An Italian town built on 2,000 years of sea lore

Sorrento is renowned as a picture-perfect Amalfi Coast destination. But for residents, its roots trace back to the turquoise – and often treacherous – sea that surrounds it.

On the white cliffs overlooking the sapphire waters of the Gulf of Naples lies the town of Sorrento. The fragrance of the Amalfi Coast’s native orange and lemon gardens wafts through the air, and narrow stone roads snake precipitously through a jumble of ochre and white-washed homes. This Italian community is home to about 16,000 people and more than 2,000 years of history. While internationally known for its vivid sunsets, limoncello liqueur and high-pedigree hotels, to many locals, nothing characterises Sorrento quite like its deep connection to the sea.

Sorrento is irrevocably linked to the Sirens – the ancient, mythical sea creatures said to lure sailors to watery deaths with their singing. The ocean, thousands of years later, is still at the centre of much of the city’s identity. Each summer, Sorrento’s residents celebrate the Festa della Madonna del Soccorso (“Feast of the Madonna of Rescue”). On the first Sunday of August, locals carry a statue of the Virgin Mary through the town and hoist it onto a boat, honouring the many lives lost to the ocean’s waters and praying for safety in the year ahead.

Why We Celebrate is a BBC Travel series that revels in how a festival or event is intertwined with a place’s culture.

(Video by Andrea Neri, text by Emily Cavanagh)

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