Campania is the most densely populated region of southern Italy. Known for its archaeological ruins, cities of art and natural beauty, it's home to ten UNESCO sites.
The Tyrrhenian Sea washes a coast that extends for about 487 km and which includes not only the famous Gulf of Naples, but also those of Policastro, Gaeta and Salerno.
Inland, the Campania region borders with Lazio, Molise, Puglia and Basilicata.
The etymology of the name generally goes back to the Latin word campus. In ancient times this region was also nicknamed Campania Felix, where felix, meaning both happy and lucky, alluded to a fertile land, a mild climate and a place of great economic and cultural wealth. It was the historian Pliny the Elder the first to use this definition, before dying in the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. the same that handed over to history two of the most important archaeological sites in the world: Pompeii and Herculaneum.
According to others, the name came from the Oscan population, who called the area around the city of Capua Kampanom. What is certain, however, is that these lands were inhabited since the remotest antiquity and that Pliny had not gone too far. Campania was a truly fertile land and since the dawn of its history it has been a crossroads of cultures, civilizations and commerce.
The artifacts found in the mountainous areas of the Apennines testify to the presence of man starting from the Paleolithic. The presence of Indo-European populations, such as the Osci and the Samnites, who lived in the innermost areas, dates back to the 1st millennium BC.
The plains were inhabited by the Etruscans, another great civilization of which important testimonies remain especially near Capua. The coast, on the other hand, was chosen by the Greeks, whose presence significantly marked Campania's history, the geography of its cities and the language. Traces of ancient Greek, in fact, are still very present in local dialects, as well as in the Italian language. The Greeks also owe the first foundation of the regional capital, Naples, known at the time as Parthenope. They even founded the colonies of the island of Ischia, already inhabited by the Carthaginians, of Cuma, Pozzuoli, Paestum and many other major cities.
Thus, Campania became one of the major cultural centres of Magna Graecia, and also heavily influenced the culture of the Roman Empire that was to be born shortly thereafter. The remains of the ancient Greek civilization are innumerable, and present basically throughout the region.
Even today, for example, in Naples centre, you can walk along the same streets built more than two thousand years ago, according to the chessboard layout typical of Greek/Roman town planning.
Only barely the Romans managed to settle in Campania, between the 2nd and 1st century BC. and in time their presence transformed it into one of the richest regions of the empire. Furthermore, many Roman nobles loved to spend their holidays in the warm Mediterranean sun, and some of their awesome villas can still be visited along the coast. The last ruler of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, died in Naples.
In the following centuries Campania was invaded, disputed and conquered. The Byzantine Empire had to share it with the Lombards in the 5th century AD. It was then the turn of the Normans, who gradually conquered the region starting from 1022. Later, under the crown of the Angevins, Campania became the heart of the rich and powerful Kingdom of Naples only to change hands once again, when the Aragonese reigned and Campania became one of the major European centres of Renaissance.
The years between 1503 and 1734 are those in which Campania became the viceroyalty of Spain. Soon after even the Austrians conquered it, albeit just for a short time, but it was with the Bourbons of Spain that Naples returned to be the capital of a free kingdom and that Campania was enriched with marvellous buildings and innovative creations. The construction of the Royal Palace of Caserta dates indeed back to this period, while the famous silk district of San Leucio became the first socialist experiment in history.
In 1799 Naples, following the Napoleonic wars, was for a short time a republic, but the experience ended in bloodshed. With the Bourbons back to the throne, Campania reached again several records. In Pietrarsa, where today there is an important railway museum, the first engineering center in Italy was founded. Naples and Castellammare di Stabia instead had the primacy for the naval industry. In Campania the first suspension bridges in Italy were built, so were the first railway with the first stations, the first electric lighting system for the cities and the first state shelter for the poor, which is still today one of the most important monuments of Naples. Art schools or conservatories arose everywhere and the region was also the first where a pension system was implemented.
In 1861 Campania was finally annexed to the newborn Kingdom of Italy.
Bombed and rebuilt both after the First World War and after the Second, it still managed to get the first metro railway in Italy which connected Naples to Pozzuoli in 1925.
Today, despite a lesser development compared to other Italy's regions and a heavy emigration, Campania still remains one of the first tourist destinations in Italy. Each of its five provinces, Naples, Caserta, Avellino, Salerno and Benevento, has an immense heritage.
About 25% of the territory is covered by protected natural areas, such as the Vesuvius National Park, or that of Cilento and Vallo di Diano. There are also protected marine areas such as Punta Campanella, the underwater parks of Baia and of Gaiola, which are located in Naples.
Most of the land is hilly. The plains are very few and cover only a fifth of the region. One of them is Cilento, where, among other things, some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy can be found. Near Salerno there is also the plain of Paestum with some important archaeological sites.
The mountains, never particularly high, cover about 34% of the territory. Some of the major peaks are found along the Apennine ridge, while near the coast there are the Lattari Mountains, which loom over the Amalfi coast and offer some of the most beautiful views ever.
As for Vesuvius, the mountain that characterizes Naples landscape, it's a quiescent volcano 1281 meters high.
Another relevant volcanic area, both from a historical and a naturalistic point of view is Campi Flegrei, which includes Pozzuoli with the Solfatara, where there is a still active crater. The same goes for Lake Averno, the caldera of a volcano already well known to the ancients who considered it the door to the underworld. The island of Ischia is also part of the same volcanic system; it's in fact famous for its thermal baths.
The Campania coast, high and rocky more often than not, has places celebrated throughout the world for their beauty, in particular between Naples and Salerno where the Amalfi Coast immediately follows the Sorrento Peninsula. In addition to the three largest and most famous islands, Capri, Ischia and Procida, there are four more, that are much smaller than the others.
In front of Positano, for example, there is a tiny archipelago known as Li Galli. Vivara is instead a small, wonderful naturalistic oasis almost attached to Procida. Finally, Nisida and Megaride are two small islands in the Gulf of Naples, now connected to the mainland. Megaride, in particular, was the first Greek settlement, from which Naples was born. Today it houses Castel dell'Ovo, one of the city's most beautiful castles, under whose foundations the mermaid Partenope, symbol of Naples, is said to be buried. According to the legends, she died of grief after being abandoned by Ulysses.