Since the 1700s, Sorrento has exercised a special charm that has attracted poets and literati, musicians and painters. Especially in the XIX century, during the period of the "Grand Tour" distinguished guests from all over Europe came to stay in Sorrento, widely praising the beautiful scenery, the narrow streets of the city center, the magnificent panoramic terraces overlooking the sea, the charming bays of Naples and Salerno.
At the beginning of XIX century, in spite of the many difficulties that the tourists had to deal with during their travels, Amalfi and Sorrento started showing a significant demand for tourist accommodation. The culture and art of the Italian Renaissance had already spread throughout Europe and the ideals of neo-classicism found momentum and synergy in the archaeological discoveries that, in the second half of XVIII century, were made in the areas of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the 1600s and 1700s Naples area grew and developed both in terms of population and in terms of culture, and at the end of 1700s Naples was the only Italian city that could compare to the great European capitals such as Berlin, Madrid, Paris, St. Petersburg, therefore becoming a compulsory stage of the "Grand Tour" which many intellectuals of the period performed at the end of that century. The many tourists who visited Naples and the surrounding area were impressed by the beauty of the places, the gorgeous coasts and islands, the ancient ruins, the caves, palaces, monuments, gardens, fields, and the ever-present background of the great mountain: Mount Vesuvius.
The paintings of authors such as Anton Pitloo or Giacinto Gigante, transposed into their works the image of passionate and vibrant beauty of landscapes of Campania. Their work also helped a great deal to promote and advertise Campania, especially Sorrento and Amalfi coast, stimulating the desire of upper and upper middle class of Europe and America, artists and collectors to visit those places.
We could mention dozens of other names, such as Walter Scott, Stendhal, Franz Liszt, James Fenimore Cooper, Gabriele D’Annunzio, but here are some of the greatest artists who visited Sorrento during their Grand Tour:
Both the two English romantic poets, Percy Shelley and George Byron who, during his stay, wrote his poem Laments of Tasso, stepped in Sorrento during their Grand Tour between 1817 and 1818.
Charles Dickens, probably the most famous British author, stayed in Sorrento in 1845, and was reportedly attracted not only by the scenery and the landscape, but also by the gorgeous, black-haired, women of Sorrento.
While travelling between Ischia and Sorrento, Henrik Ibsen wrote most of the Peer Gynt in 1867. Sorrento has also dedicated a garden to the famous Norwegian dramatist.
Friedrich Nietzsche moved to Sorrento in autumn of 1876, where he remained until the beginning of 1877. He stayed mainly at Villa Rubinacci, where at that time Richard Wagner also resided. The atmosphere in the house was very informal and it gave a deep joy to Nietzsche, who found the spiritual gaiety needed to start new creations.
The Russian author Lev Tolstoj, who came to Sorrento in 1898, was impressed by the infinite peace of the town, a feeling that he searched in vain for a long time.
We end this journey to a remote time with a quote of the maybe most famous Romantic author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote about Sorrento:
"Do you know a land where the lemons are considered flowers? In the green leaves golden oranges shine, a quiet wind blows from the blue sky, quiet is the myrtle, serene the laurel. Do you know it well? There, there, I would like with you, my love to go!"