La Bella Carmelina

One of the most representative characters of Capri is undoubtedly the “Bella Carmelina“, whose story has contributed to the island’s myth.

Carmelina was born in Capri in 1880, beautiful and graceful from an early age she became passionate about dancing and it was a few years later that, while being carried away by her passion, she was seen by a young man who fell in love with her and married her.

Together the two young people decided to open a tavern on the road to the slopes of Mount Tiberius where, in addition to being able to enjoy the typical Caprese cuisine and good local wine, in the evenings one could watch the spectacle of the dance of the “Bella Carmelina” who, barefoot, performed a lively Tarantella by spinning her wide and colorful skirt to the rhythm of the tambourine. And not only that, in addition to dancing, the young woman delighted and intrigued the frequent visitors and tourists to her business with tales concerning Tiberius, or Timberio as she used to call him, about whom she told anecdotes that were partly true and partly invented. She aroused the curiosity of her listeners by reporting the aberrations that had dotted the emperor’s long sojourn on Capri among which was the most notorious that referred to the legend of Tiberius’s Leap where it seems that the ruler used to get rid of rebellious slaves and enemies by throwing them ruinously into the sea below. And to give greater veracity to what she was telling, the beautiful dancer, asserted that such events were revealed to him directly by the ghost of the Emperor himself who on full moon nights used to appear to her and while she gladdened him with her sinuous movements he spoke to her about the splendors and vices of his empire.

It was thanks to these so-called confidences that tourists and the island’s own residents who frequented her tavern named her “Tiberius’s handmaiden“.

Her fame grew by leaps and bounds and many landed on Capri attracted by her myth, some even famous ones including the Kaiser of Germany Wilhelm II and the archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri who, fascinated by the stories of the beautiful dancer, decided to deepen the excavations of Villa Jovis bringing to light all that was still buried of the ancient structure.

At this point the popularity of “Bella Carmelina” began to wane.

Tourists now preferred to see and visit the ruins of Tiberius’s past glories on Capri more than to listen, and the tavern became the hangout for the dusty, sweaty workers excavating the Villa.

“Bella Carmelina” became a shadow of her former self, unable to accept that no visitors would stop by her establishment anymore and especially that no one would want to listen to her imaginary stories and watch her dance.

And after a few years that saw her surrender to the passage of time and with her mind no longer clear Carmelina Cerrotta by all known as the “Bella Carmelina,” after burning her dancing clothes, on a hot July day, ended her life by flying off the balcony of her home.


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