Capri’s Crowning Glory
By Sharon Sanders
The village of Anacapri sits more than 1,000 feet above the coast on the fabled island of Capri. The white stucco structures are blinding under the Mediterranean sun but nothing in Anacapri dazzles more than Villa San Michele.
The singular creation of Swedish-born physician Axel Munthe (1857-1949), Villa San Michele includes a museum, gardens, and cultural foundation supervised by the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome. During my visit on a June afternoon, visitors were amazingly few. What a gift it was to savor this magical spot at my leisure.
After threading my way through the center of Anacapri, past vendors hawking sandals and sunglasses, coral and mass-produced maiolica, I turned at the carved marble sign that read “Capri Beauty Farm” (a spa?) and walked down Via Axel Munthe.
The simple white stucco façade of Villa San Michele looks vaguely Spanish. A few antiquities are positioned out front. With a visitors guide book, I navigated the bedroom, study, and kitchen that remain as Munthe had furnished them and lived within their walls.
Enamored with Capri from previous visits, it was in June of 1895 that Munthe purchased a tiny house and vineyard in Anacapri from the carpenter Vincenzo Alberino. It stood on the ruins of an ancient Roman summer villa. At the same time, Munthe bought adjoining land and a ruined chapel from other sellers. On this ground, he built Villa San Michele from scratch with his own money and design, and the labor of his neighbors. At the turn of the 19th Century, the village was impoverished. A foreigner leading such a construction project was unprecedented since ancient times.