Today Sorrento is one of the capitals of international tourism, but not everyone knows that, even if for a few years, Sorrento was the capital city of a real independent kingdom, the Duchy of Sorrento.
They were the darkest times of the Middle Ages, when Italy was constantly the victim of the barbarian invasions, and divided into dozens of small towns in eternal conflict between them. The Duchy of Sorrento separated itself from the Duchy of Naples in the XI century, and gained its independence from the dying Byzantine Empire, even if the two duchies, although de facto independent, remained vassals of Byzantium. However, since 1024 we can say that Sorrento obtained a total autonomy from Naples, but it was short-lived.
After repeated conflicts with the neighboring and more powerful Republic of Amalfi, and with the Lombard duchy of Benevento, just 15 years later, in 1039, the duchy was conquered by the Prince of Salerno, Guaimario V, who handed power to his brother Guido of Sorrento. After the assassination of Guaimario, killed after an uprising, Sorrento again attained its independence in 1068. Contrary to many states of the Middle Ages, the rulers of the Duchy of Sorrento were not absolute monarchs or hereditary princes but they were elected by the people, and then honored by the emperor of Byzantium with titles like consuls, Ipati and patricians, but these titles had only a nominal value. In 1072 the duchy was inherited by the Duke of Naples Sergio V, who in 1091 was joined by his son, also named Sergio, and increasingly joined the fate of the kingdom to the Norman principality of Capua. The duchy was in fact continually threatened by pirate raids, forcing him to fast and fluctuating alliances with Amalfi and Salerno. But these continuous alliances eventually weakened the independence of the duchy which was finally lost in 1135, when Robert Guiscard absorbed the duchy to the Norman kingdom of Sicily.
The duchy had a very small territory, which stretched from Punta Campanella to Castellammare di Stabia, and also, just for a few years, to the towns of Sarno and Nocera Inferiore. The duchy had its own currency, its own archbishopric (since 1113) and even, according to some sources, its own university, one of the oldest in the world after those of the nearby Naples and Salerno. The economy of the duchy was also very prosperous thanks to the construction industry and naval supplies. But agriculture was the main focus of the economy, and in particular the production of fruit and wine. The aristocracy of the duchy in fact possessed numerous lands, while maritime trade was run by small local traders. For this reason Sorrento was never able to achieve the splendor of Amalfi and Salerno and ended up losing out to the two main rivals.
Nevertheless, for a few years Sorrento was a well-known and respected town on a political level, and it was visited by many people from all over the world well before Hotel Plaza Sorrento opened its gates!