Amalfi faces inwards, lining both sides of the steep Valle dei Mulini - the site of some of Europe's first papermaking factories. It also oozes history - unlike the more happy-go-lucky fishing villages further west. The centre of a maritime republic which flourished between 800 and 1100, Amalfi had 70,000 inhabitants in its prime, and many more lived abroad, in merchant colonies around the Mediterranean from Tunis to Constantinople. The locals were skilled navigators as well as shrewd merchants: it was Amalfitan sailors who introduced the compass to the Christian West from Muslim Africa. As in Venice, souvenirs of Byzantium were brought back to embellish private houses and municipal buildings - a good example are the bronze doors of the cathedral, cast in Constantinople in 1066. The geometrically rich facade of the Duomo is actually a 19th century reading of what a Byzantine-Moorish church should look like. Most of the prize pieces from inside are displayed in the Cappella del Crocefisso, which is reached via the exquisite Chiostro del Paradiso, a 13th century cloister with interlaced Moorish arches. In the square outside, the Bar Francese is a good place to sit and muse on the passing of empires with a cappuccino and a copy of the Duchess of Malfi. On its seaward side, the town has a brief chance for bustle, with port, bus terminus and a number of bars and restaurants all making the best of the available space. Of the restaurants, La Caravella, above the remains of the old Arsenale, is one of the most reliable, with good grilled fish and a mouthwatering panna cotta dessert with lemon marmalade topping. On the hillside at the west edge of town lies an old Cappuchin convent, now the Hotel Cappuccini Convento - reached by an alarmingly exposed lift of green girders (lifts are an essential part of the Amalfi Coast experience). In the corridors, forgotten stage divas simper from behind dusty frames, setting a tone of faded gentility which the rooms live up to. But the view from the monks' walk is unforgettable, and the prices are honest. Amalfi's other main hotel is also housed in a convent. The Luna Convento hosted Wagner, Ibsen, Bismarck, Tennesse Williams, and Mussolini - though not all at the same time (now there's an idea for a novel). It has a marvelous glassed-in central cloister, where breakfast is served in summer, and a swimming pool sheltering beneath the Saracen tower opposite.