Limestone, rocks and pebble-ﬁlled beaches make up Capri’s interesting and diverse coastline, which is interspersed with an abundance of beautiful caves known as grottoes. They were formed through the erosion of rock and each one has its own unique charm. Among the most well known are the Green Grotto, White Grotto, Red Grotto, Grotto of the Sea Ox, Grotto of the Saints and of course the famous Blue Grotto. Many of the island’s grottoes can be reached by boat, while others require visitors to swim inside.
The beauty of the Blue Grotto has been known since ancient Roman times, however after the fall of the Roman Empire, the belief that the grotto was occupied by strange and frightening creatures resulted in it becoming abandoned. Some of these strange beliefs included that the grotto was used as a meeting place for witches and that it was inhabited by seductive Sirens, which according to Greek mythology are part bird and part woman, and would lure sailors into rocks – and thus to their death – with their beautiful singing.
It wasn’t until 1826 that the Blue Grotto was rediscovered by two German painters, August Kopisch and Ernst Fries, together with a local ﬁsherman named Angelo Ferraro. Since then, the grotto’s popularity has continued to soar.
The cave known as the Blue Grotto or Grotta Azzurra has earned a reputation as one of Capri’s most popular attractions and it is not uncommon to see hordes of tourist boats surrounding the tiny entrance as they wait to see what lurks inside.
Made of exposed limestone, known as karst, the Blue Grotto is not very big. It measures approximately 50 metres long and no more than 25 metres wide. The height of the cave reaches up to 14 metres above the sea and its small entrance is only around one metre.
Large boats depart for the Blue Grotto, usually hourly in peak season, from Marina Grande, or it can be reached by road from Anacapri.
Marina Grande is the island’s main port. Located on the northern part of the island, it is awash with pastel coloured houses, restaurants and shops.
Given the high and rocky coastline of Capri, Marina Grande and Marina Piccola, which translate to big marina and small marina respectively, are the only accessible ports on the island.
The popularity of the Blue Grotto means there can be waits of up to an hour to get inside. Before long, the small wooden boats that ﬂood the vicinity begin to head towards our larger boat and we are invited to climb inside – three to four people per boat.
“You need to lie down,” the boatman tells his passengers. This seems strange but everyone obliges. As the boat gets closer, it is clear just how tiny the opening to the Blue Grotto actually is. It is too narrow to row the boat inside using oars, so instead the boatmen use a chain afﬁxed to the vault of the entrance to pull the boat through. At the very last second, he ﬂings his body backwards, his head narrowly missing the rocks above – and at last we are inside.
Upon entering, it is pitch black – but only for a moment. We inch a little further and look behind. Our eyes quickly adjust to reveal this stunning blue jewel just off the shore of Capri. The colour of the water is alluring, so bright and so vivid. Sunlight peaks through the small opening at the entrance and glistens over the cobalt blue water. There are many boats inside, being rowed to the sound of the boatmen singing an array of classic Neapolitan songs that include O Sole Mio.
This fascinating cave owes its striking blue colour to a second entrance that is located beneath the sea’s surface. Sunlight enters the Blue Grotto through this entrance and is then ﬁltered by the water before it enters the cave. For this reason, it is best to visit on a bright and sunny day when the blue tones are at their richest.
Visits to the Blue Grotto are only possible when weather conditions are suitable and the cave is closed if the sea is too rough.
Capri can be reached by ferry from Naples, Sorrento and the Amalﬁ Coast.