I was drawn to Rocca Sorrentina after seeing it featured in a recent Destination Guide highlights blog post from the Lab. Described as an immersive education experiment operated by Brown University, the region presents an 18th Century period setting, offering visitors the opportunity to interactively learn about the period through art, information note cards, exhibitions, events and even via casual role-play with the island’s residents (although it is emphasised the latter is not a primary function of the region).
The initial landing point is located at altitude. Here visitors can learn about Rocca Sorrentina (a fictional rocky island located in the Bay of Naples), both in terms of its own “history” and the broader terms of both the project and the period in which it is set. A note card giver alongside the landing point offers a wealth of information across multiple note cards, including useful visitor information, rules regarding period role-play and use of the region, and on the various displays to be found here.
Opening off of the landing area are three exhibition areas. These currently feature in turn, an exhibition of the art of Pietro Fabris, a history of tarot, and a history of the Kingdom of Naples during the late 18th century. All are informative, with the last in particular providing considerable insight into 18th Century life and culture.
Also to be found on the wall of the arrival hall (and in the note cards offered by the information giver) is a map of the island. This is worth noting / studying, as there is a lot to be found once you’ve teleported down to ground level.
On teleporting down, visitors find themselves at the island’s busy docks. Ships are alongside, anchored just offshore or heading out under full sail into the Bay of Naples (which connects Rocca Sorrentina with the estate of the Duché de Coeur – which I haven’t actually re-visited for well over four years!). Just off the main island are the smaller Harbour Master’s island and the fortified Lighthouse Island.
Once ashore, there are several routes of exploration: along the quayside to the lower town, or up the ramped path towards the villa, passing the vineyards on one side, and then turning to cross the Great Lawn to the upper town and its church, or by following the ramped path directly up to the villa itself.
The latter is modelled on the Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana (also known as La Rotonda, Villa Rotonda, Villa Capra or Villa Almerico), near Vicenza in northern Italy. Called the Villa Vesuviana, and designed by CapabilityTodd Elswitt, who was also responsible for building the original Rocca Sorrentina, this grand house perfectly captures the imposing form of La Rotonda and presenting similarly commanding views of its surroundings, whilst its interior decor also draws directly on that from its physical world inspiration.
Below the Villa sit the Cascade water feature and a small amphitheatre, and nestled between them, ruins which appear to date back to the time the island was used by the Byzantine Greeks. Just across from the Cascade, an area of excavation reveals more antiquities have been discovered.
When exploring the island, it is worth remembering a couple of points. The first is that while large parts of Rocca Sorrentina are open to the public, there are private apartments to be found here as well, which are available for rent by residents (the rental offices being up at the arrival point). These are indicated by signs outside (Residenza Privata), and visitors are asked to respect the privacy of those renting them.
The second is that while there is no formalised role-play on the island, residents can engage in free-form role-play, and visitors are invited to join in if they so wish. Those who do are asked to indicate as much by dressing in 18th century period costume (there are some free costumes available at the landing point).
With its public programmes and exhibits focused on the history and ideas of the Age of Enlightenment and the era of the Grand Tour, and presenting unique opportunities to experience the baroque, rococo and neo-classical styles of the period, Rocca Sorrentina makes for a fascinating and educational visit. My only regret is that it has taken me five years to discover it and engage upon my own Grand Tour!
- Rocca Sorrentina, 1786: Italy and the “Grand Tour” (Rated: Moderate)