Now we move from the island region of Sicilia to Campania. The capital of the region is Napoli or Naples. The region has a population close to 6 million people. Like Sicily, Campania has been settled and ruled by many different ethnic groups, all of whom left something behind. Those who settled Campania include the Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese and the Bourbons.
Napoli sprawls around the beautiful Bay of Naples. Nearby is the volcano Vesuvio, which destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Stabiae, and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. In the bay are the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida.
The center of Napoli, which extends around only a few streets, is filled with palaces, churches, convents and monasteries. The heart of the city is called Spaccanapoli (split Naples). There are many gems to explore. The duomo of San Gennaro, patron of Naples, martyred in 305 A.D., was built between 1294 and 1323. The cathedral houses the relics of the saint, his head, contained in a silver-gilt bust and phials of his congealed blood, which liquefies miraculously, three times a year. It is said that if the blood does not liquefy the city will have bad luck.
Not to be missed is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. The museum houses treasures from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Some of the items you can view here include ancient mosaics and sculptures and casts of people that died in Pompeii. The 14th century Church of Santa Chiara was badly damaged by bombs in World War II. However, during the reconstruction, the original Provencal-Gothic structure was discovered. In the church are the tombs of the Angevin monarchs, such as Robert the Wise, who died in 1343.
The blending of the past is seen in many of the city sites. The Castel Nuovo, also known as the Maschio Angioino, was built for Charles of Anjou in 1279-82. However, most of the structure was built by the Aragonese. The triumphal arch at the entrance celebrates the entrance of Alfonso of Aragon into Naples in 1443.
The construction of the Palazzo Reale began in 1600 for the Spanish Viceroys. The palace is filled with furniture, tapestries, paintings and porcelain. The Museo di Capodimonte, started by the Bourbon King Charles III in 1738, exhibits paintings by Titian, Botticelli, Perugino, Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo. A factory for producing capodimonte porcelain was established in Naples in 1743, and the beautiful molded figurines and decorated flowers are still produced and purchased as decorations and party favors or “bomboniere”.
At the foot of Mount Vesuvius are the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii. From the excavations which began in 1748, we have learned much about life in the Roman world. Impressive Roman villas with frescoes and mosaics have been uncovered in western Pompeii. Some of eastern Pompeii has still not been excavated. Vesuvio has not erupted since 1944, however, it is still not considered extinct, although it is not active like Mount Etna in Sicily, which continues to erupt on a regular basis.
To the northeast of Naples is the town of Caserta. It is home to the Palazzo Reale, known as the Italian Versailles. It was built for the Bourbon King Charles III starting in 1752. The palace has more than 1000 rooms and is surrounded by a beautiful park filled with statues, fountains and ornamental waterworks. To the west of Caserta is the town of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, known in ancient times as Capua. It was an important city during Etruscan and Roman times and was the location of the revolt of the gladiators led by Spartacus in 73 A.D.
The town of Avellino, on the plain east of Vesuvius, has been wracked by earthquakes. Benevento, in the mountains to the northeast, was an important center at the time of the Romans. The Arch in honor of the emperor Trajan was built from 144-166 A.D. and is still in excellent condition. The town is also known for being the place where the liqueur Strega is made.
There are few sites as breath-taking as the Costiera Amalfitana, the Amalfi Coast. The beautiful drive on the cliffs over-looking the sea is spectacular. From Sorrento the drive down the coast takes you to the beautiful resorts of Positano and Amalfi. This is a good area to find cameos, the sculpted shell jewelry, still produced here.
The Allies landed in Salerno in 1943. The city has a big, busy port. In the past, Salerno was known for its School of Medicine and its 11th century duomo, which now holds the tomb of Saint Matthew. Nearby is the ancient Greek town of Poseidonia, now known as Paestum, founded in the 6th century B.C. There are three huge Doric temples still in good condition, the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Neptune and the Temple of Ceres.
The Isle of Capri is off the coast of Sorrento. It is filled with sunshine and tourists most of the year. The island has remained a paradise as it was during the past when the Roman Emperor Tiberius built his Villa Jovis here. The main towns are Capri and Anacapri. The views from the cliffs of the sparkling waters filled with yachts are enchanting. The Grotta Azzurra, or the Blue Grotto, with its iridescent blue light can be reached by boat from the Marina Grande.
The island of Ischia is the largest island in the Bay of Naples and almost as popular as Capri. There are beach resorts, thermal springs, and less expensive hotels. There is also an extinct volcano, Mount Epomeo. The small island of Procida has good swimming and many fewer visitors.
While visiting Campania you should have pizza napoletana, which has a thin crust covered with tomato, garlic, basil and anchovies or grilled fish together with the white wine, Lacrima Christi, from the vineyards on the slope of Vesuvius. Some famous persons from Naples include King Vittorio Emmanuele, III, the tenor Enrico Caruso, comic actor Toto’ and singer Massimo Ranieri.
The next region we will explore is Lazio and its capital city of Roma. Roma is not only the capital of the region, but also the capital of Italy.