In some respects this stage-set of a medieval town is a secret treasure: set atop a crag between cliffs overlooking the sea, this is the smallest municipality in Italy. Especially when viewed from the sea, the town looks like an amphitheater ready for a royal pageant. Its closely packed, dollhouse-scaled backstreets are filled with pastel-and-white houses and shops, fragrant gardens, arcaded lanes, and spiraling scalinatelle. But the
hamlet's stellar attractions are its baroque-style churches, which dominate the skyline, and around which parish houses cluster in true medieval style.
Atrani is often overlooked by tourists, who drive right by it over the riverbed of the Torrente Dragone. It looks little changed from the days when it was closely linked to the Amalfitan republic, the residential choice of its aristocracy. In 1578 it gained its independence from Amalfi, with which it maintains a friendly rivalry; locals say the town holds its processions on its narrow inner streets to discourage Amalfitans from participating.
Pretty Piazza Umberto I, entirely enclosed by four-story houses, is the setting for the basics of Italian life for Atrani's less than 1,000 residents: general store, stationery store, coffee shop, bar, fruit stand, restaurants, barber, and tiny police station. An arcade to one side offers a glimpse of beach, fishing boats, and the sea beyond. At Christmas the whole town congregates here at dawn to drink cappuccino and share traditional cakes.