Positano is a small town and “comune” on the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana), in Campania, Italy. The main part of the city sits in an enclave in the hills leading down to the coast.
The origins of Positano, like those of many other towns, are lost in the mist of time, so that it is difficult to distinguish between history and legend. As often happen in the past, myths are supplied for the lack of data: one of these myths tells us that Positano was founded by Poseidon (the Latin Neptune, the god of the sea) for the nymph Pasitea, whom he loved.
It is certain that Phoenicians and Greeks, travelling westwards, landed in Positano. The Romans built near the 'great' beach a rich patrician villa, which has now been buried by gardens and by the church devoted to Our Lady of the Assumption. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Positano became a part of the Republic of Amalfi, the first maritime republic, and went through a flourishing period, as a result of trading with other countries of the Mediterranean area. Unfortunately this period was followed by a period of decline.
Another story of how Positano got it’s name is the legend of the famous shipwreck in Positano. A ship from the Orient with Saracens on board came into contact with bad weather in this area. On board they had a portrait of Our Lady, a Byzantine painting, the ship was about to sink when the sailor heard a voice saying “posa posa” which means “put me down, put me down”. The Saracens thought the Virgin Mary was tired and the ship seemed to be pulled to the shore by an invisible force. So they put the painting on the shore, and suddenly the storm was over. The local fisherman who found the painting, built a church where he had found the Byzantine painting, The Church of the Santa Maria Assunta with it’s large Majolica-mosaic dome. The portrait is of a black Virgin Mary.
In this area there is a typical Mediterranean vegetation, lemon trees, chestnut trees, pine and olive trees.
Positano has been a favourite place over the years of royalty, politicians , musicians, poets and film stars and is famous for its whitewashed and pastel-painted houses of pink, blue and saffron clinging to the cliff side.
But Positano is also fashion. Quality fashion tailoring is an activity that has distinguished Positano since the end of the 50's when, with the creation of the bikini the town on the Amalfi Coast became even more famous in Italy and throughout the world. Nowadays Positano offers a great variety of clothing: including garments for the beach, wraparound skirts, beach robes, bags and Bermudas, to the more formal afternoon clothes or elegant evening clothes and even very special wedding dresses.
Bright, cheerful patterns, brilliant colours and the use of natural materials, linen, cotton, characterise Positano fashion. After a phase in the 1950s and 60's, in which Hawaiian-inspired designs predominated, during the 70's plain-coloured gauze took over. Today, patterns that portray Mediterranean plants prevail such as lemons, flowers and leaves, "borrowed" from the natural surroundings. Apart from its skilled tailors, Positano is outstanding for its famous shoe makers who are able to create the typical Positano sandals, hand-made to measure, while you wait in the shop. Positano is also chic bars and restaurants which are famous throughout the world.
Positano has been featured in several films, including Only You (1994), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), as well as being mentioned in the 2009 musical film Nine in the song "Cinema Italiano". Positano was home of singer-songwriter Shawn Phillips and was where most of his best known work was composed. Also, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones wrote the song "Midnight Rambler" in the cafes of Positano while on vacation.
Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper's Bazaar in May, 1953: "Positano bites deep", Steinbeck wrote. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."