The Villa Rufolo, which overlooks the Piazza Vescovado, is the historical and cultural center of Ravello. Built by a wealthy merchant family in the 13th century, the Villa Rufolo has a rich and storied past. Boccaccio, one of the earliest authors of the Italian renaissance, wrote a story about the villa and its owner in his Decameron, which was published in 1353.
In its prime, it was one of the largest and most expensive villas on the Amalfi Coast, and legends grew about hidden treasure on its premises. In the 14th century the Rufolo family hosted banquets for King Robert II of Naples and other Norman royalty.
When Sir Francis Neville Reid, a Scottish botanist, visited the villa in 1851, age and neglect had taken a toll on the villa and many of the rooms had fallen into ruin. Reid, however, fell in love with the Moorish towers and the expansive views. He purchased the villa and began an extensive renovation of the gardens and the remaining rooms.
When Richard Wagner, the famous German composer, visited the villa in 1880 he was so impressed by what he saw that he famously exclaimed, “I have discovered Klingsor’s garden.” Wagner, who was 67 years old at the time of his visit, was so inspired that he stayed in Ravello long enough to write the second act of Parsifal, an opera that he had been working on for over two decades. If he had not visited the Villa Rufolo, he might never have completed the opera, for he died just three years later.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).