If you ask people from Rome where Southern Italy starts from, they would answer you: “To the South of the capital”. The residents of Florence would tell you that Southern Italy starts to the South of the Cradle of the Renaissance. But, actually, it starts from ….
C A M P A N I A
The region is blessed by God. Coincidentally, the ancient Romans called it Campania Felix (or Fertile Countryside). The Tyrrhenian Sea and i Monti Lattari are “guilty” for the formation of the pretty cities with breathtaking views as well as for the development of the numerous branches of light industry, craftsmanship, artisan and hand-made products. Unlike Italy to the North, the southern parts of the country don’t have a heavy industry. Campania relies mainly on tourism (almost every place there is worth visiting), dairy products, wine industry and production of lemon based liquors, goldsmithing, red corals and cameo carving and so on, and so forth.
Let me start this brief overview of Campania (from my perspective) in a “yummy yummy” way. What do I mean? I Monti Lattari (or the Lattari Mountains) that stretch into the Tyrrhenian Sea, bear their name due to the white colour of the limestone. On the other hand, their name derives from the Latin word for “milk” – “lactis”, and more specifically, from the numerous flocks of goats that graze in this area. As a result of this nowadays cheese and la mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) in particular, is one of the most major production activities in Campania and the region possesses the biggest and largest areas for breeding buffalo. Respectively, Campania Felix is the major Italian producer of mozzarella (by the way, when whole milk mozzarella is cut, milk flows down and it shows the high quality of the cheese). The largest mozzarella farms of Campania and Italy are located near the town of Paestum. The town is well-known for its still well-preserved and awesome ancient Greek ruins and monuments of the 6th and 5t century. But apart from them, its fame is related to the production of mozzarella of the highest quality. The export of mozzarella is made from the port of Salerno and thus the cheese starts its way to the markets of the rest of Italy and the world. A proposito, Italy has about 400 types of cheese and only France outruns it with its 530 varieties.
Aside from the ancient Cretan sweet wine called protropos from the south, the ancient Romans also got amphorae of wines from the north Trier (in today’s Germany) and from the areas along the Moselle (the river that flows through today’s France, Luxembourg and Germany). Amphorae themselves are thought to have been produced (only) in the workshops of Campania in the centuries before Christ. And again Campania and more precisely the Vesuvian slopes were the most preferred place for long and pleasant walks of the ancient Roman God of wine – Bacchus who was, actually, adopted from Ellada. Nowadays the region is among the greatest Italian winemakers and exporters and Campania wine industry focuses on the replanting of the ancient Pompeiian vineyards. One of the most renowned types of wines produced on the slopes of the Vesuvius is Lacryma Christi (the Tears of Christ).
There is one particular sort of tomatoes grown in Campania – the tomato of Sorrento. These tomatoes are of a bigger size and they are roundish. Their colour is light red. As to their taste, they are too fleshy. The seeds for growing such tomatoes are supposed to have been brought from the New World by local exporters of lemons. A piece of evidence is the fact that the zone of cultivation is restricted to two places mainly – Sant’Agnello and Piano, known as i Colli, “the Hills” (of course, also along the coast), where, coincidentally or not, lived the ship-owners and exporters and where other “foreign” plants and vegetation have been discovered. Step-by-step, due to the very good trade and commercial relations between the local merchants and the New Continent, that sort of tomatoes penetrated i Colli and after that other Vesuvian towns and settlements at the beginning of last century. Since then these tomatoes have been Italy’s pride and the product has been widely used in cuisine and for salads, especially in summer.
