|Perched on the top of a cliff, embraced by the
waters of the Bay of Naples and the azure blue sky, the site of the Hotel
Caesar Augustus has been a part of Capri's mythical lore, dating from
the times of ancient Rome. The magic of Capri is eternal, no doubt born
in the times of the Gods- who else could have conceived of such a place.
Emperors, kings, queens, literary figures, fashion icons, European aristocracy,
media moguls and Hollywood stars have all lived their Caprese adventure.
Mortal traces of the Hotel dwelling's beginning date from the second half of the ninth century. But the next thousand years are obscured in darkness. Only in the 1850s does the legend leave historical footprints. In its first incarnation, the Hotel was called the "Villa Bitter". Photographs show a sumptuous private residence owned by a wealthy German. Several decades later, the residence became a resting spot for pedestrians attempting the famous thousand-step stone stairway known as the "Scala Fenicia." (The Phoenician Stairway)
Capri was a jewel whose glitter captured the fancy of the rich and powerful. The Hotel's unique spot, similarly, was eye candy for a few illustrious characters. In the beginning of the 1900s, the Villa Bitter was purchased by the Russian Prince Emmanuel Bullak. A man with uncanny foresight, he sensed difficult times for the nobility of his country. Prince Bullak was a few steps ahead of his less fortunate noble peers who after the October Revolution would suffer ignominious fates that included washing dishes in the Paris of 1920s. He managed to liquefy his immense wealth and made Anacapri his home in exile.
Bullak transformed the Villa into a manor, worthy of his noble pedigree. With appropriate aplomb he commissioned a life-size statue of Caesar Augustus and placed it where it stands today. The statue is a beautiful copy of the famous Caesar de Prima Porta found near Rome in the Villa Livia, home of Emperor Augustus' wife.
Matching his great wealth was a comparably deep and rich command of ancient history. Defying the popular view that Capri's fame began with Emperor Tiberius's adoption of the Island as his throne from which his ruled his empire, the Prince was a proponent of a different view. He passionately promulgated the theory that Emperor Augustus was more important than Tiberius in bringing the world's attention to Capri. The statue is a testament to this view. Augustus stands at a dominating height overlooking Villa Jovis, the home of Tiberius. With a fierce expression and grand gesture, the statue symbolizes the dominance of Augustus over Tiberius, Caesar's adopted son. To remove any doubt as to the significance of the statue, Prince Bullak engraved under the statue his statement that Augustus was responsible for discovering this Mediterranean gem. For the Latin scholars:
"CAESARI AUGUSTO ORBIS TERRARUM DUCI CAPRENSIS INSULAE AMATORI QUAE IN TERRUM ORBE INTER MARIS UNDAS GEMMA IMPERATORI DIGNA CORUSCAT".
The jewel of Anacapri changed hands again. In the late 1930s Prince Bullak astutely anticipated an imminent change of political fortunes. Just before the waves of war reached him, Bullak sold his vill to the Signorini family of Naples and relocated to the peaceful shores and England. By the end of the war, the Signorinis had transformed the villa into a hotel. The third Signorini generation continues to showcase this remarkable jewel that has sparkled for over a thousand years.