Villa San Michele

by Joelle

My home shall be open for the sun and the wind and the voices of the sea – like a Greek temple – and light, light, light everywhere!’

Axel Munthe

During my stay at the Capri Palace hotel spa I had my afternoon free. I did not feel like exercising at the gym with such incredible and beautiful sites to visit.

I decided to spend the afternoon and take a walk at the magnificent Villa San Michele near the hotel a few meters from Piazza Vittoria. I walk through the end of the characteristic shopping street to finally enjoy the breathtaking cliff-edge views over Capri.

Villa San Michele is a Swedish cultural institute on the island of Capri, comprised of a museum house and gardens, accommodation for Swedish citizens engaged in cultural studies or research, and a nature reserve on the Barbarossa mountain for the protection of migrating birds and the preservation of Mediterranean flora.

Axel Munthe founded Villa San Michel when he was still a young physician and decided to make his dreams, ambitions and ideas a reality by creating a home in Anacapri.  The home was soon to become famous throughout the world thanks to the success of his book, “The Story of San Michele” the most translated book after the bible..

Although he was a doctor by profession, it was for his work as a writer that Munthe became famous.  “The Story of San Michele” is regarded as Munthe’s life-work. It was the book he spent the most time writing. It tells the story of his life, and has the title implies, of his home. He gained recognition as a man of art and culture, and as a philanthropist who nurtured a great love of animals.

Despite the fact that Munthe was born in Sweden and died there at the age of 92, he spent most of his life abroad. The floods of visitors to his museum-home and the fact that his book, “The Story of San Michele”, can be read in no less than 45 languages testify to the writer’s global appeal.

With the exception of a few sporadic absences, Munthe lived on Capri for more than 56 years. His interest for the island in the Bay of Naples coincided with the growing popularity of Capri as a preferred destination for the rich and famous from all over the world.

Munthe shared his love of music, animals, and nature with the Swedish queen, Victoria, who spent long periods of her life on Capri for health reasons.

Axel Munthe’s concern for the birds on the island, which were shot in disastrous numbers, led him to acquire the rights to the Barbarossa Mountain in order to create a sanctuary for migrating birds. Axel Munthe claimed that, on the island of Capri, ornithologists were treated to a continual symphony of bird song.

Together with the queen, Munthe arranged evening concerts with the Monarch herself playing the piano. Munthe had a splendid baritone voice, as well as a certain talent for both violin and piano.

The architecture is there to emphasize the magnificence of the landscape, at the same time forming a worthy framework for the works of art. In this respect the park plays an important role. For example, the statues overgrown with ivy and the mossy marble pieces scattered around the garden are characteristic. The number of objects in marble, stone, mosaic, and terracotta total around 655.

There are around 530 in wood, metal, ceramics and textiles. The collection can be said to be divided into several main themes, such as nature and animal images, as well as death and dying. But they are in no way exhibited programmatically. Rather they seem to consist of randomly placed pieces, of widely differing quality.

But regardless of the artistic quality of the individual object, what was important for Dr. Munthe was the message or personal memories it had for him. This was governed by the fact that the collections do not contain clusters of items acquired from other collections.

The museum’s inventory encompasses different periods from Antiquity to the early 20th Century. The classical antiquities are Roman, Egyptian, or Etruscan. Only a few of them originate from the imperial buildings that were on the site. These are remnants of buildings, ornamentation, and frescoes.

The origin of the objects varies. Dr. Munthe’s widespread contacts through-out Europe stretched from Scandinavia to Italy and from England as far as Russia.

The San Michele Foundation was founded on June 16, 1950 with the aim of administering the property donated by Axel Munthe for the Swedish state, as well as creating a guesthouse for scholarship recipients, and to promote cultural links between Sweden and Italy.

Villa San Michele on Capri in Italy is a magical place that must be experienced. While some speak of Feng Shui perfection, about a node for magnetic flows, and others about its enchanting beauty, it awakens a feeling of dread in some.

Undoubtedly, a unique and a living example of the dream that became reality. Perhaps a mad nightmare springing from a longing for beauty or an individual’s attempt to deal with his feelings of powerlessness. Was it megalomania and aesthetic madness or perhaps more a grown boy’s desire for love?

Peter Cottino, director of Villa San Michele and Vice Consul of Sweden on Capri once wrote:

Villa San Michele is a place for you who yearn, dream and search for answers. Welcome, you are in good company.

Thank you Peter for Axel’s immortant hospitality, and regarding those answers, I found mine!

Joelle’s Tips:

The Source: : Villa San Michele the home of Axel Muthe / the Story of San Michele: Emma Strindmar Norström, Department of Literature, Stockholm University / Peter Cottino director of Villa San Michele and Vice Consul of Sweden on Capri /

Villa San Michele:

Viale Axel Munthe
80071 Anacapri (Napoli) Ph. +39 081 8371401  / Fax +39 081 8373279

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