The Amlfi Coast and the surrounding areas of Sorrento have been famous for the cultivation of lemons since ancient Roman times. Evidence for this is the paintings and mosaics found in the buried towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. They show lemons which resemble these grown in Sorrento. Later, in the 10th – 11th century lemon cultivation turned into an important part of the economy of the maritime Republic of Amalfi and Sorrento and even later, in the 1800s locals continued cultivating lemons even on the steepest slopes of the mountains and exporting them to the New Continent. Nowadays there are two varieties of lemons, geographically divided as follows: Limone Costa d’Amalfi and Limone di Sorrento. Limone Costa d’Amalfi (or also known as Sfusato Amalfitano) is grown along the Amalfi Coast. They are with elongated and pointed shape. They are exceptionally fragrant and rich in Vitamin C. Unlike it, Limone di Sorrento (or il cedro) is with an oval shape and that’s why sometimes they are nicknamed as “Ovale di Sorrento”. They are renowned mainly for their intense flavour and extreme healthy properties. The skins of both lemon varieties are rich in oil and are brightly coloured in yellow thus making the lemon groves, scattered on the terraces, an awesome and picturesque “lemon” postcard view and unforgettable memento of the Amalfi Coast and the Sorrento Peninsula. Last but not least, lemons grown in Campania are the main ingredient of the Limoncello Liquor.
Campania has not only lemon gardens but also flower ones which are situated in Castellammare di Stabia. The tiny unpolished gem of Campania was one of the destroyed settlements by the Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Pliny the Elder lost his life on August 25 during the volcano eruption trying to rescue Pomponianus and his family. Today the town is highly renowned for being the biggest flower market in Southern Italy and third in Europe following Amsterdam and San Remo. On the other hand, Castellammare di Stabia was the old shipyard of the Kingdom of Naples. After the unification of Italy in 1861, it was moved to Genoa.
Nowadays Sardinia is famous for its red corals. There is a special local law that protects Sardinia Red Coral from which beautiful pieces of jewel are made. Read corals and cameo carving are well developed also in Campania. Red Corals are harvested mainly near the Island of Capri where red corals could be seen in rocks. Another place where red corals are harvested is the sea near La Torre del Greco (Torre d”o Grieco in Neapolitan). The city is famous for several things. In the first place, its residents are often nicknamed as Corallini because the town is the major producer of coral jewels. In the second place, cameo has been the other vocation of the inhabitants since the 17th century. Let me tell you a few things about this art. It’s this method when an object (especially an image of woman) is carved in an item of jewellery, brooches, rings, necklaces, etc. Nowadays, there are two factories that deal in cameo carving and in the manufacturing of jewels from red corals. There is also a school specialized in these two arts. Then, in the third place, La Torre del Greco is a starting point for “conquering” the Mount Vesuvius.
The volcano is an active one and its tendency is towards the so-called Vesuvian or Plinian eruptions (similar to that of 79 AD). The sign that shows the volcano is active is a cloud that could be seen above it in summertime. Another thing that describes its active status is the smell of sulfur in its crater as well as the small clouds that never go out of bowels of the volcano. Nowadays there are factories in Campania which produce materials for railroads, garden furniture, even jewels and souvenirs from lava. The greatest attraction of the Mt Vesuvius is the visit of the two buried towns – Pompeii and Herculaneum and some of the nearby settlements.
But they are not the only historical attraction of Campania. The region has the greatest numbers of UNESCO monument in Italy (by the way, the country is the leader in terms of the number of UNESCO sites in the world). Speaking about the historic heritage of Campania, I shall need plenty of time. That’s why I will just underline only a few things that are worth mentioning. Aurelius Scaurus at Capua was the only gladiator school in the Roman Empire. Then the Catacomb of San Gennaro are paleo-Christian burial site on Capodimonte in Naples. The most interesting fact is that these paleo-Christian cemeteries and even a church are 15m under the ground. And if you stay at one of the nearby hotels you will witness the resonance when cars and public transport pass by. The reason is that, actually, the space under the ground is hollow. And the cherry of the cake is Reggia di Caserta (the Royal Palace of Caserta). It was commissioned by the Bourbon Kings of Naples and today it is the largest royal residence in Italy and the second one (after Versailles) in Europe. It covers an area of 47 000m2. and it is situated in Caserta. Its architects are Luigi Vanvitelli and his son who constructed it modeling after Versailles (their goal was to erect a palace competing that in France). The Royal Palace of Caserta possessed a miniature opera house and a silk factory.
I will stop here and I will focus on one really amazing city, probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world……. “Vedi Napoli e poi muori”.