took finally place and quickly filled its gap in comparison with the other towns of the island. As a result, Forio became one of the most appreciated destinations of Ischia, thanks not only to the sea but also to its thermal heritage and accommodation services.

The most representative architectural element of Forio is the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso, above the sea on the promontory which delimits the long beach of San Francesco and the harbour, where hydrofoils connect the town to Naples. Melting different style into an eclectic Mediterranean result, the Soccorso Church was built in the 16th and then enlarged in the 18th Century. The small walls of the churchyard are decorated with majolica tiles showing martyrdom scenes of several saints as well as of the Passion of Christ. Inside the Church there are a wooden Crucifix of uncertain date (according to tradition, it was brought by the stormy sea on the beach) and a collection of ex-votos of many seamen who had escaped from storms thanks to the intercession of Our Lady.

Between the town centre and the sea stands out the iconic Torrione (15th Century), where the Museo Civico (Civic Museum) is hosted: built in the 15th Century, it was the highest one of 9 watchtowers located along the western side of the island.

The need to protect themselves by the Saracen invasions and the exposure to winds played a significant role in determining the whole structure of the historical centre of Forio, consisting in several irregular ramifications of narrow and winding lanes. The Church of San Gaetano is also significant in the skyline of Forio thanks to its dome with sundial and the splendid ancient majolica pavement with typically local decorations.

From the historical and artistic point of view some more significant monuments in the town are: the Basilica of Santa Maria di Loreto, built in the 14th and renovated in the 18th Century where some works by local painters are kept; the Church Madre di San Vito, which hosts some paitings going back to the 1600-Neapolitan School as well as a silver statue of the patron saint of Forio; the Church of the Congregazione di Santa Maria Visitapoveri, with its wooden Choir and decorations in stucco; the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi, close to the monastery where the frescoed closter was the municipal seat for a long time. At the edge of the old town nucleus are located the Churches dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo (on the small lanes leading to the fields) and to San Michele Arcangelo, on the hill of Monterone (a suburb of Forio).

On the slopes of Monte Nuovo, outside of the town centre, lies the Church of Santa Maria del Monte, completely dug into rock; in a very impressive location at the foot of the hill leading to the beach of San Francesco there is the baroque sanctuary of the Madonna di Montevergine (well-known as the Church of San Francesco di Paola), which also keeps a painting by Luca Giordano.

On the territory of Forio are to be found some elegant residences too, just like La Mortella, located in the Zaro area bordering Lacco Ameno. Its ground was originally purchased in 1949 by Sir William Walton, the most important English composer of contemporary music who fell in love with the place and decided to transform it into a little paradise thanks to the help from Russel Page, one of the best landscape architects of the 20th Century. A part of the villa hosts a small museum dedicated to the memory of William Walton: along with some relics there is a photo gallery of the musician and his entourage, mostly taken by Cecil Beaton; moreover, a documentary about some biographical aspects of the composer and a brief story of La Mortella are projected on a rolling basis. Close to the museum is located an auditorium decorated by an impressive backdrop by Emanuele Luzzati. The park hosts around 300 rare botanical species and is the location of the Greek Theatre where a summer concert season takes place.

On the other hand, in the hill district of Panza is located the Museo Contadino (Farmer Museum), dedicated to rural tools and country life as a whole. It also keeps some aerial photographs about the topographical surveys carried out by the mid-20th Century which show the residential area prior to the tourist development.

From the centre of Panza through a path on the hillside one can reach Sorgeto, a particularly impressive bay on the southern coast of Ischia, where precious springs of thermal water offer the chance of bathing also in winter.

 

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