The Saracen Tower
All photos by Jack Wheeler
Ahh, Amalfi. Is there a more wonderful place on earth to spend a week in September with your family than here? In a villa with a view like this?
The Amalfi Coast on the Sorrentine Peninsula south of Naples, Italy, is considered to be the most beautiful coastline in the world. It is dotted with spectacular villages like Positano…
And vistas like this, at Ravello, made famous as an escape-from-the-world by Greta Garbo…
The latter view is called The Belvedere of Infinity.
Then there is Amalfi itself.
Here is the famous Duomo di Sant’Andrea, the Cathedral of St. Andrew, containing the tomb of the Apostle of Jesus. Originally built in the 800s, it has been remodeled over the centuries after being repeatedly destroyed by invaders. Note the stone tower high up on a hill to the left.
The Amalfi Coast is riddled with these towers, most right on the coast. If you look carefully at the picture of Positano above, there’s one right on the water behind the big ship on the left.
Here’s another one.
Some have been made into small private resorts.
The landmark one at Amalfi is now a very pricey restaurant.
These are all known as “Saracen Towers.” They were built over a thousand years ago (and subsequently rebuilt over the centuries) to protect the region from invasions and attacks from “Saracens” – the term Medieval Europe used for Moslems, from the ancient Greek Sarakenoi, the nomad bandit tribes of Arabia.
In the centuries before the invention of Islam, when all of the Middle East was predominantly Christian, the Sarakenoi developed a fearsome reputation for their raids on monasteries and murdering monks.
This became vastly worse when they acquired a religious rationale for their banditry. They called their new religion Islam, the Arabic word for “submission,” claiming it meant submission to their deity Allah – but what it really meant was “unbelievers” submitting to them. And what that meant was they had a religious right to enslave Christians.
Last week, America commemorated the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 Islamic attack on America. The 19 terrorists, most with Saudi visas, murdered 2,977 innocent people in a more grotesque way than any horror movie. It was an unforgivable act of unmitigated evil that traumatized Americans all.
We continue to deal with the trauma today – and what may help is to place it in a historical context. The examples of such Islamic acts that history provides are legion – so let’s focus on that of the Saracen Towers.
The Attack of 9/11 occurred in an instant, in a single morning. The Christians who lived along the Amalfi Coast, and other coastlines of the Western Mediterranean (i.e., of Italy, France, and Spain today) suffered such Islamic attacks for centuries. It took the Christians of Spain almost 800 years to kick the Moslem invaders out of their land – from 711 to 1492. And still the Islamic attacks continued – for 300 more years.
From 1500 to 1800, Moslem pirates from the “Barbary Coast” of Africa so devastated the Christian Mediterranean that entire coastlines of Spain and Italy were depopulated, there were slave raids as far away as Ireland, and over one million Christians captured and enslaved, who “would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment,” in the words of British historian Robert Davis.
Thomas Jefferson put an end to it. The Pasha of Tripoli, Yussif Karamanli, was holding the captain and crew of a U.S. Navy ship hostage for ransom. President Jefferson sent the Marines, who captured Tripoli’s city of Derna on April 27, 1805. They were led by Marine Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, who became the first man ever to raise the American flag in victory on foreign soil.
The Pasha surrendered, the crew was released, and O’Bannon was presented with a Mameluke sword for his bravery, which Marine officers carry to this day. Ever since, the Marines have sung about “the shores of Tripoli.”
Jefferson and the U.S. Marines introduced real Islam – submission to civilized behavior – to the Moslem pirates. The people of Amalfi did not have to build Saracen Towers anymore and were free to prosper – so much so they could convert those towers into spas and fancy restaurants.
Today, the Amalfi Coast is an ultimate place of la dolce vita, the sweet life. It’s a paradise all Escape Artists should aspire to enjoy and luxuriate in.
But as you do, take a moment to reflect on the cost it took to make such a paradise. The people of the Amalfi Coast did not submit. They built their Saracen Towers and fought the constant attempts of Islamic invaders to enslave them. That’s what it took to have this paradise today.
Freedom always comes at a cost. So when you enjoy a full moon over the waters of Amalfi, raise a glass of Chianti in appreciation and gratitude to those who paid that cost and made what you’re seeing possible.
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Jack Wheeler is the founder of Wheeler Expeditions
©2019 Jack Wheeler – republished with permission
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