Lemon, originally from southern China, were planted in Pompeii as ornamental trees in the 1st century AD. They were introduced to the Amalfi coast in the early Middle Ages from the Middle East (either during the Crusades or by the merchants of the once famous Maritime Republic of Amalfi; the Arabic names limuczello and jardeno survive in Italian). They were prized as a sovereign cure for scurvy, and now grow everywhere in Italy, from Sicily to Limone on Lake Garda, although some of the best, at least for making Limoncello, still grow around the Bay of Naples.
The limone femminello is Italy's oldest variety. Other varieties in the Ark of Taste are:
Limone di Procida: exceptionally big and sweet lemons from the little island near Capri.
Limone di Sorrento: the femminello sorrentino, also known as the ovale di Sorrento, grown under straw and wooden shelters to protect it from the wind. The mother of the famous sfusato d'Amalfi, and essential ingredient in limoncello.
Limone Interdonato: a fruit midway between a lemon and citron, grown on the Ionian coast of Messina province in Sicily and named after its 19th-century inventor, Giovanni Interdonato.
Limone Verdello: the pretty green lemons of Sicily.
limone candito: preserved lemons.
limone monachello: lemon grown in Messina, Sicily, resistant to the mal secco disease that effects the more popular femminello.
Images by: Maurizio, Yvon