The Byzantine & the Longobards

With the end of the Roman Empire, barbarian invasions began. The Goths from the north invaded the region in 410, while the Vandals from Africa sacked and destroyed Capua in 456; the Byzantines counterattacked against the Goths and finally drove them out in 555; but only a few years later, in 570, the Longobards arrived from the Appennines and took over the interior. The Byzantines struggled to maintain power but eventually lost, keeping only the harbors of Naples, Sorrento, and Amalfi; even Salerno was occupied by the Longobards in 630.

The Longobards' aristocracy oppressed Latin populations, but the yoke was lifted a bit when the Longobards converted to Catholicism thanks to the bishop of Benevento, Barbato; the conversion allowed the monasteries to begin operating again, and their role in preserving classical culture was immense. Later (in the 13th c.), the Abbey of Monte Cassino, in northern Campania, would be, for a time, the home of the greatest philosopher-theologian in Europe, St. Thomas Aquinas.

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In the second half of the 8th century, the Longobard prince Arechi II moved his court from Benevento to Salerno, causing increasing tension between the two towns, which resulted in civil war and the splitting of the Longobard realm into two independent principalities in 849. This marked the beginning of the end for the Longobards; in the 10th century, Capua also became an independent principality, after having been destroyed by the Saracens in 841 and refounded on more secure grounds.

In the meantime, Amalfi became independent from the Byzantine Duchy of Naples and started gaining strength and power as a maritime commercial republic, maintaining strong contact with both the Byzantine and the Muslims in the East.

The Saracens

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The Arab period in Sicily began in 827. Taking advantage of the Longobards' civil war, the Saracens -- Arabs who had started out in the region as mercenaries -- took over a few small harbor towns (particularly Agropoli in 882), and started attacking and sacking the other towns along the coast.

Under these repeated assaults, the once-prosperous coastal towns of Campania became deserted, as the people sought refuge in the hills and the countryside. Some of the towns were then reborn, often in more defensive locations and surrounded by heavy fortifications.

The Normans, Swabians & Angevins

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Things changed with the arrival of the Normans, who reintroduced the concept of central government and unity in southern Italy. Their first base was Aversa, near Naples, established in 1029, and from there they rapidly expanded their conquest to Capua in 1062, Amalfi in 1073, and Salerno in 1076, where they established their capital until Naples was also annexed to the kingdom in 1139. The Normans then proceeded south and won over Sicily, displacing the Arabs who had ruled the island for 2 centuries.

Salerno became a splendid town and a beacon of culture and learning, thanks to the development of its medical school, the first and most important medical center of the whole Western world. Benevento, on the other hand, became a papal stronghold in the mid-11th century and stayed so, with a couple of brief interludes, until the unification of Italy in 1860.

The Normans introduced feudalism, a repressive social system that discouraged individual economic initiative, and which undermined the very base of the kingdom. When the dynasty became weaker, it passed to the Swebians and then to the Angevins. The feudal chiefs in Sicily revolted and attacked the central monarchy in the famous "Sicilian Vespers" of 1282. Led by Aragonese elements, the Angevins resisted and succeeded in retaining their power in Campania, but the Cilento -- right at the border of the reduced kingdom -- and the coastal towns suffered immense casualties and depopulation.

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In the mid-13th century, the Angevins had established the capital in Naples, which flourished, but the kingdom's interior was abandoned to heavy feudal rule, which smothered commerce and economic activity and led to extreme poverty, which in turn fostered the growth of groups of bandits in the hills who made all road communication unsafe. The legacy of these centuries of stagnation and misrule persists to this day. The situation worsened still when the rule of the kingdom shifted to Spain.

Spanish Rule

Spanish rule was seemingly so backward that even many histories of Naples contain a large blank spot for this 2-centuries-long period. The main events of Spanish rule were revolts against it -- in 1547, 1599, 1647, and 1674, to name the major ones. The former kingdom of Naples was ruled by a Spanish viceroy, and the resulting extraction of taxes and the imposition of authoritarian rule were onerous. Philip IV called Naples "a gold mine, which furnished armies for our wars and treasure for their protection." The Spanish did build some great palaces and churches, though it is perhaps symbolic that Naples's Palazzo Reale was built for King Philip III, who never lived here. The great plague also occurred during this period, and wiped out half the population.

