Salerno is an important town on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the east of Amalfi. The town is best known for its cathedral, castle and old-town centre.
A town has existed on the site for more than 2600 years, when the Etruscans established a settlement called Irna here. This was replaced by the Roman town of Salernum in the second century AD.
In 1943 the Allied forces fighting for control of Italy first landed near Salerno. As a result the city suffered substantial damage during the battle for control that followed the landings and lost some historic buildings at this time. Salerno then became the the capital of Italy for a few months until the north of Italy had also been regained.
Although Salerno is not principally thought of as a tourist destination it makes an interesting alternative to Sorrento if you are exploring the Amalfi coast region: it is less touristy and is well placed to explore the other attractions of the region as well as the Amalfi coast. It is also much cheaper to stay here than in Sorrento!
Unlike Sorrento, there is also a large beach actually in the town centre of Salerno and other beaches close by, although they are not particularly attractive - you will prefer to head south to the beaches at Paestum or Santa Maria di Castellabate (about 30 kilometres to the south) rather than spend time at Salerno beach.
There are several sights of interest in the town itself, and we suggest you start with a walk along the "Lungomare Trieste", the seafront promenade. The promenade is one of the liveliest and most popular places in Salerno, almost eight kilometres long and lined with palm trees.
The other main regions of interest to visitors to Salerno are in the narrow streets and alleys of the medieval centre and along the broad boulevards of shops around Via dei Mercanti.
Schola Medica Salernitana
Salerno will always have a place in the history books as the site of the first medical school in the world. Started in a dispensary in a monastery here in the 9th century, from the 10th to the 13th centuries the school was the most important centre in the world for medical training and learning.
The school brought together knowledge from Ancient Greek, western, Arabic and Jewish sources and as a result attracted both students and the sick from all around the world.
Another first in the history books for Salerno is the garden called the Giardini della Minerva on Via Ferrante Sanseverino and below the castle. The garden dates from the 12th century and reputed to be the oldest botanic garden in Italy, perhaps even Europe.
The two most important monuments in Salerno are the Duomo (cathedral) in the heart of the old town and the Castello di Arechi (Arechi's castle) on a hill above the town.
Salerno Cathedral of Saint Matthew
The current cathedral dates from the 11th century, although an earlier cathedral stood on the same site even before that. It was built by Robert Guiscard and the Normans who occupied much of Sicily and southern Italy at that time.
Before entering take a look at the 12th century belltower and the courtyard-atrium of the cathedral that incorporates columns from the ancient Greek temple site of Paestum.
Inside and in the crypt of the cathedral is the tomb of Saint Matthew, one of the 12 apostles of Christ, brought here in the middle of the 10th century. Other notable features in the cathedral include the great bronze cathedral doors, made in Constantinople, and the 12th century decorative marble pulpits. You can see further artworks from the cathedral in the associated museum, the Museo Diocesano.
Castello di Arechi
The current castle of Arechi is largely a 16th century renovation of a Lombard castle, itself built on the site of an older fortress dating to the Byzantine period.
The castle is on a hill above the town at 300 metres altitude, and appears quite modest when seen from the town - but is very large when you get close! Now used principally for conferences and exhibitions, the castle is the best place to get a view across the town and the Gulf of Salerno.
Among the most popular highlights near Salerno are the scenic splendours of the beautiful Amalfi Coast, the Roman town of Pompeii and the impressive ancient temples at Paestum, and the archaeological site at Elea.
Map of Salerno and places to visit
Salerno places to visit
See more places nearby in the Campania guide