Vietri sul Mare: Pottery paradise in Italy

Donkeys have come to symbolize the town of Vietri sul Mare and are one of the most popular figurines in the ceramic shops.


By LISA M. NOVAK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 1, 2010

If you’ve ever had even a passing interest in ceramics, the Italian town of Vietri sul Mare is a must-see. Located just north of Salerno along the Amalfi Coast, this seaside hamlet contains enough pottery to outfit every home in southern Italy.

Fire-glazed and brightly painted with sunny images of everyday life, thousands of items are crammed into the small shops along the two or three main streets that make up the town. Buildings display embedded mosaics or painted scenes on their walls. Many of the shop exteriors are covered in ceramic façade, like wallpaper murals.

The pottery designs run the gamut from confusingly modern to simplistically traditional. Lemons, sunflowers, fish, grapes, and sun and moon are the most popular themes found on the plates, pitchers, mugs, serving platters, vases, lamps and just about every other household item on display.

One piece in particular stands out because it is found in almost every shop, even the few that don’t sell ceramics.

“The donkey is one of the first objects made by hand here,” explains Assunta Falcone, whose family owns several shops in town. “It has become a symbol of Vietri. The younger generation doesn’t understand the significance.”

Much of the pottery in Vietri comes from factories in surrounding towns like Cava de Tirreni. However, a few merchant artisans, like Egidio Iovine, can be found putting their mark on raw pottery in their shops. He has painted ceramics for about 40 years, though now he says he paints mostly for fun.

Prices on most of the merchandise are quite reasonable, but larger items, like the eight-piece serving platters or wrought iron tables with ceramic tile tops, can be expensive. Many of the shops can make customized pieces and will also ship to the States.

While most of the shops are small and quaint, there is one that sits perched ominously above the town. With towering walls resembling dragon scales fashioned from round clay pots set in cement, Ceremica Solimene is the Wal-Mart of Vietri, with a warehouse-sized selection of designs that run from bland to ghastly.

There are a few shops that don’t sell ceramics. Luigi Margarita sells cheeses, meats and other delicacies from the region. He said business is good because when the tourists want a break from pottery, they come into his shop and stock up on food. His samples of homemade wine and bruschetta don’t hurt business, either.\

On the QT

Directions: From Naples, head south on A3, take the Vietri Sul Mare exit and you’re there. There is a small metered parking lot right in the town center, but also limited parking along some of the streets.

Costs: Overall, prices here are better than buying Vietri ceramics elsewhere. Smaller items, such as pitchers, canisters and vases, are in the 10 to 15 euros range, depending on the size. Larger items, such as the eight-piece serving platters, can run close to 300 euros. And if you’re really ambitious, and want a wrought-iron table with painted ceramic tile top, you can easily drop more than 1,000 euros, again, depending on the size. Merchants are willing to bargain. 

Food: There are a few restaurants in town and more than enough cafes for a break from the shopping.

Times: Most of the shops are open during normal business hours, which means roughly 9 a.m. to 8 p.m, with a break for lunch between 1 and 3:30 p.m.

Information: The website www.comune.vietri-sul-mare.sa.it/ provides additional information on the town, its history and other points of interest. Unfortunately, it is in Italian only.

The interior of this terra cotta vase is meticulously hand-painted with the breathtaking view typically seen of towns that pepper the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.