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The Bourbons

During the tangled period of the War of Spanish succession in the early 18th century, Naples was ruled by Austrians for 27 years. Naples regained its independence in 1734, with Carlo di Borbone. The independence of the kingdom of Naples was at last recognized by Spain and the Papacy. Carlo revitalized the kingdom, improving the roads, draining the marshes in the area of Caserta, and creating new industries -- such as the silk manufacturers in San Leucio, the ceramic artistry in Capodimonte, and the cameo and coral industries in Torre del Greco. The improvements continued during the 10 years of Napoleonic power, when the feudal system was completely dismantled and land was redistributed, creating new administrative and judicial structures. This gave new life to the provinces but, once the Bourbons returned, they were unable to strike a balance with the developing bourgeoisie. The region was thus poised for rebellion when Garibaldi arrived and brought about the unification of Italy in 1861.

A United Italy

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Thanks to the brilliant efforts of Camillo Cavour (1810-61) and Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82), the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861. Victor Emmanuel (Vittorio Emanuele) II of the House of Savoy, king of Sardinia, became the head of the new monarchy.

Unfortunately, while the new kingdom was politically good for Campania, it was disastrous for Campania's economy: The northern government imposed heavy taxes, and the centralized administration paid little attention to local differences and needs. This killed the burgeoning industry that had been developing thanks to the Bourbons' paternalism and protection. Despite these setbacks, though, toward the end of the 19th century the coastal area started to develop the agricultural specialties that still exist today.

Fascism & World War II

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Fascism achieved little success outside the urban area of Naples and was mostly embraced by prefects and notables in the rest of Campania. The region paid a heavy toll during World War II, when it was heavily bombarded in preparation for the Allied landing on September 8, 1943, when 55,000 Allied troops stormed ashore. Known as the Salerno Invasion, it actually involved landings in a long arc from Sorrento and Amalfi to as far south as the area of Paestum. The Nazis occupied the region and set up a desperate resistance, retreating slowly for long months just north of Caserta along the Garigliano River. This involved one of the war's most notorious battles, the several-months-long siege of Monte Cassino, which left the ancient monastery a heap of rubble. The Nazis destroyed as much as they could during their retreat, sacking and vandalizing everything -- even the most important section of the Naples State Archives was burned.

In September 1943, Naples revolted and managed to chase out the occupiers, only days before the Allied forces arrived in the city. Other towns' insurrections resulted in horrible massacres; men and women organized guerrilla groups against the Nazis, hiding out in the mountains and hills and striking mostly at night, while the Allies bombarded their towns and cities. After many hard months of fighting, Campania was finally freed in June 1944.

The Postwar Years

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In 1946, Campania became part of the newly established Italian Republic -- although Naples had given its preference to the monarchy in the referendum -- and reconstruction began. Even though the war had left Italy ravaged, the country succeeded in rebuilding its economy. By the 1960s, as a member of the European Community (founded in Rome in 1957), Italy had become one of the world's leading industrialized nations, prominent in the manufacture of automobiles and office equipment. Campania was slow to recover; the terrible destruction that it suffered, the plague of corruption, plus the rising development of the Camorra, Campania's Mafia-like organization, hindered the region's development more than others.

The great earthquake (10 on the Mercalli, Cancani, Sieberg scale, or about a 7 on the Richter scale) that hit the region on November 23, 1980, gave it another push back, causing great destruction and economic hardship -- over 3,000 people died, especially in the provinces of Avellino and Salerno, at the heart of the quake.

In the 1990s, a new Naples mayor and new regional government began investing more time and money in the restoration of Campania's artistic treasures, the reorganization of old museums, and the creation of new museums throughout the region. Just as important, the new government declared war on corruption and criminality. The millennium celebrations and the Papal Jubilee of 2000 brought about further renovations. Results have been spectacular; the center of Naples has been transformed from a depressed state into a sort of open-air museum, with tons of artistic and historical attractions.

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At the same time, the escalating war against the Camorra in Naples has attracted much press attention over the past year or so, casting doubt on the city's safety. In our opinion, however, the accounts are sensationalized. Life in the historical part of the city has remained virtually untouched by Camorra violence, and improvements continue to be made, to the extent that Naples's artistic treasures, as well as the attractions of the whole Campania region, become more and more accessible to visitors every day.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.