Campania is an area of incredible riches in natural beauty as well as art and culture.
Though it may not always be easy to unearth Campania's wealth of natural beauty, cultural treasures and fascinating hidden history, those who embark upon this quest of discovery, will discover unimaginable treasures and double recompense for their efforts.
The region of Campania stretches over a wonderfully varied area of Italy, covering coastal areas as well as fertile and beautiful plains further inland, embracing the peace and picturesque tranquility of Capri, Ischia the Amalfi coast, the city and province of Naples including Pompeii, with the furies and glories of Vesuvio.
Writing of Naples, the novelist and essayist Stendhal compared it with Paris for prestige as the Principle city of Europe: "Naples, a large city office of history with Paris, the only possible European capital". He continued with the following: "Naples; to my eyes is, without any comparison, the most beautiful city of the universe".
The list of pleasures and treasures is almost endless, a few of which include unforgettable glimpses of the coast of Naples with gulfs and bays, characteristic winding streets of the Spanish Quarter, palaces, monuments and churches of which there are approximately 500, and the imposing Maschio Angioino; the latter is a castle, rich in history and tales of the morbid and the fascinating, built in honour of and on the orders of Charles of Anjou. Add to this the mysterious subterranean tunnels and shadowy caverns beneath Naples and you discover a galaxy of tales of torture and intrigue, very probably as alive today as ever it was in yesteryear.
No city or province of Italy would be complete without its culinary delights, and the province of Naples is in no wise lacking in this respect. Thus the city is furnished in every way with a wealth of fascinating culture and vibrant energy.
Campania has a convenient balance of beauty and productivity, as it has areas on the coast and inland. It is therefore perfectly placed for both trade and agriculture. Some provinces advantageously over looking the sea, like the stunning islands of Procida, Ischia, Capri and the wild coast of Cilento have been ideal Ports throughout the centuries.
The plains, towns and mountains (such as the beautiful mountains of Matese) further inland with their agricultural resources, temperate climate and idyllic pastoral countryside have made Campania a valuable asset to invaders over the years. Grain and other essentials for export to motherlands and the support of colonies "planted" in the area could be easily managed within the province. Each occupation and regime instituted in the area has profited from this, and left impressions, sometimes indelible, on the culture of the area, as well as on the architecture and landscape.
Campania is rich in Archeological treasures, some well known like Pompeii and Herculaneum, others less so, like the Bay of Baia or the ancient secrets cast in stone and rock at Cuma.
Of central importance is the majestic Reggia di Caserta, (the King's Palace of Caserta) forerunner and inspiration for the French palace at Versailles, and pride of the Bourbon era. Another historic treasure shrouded in the mystery of history is the Lombard city centre of Benevento from the high middle ages. Though Benevento had been a town in the days of Antiquity, eighth century Lombard-Germanic tribes who had created the Kingdom of Italy, settled in the area and made Benevento significant as the southernmost tip of their duchy.
Knowledge of this epoch has been lost over the centuries, but it is known that the Lombards divided Italy into provinces and established towns. The historic town centre of Benevento has well preserved traces of Lombard remains, town planning and architecture, as well as evidence of their Roman predecessors. Campania has always been known for its fertility, thus the Latin dwellers there knew the land as "felix", meaning happy, or rich.
This ancient "happy land" however has been party to both use and abuse in both ancient and more modern times. Mismanagement, political controversies and the long tentacles of illegal organizations have affected the major cities of Campania, hindering healthy economic growth. Thus the long story of this beautiful region has had its fair share of peaks and troughs.
Benevento has been inhabited since the stone age but first received notoriety with the arrival of the Greeks who founded nearby Cuma, one of the oldest cities of Magna Grecia. It was then colonized by the Etruscans who, in competition with the Greeks for prestige colonies and land, founded the city of Capua. These two factions were permanently at war till their disputes were settled by a third party: the warlike Samnites from the region of Abruzzo who thickened the fray and diluted the power of either. The Romans, for a brief period, used the area as a deportation ground for rebels, upstarts and enemies of peace till the time of Augustus who, recognizing its value, revived and "modernized" the area.
Thus Campania experienced a period of prosperity with the construction of waterworks, leading to the establishing of Capua and Brindisi. However, this brief period of prosperity was superseded by economic decline as products from Africa and Spain became popular and Campania fell into economic decline. Falling prey to famine and pestilence as well as economic difficulty left it vulnerable to waves of invasion by the Goths, Vandals and Byzantines. The latter lost all but the naval bases of Gaeta, Naples and Sorrento to the subsequent arrival of the Lombards. The Ninth Century brought the Saracens into Campania and the Lombards to heel leaving them only Amalfi and the status of a maritime presence and power. The eleventh century saw the arrival and eventual take over of the Normans, who by infiltration achieved status and domination during the course of almost a century, and bought peace, architectural restoration and renewed prosperity to Campania.
This respite lasted till the arrival of the French Angevin dynasty with Charles Ist who, having been ousted from Sicily by the natives, fled to Naples, where he established his royal seat. Naples then grew in status, becoming a major European city and a kingdom in its own right. Campania however, suffered irreparable damage in this period due to warring factions of the Spanish Aragon powers in Sicily and French Angevin forces in Naples, who struggled for control of both dominions, between which, Campania was trapped. During this period, The Kingdom of Naples became the second most important capital in Europe after Paris and a cultural centre for the renaissance. Campania as a whole however did not see glory again until the rise of Bourbon power in the 1800's and the construction of the Majestic Palace of Caserta, which bought justifiable notoriety and a new lease of life to the area.
A century and a half later, during the second world war, massive damage was done to the region with the loss of property and invaluable cultural possessions. Many other masterpieces were lost in the earthquake of 1980, which affected Irpinia particularly badly.
This region of conflicting interests, characterized by the beauties of both land and sea, immortalized in the myths of Naples, tormented by the terrors of potentates, and the dictates of the nature of Vesuvius has none the less, preserved the past sometimes in ashes, as testimony to those who throughout the centuries have served to make Campania all that it is, and all that it is not to this day.