Cilento National Park: history, nature, environment, climate, villages, sea and mountains, and other information.

Casal Velino Marina, a landscape on a sea village of costal Cilento in Southern Italy

The National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano is a place in the world that you must experience at least once in your life, where mountains join the sea, nature meets up with history, beautiful landscapes mix with the fragrant smell of wild plants, and people come together to enjoy the incredible food and wine of these parts. This region is a part of the National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano, in Southern Italy. After you arrive here you will wish to have discovered it much sooner. If you are looking for something really different and to experience Italy off the beaten path, come and discover this place that is truly to come and see.

Come and see Cilento !

Spectacular colours of the sea at Camerota's coast, in Cilento National Park in Southern Italy

CILENTO: ever thought of visiting the Southern of Italy ? If not, why not begin just in the CILENTO, a really wonderful place ? When you consider touring Italy the first time, the usual places that spring to mind are Venice, Rome, Florence and, perhaps the Neapolitan coast. Undoubtedly, you will have had a great holiday. But you will not have discovered another of Italy?s little gems: the CILENTO ! Thanks to Italy?s unique slim line geographical position you will find a completely different landscape at every turn. We would like to offer you this opportunity to discover the wonderful little world of Cilento inside wonderful Italy ! You have visited Sorrento, the beautiful Amalfi coast and even the Blue Grotto in Capri. However, you have never ventured past Salerno, Pompeii or Herculaneum. Indeed these are all stunning places. But have you ever been in Cilento to Cape Palinuro and visited the Blue Grotto there ? (Most people say its beauty and mystique are far greater than those of Capri?s Blue Grotto). Have you ever heard of Cape Licosa in Cilento or of it's incredible sea ? Another little known treasure of Cilento is the magical Paestum, a marvellous, ancient Greek city with magnificent temples. Velia, too, is of great historical and beautiful importance: it is actually bigger than Pompeii and Herculaneum together. And it is just in the Cilento ! The perfume of the Mediterranean flora lingers in the landscape of coastal Cilento and is quite unforgettable. A smell that must be sensed ! The gastronomy in Cilento is another pleasure that should be indulged. Imagine sipping Aglianico wine whilst eating a dish of real hand made pasta (fusilli) made with tomatoes and goat?s cheese and you will wonder why it has taken you so long to visit the Cilento ! There is all this and much more to Cilento. This magical place really has it all: stunning clear waters, a wonderful landscape and an ancient, mystical history. Are you planning your second visit to Italy ? You are now planning the right place: the Cilento. Is this your first visit ? Make the same: think about the Cilento. How can you save money but still get the best value from your holiday ? The Cilento is the answer too. The glamour of the Neapolitan Riviera is only a stone?s throw away from here. The Cilento is also within very easy reach of Rome and the other regions of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily. We will guide you in your mystical discovery of the wonderful Cilento every step of the way. And perhaps the next time you come to Italy, we will meet on the edge of these same rocks and look out onto the clear blue sea surrounded by this newly discovered landscapes. Join us for a journey of breathtaking views and let us show you how to discover Cilento properly.

Licosa Cape toward S. Maria di Castellabate, in Cilento National Park

History of Cilento

Once known for her heroes, philosophers, bandits, and patriots, today's Cilento is a place of natural beauty little known to the rest of the world, but still retaining her enchanting and mysterious scenery. The importance of the region echoes in the writings of the ancient civilizations that once prospered in and around the area. Myths and history abound, such as the story of Enea's helmsman, Palinuro. Palinuro was in charge of piloting Enea's boat after escaping the siege of Troy. As the legend goes, Palinuro was lulled asleep off the coast of Cilento and fell in the water during a violent storm. For three days and nights he struggled in the rough waters, being kept afloat by the wooden rudder of the boat. Upon finally reaching the shore, Palinuro was savagely killed by the locals. Cape Palinuro, as the area of his landing is now known, has a myriad of sea caves and other natural wonders only accessible by boat. The reputation of Cilento's original inhabitants is also reflected in the writings of the philosopher Zenone, one of the members of the philosophy school at Elea (now known as Velia), then considered the most important philosophy school in the Greek world. 2500 years ago, Zenone wrote to his mentor describing the inhabitants of Cilento: "The people of Cilento belong to their land in the same way that that the local plants belong to its soil, they both share the same attributes. Like the local olive trees, they grow strong and full of life, and share in the abundance of their fruit without too much concern as to who is picking it. Often, just like the olive trees, they endure suffering and wounds, but they will be unmoved in their resolve, as they bear their pain in silence. They follow the rhythm of nature around them, and even when nature turns unkind, they adapt to the new conditions and will prosper and propagate right where the damage was strongest." Zenone's mentor, upon hearing such a description replied: "Let us hope for our sake that the people of Cilento will never change their ways and always want to belong to the land instead of wanting the land to belong to them."

Prehistoric Cilento.

The first humans inhabited the Cilento region almost 500 thousand years ago, living in the numerous caves found along the Cilento coastline. The earliest traces and artifacts found date back to the Stone Age (Paleolithic) with some items being dated between 35 and 70 thousand years old). In the town of Camerota archaeologists have found burial sites from that era, and the remains have been aptly named as those of "Homo Camaerotensis" . Additional archaeological discoveries date as far back as the Neolithic period (8500 years ago) and others bring testament to the dawn of the Iron Age in this part of the world. Closer study of these artifacts illustrate that the people of Cilento did not evolve in isolation, but were an important crossroad to people and merchants from many different civilizations in the Mediterranean. In the towns of Capaccio and Paestum, burial sites were adorned with the typical offerings of the Local Gaudo civilization. Other items found nearby were typically produced in areas such Puglia, (the "heel" region of italy) or the Lipari islands. Some of the other Mediterranean civilizations that colonized the Cilento area are the Enotri, the Lucanians and the Greeks (brought here by their need for copper ore). Very few places around the world have had so many cultures and civilizations coming together, exchanging goods and ideas. Cilento can be considered one of these places, and as such, it makes it the cradle of ancient European civilization.

An old house on a hill in Cilento National Park

The Cities of Magna Graecia in the Cilento

What began as Greek explorations for copper ore, soon turned into a full colonization of southern Italy. This period of expansion took place between the VII and VI century AC and it resulted in what became known as Magna Graecia. Some of the most important Greek colonies in Cilento were established during this period: Posidonia (present day Paestum), Elea (Velia), Pixunte and Molpa (Near present day Palinuro). What these cities have in common is the seaside landscape that the ancient Greeks left behind in their motherland. Posidonia was renamed Paestum by the ancient Romans. Even today it is still a magical city where beautifully preserved Greek temples adorn the pastoral landscape. The Sibarites who founded Posidonia made sure that their Greek heritage was reflected in the architecture of the Doric style monuments they built, as well as in the priceless frescos that adorn the local burial chambers. Of particular interest are the Temple of Neptune, The Temple of Cerere, and the neo-Christian Basilica. The city of Elea (present day Velia) was founded by the sea-faring Focesi who had left their towns in Asia Minor to colonize the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. The earliest form of western architecture to utilize the load-bearing arch was used in Elea. Built in the IV century AC, the Porta Rosa, is a toll arch spanning two cliffs. In ancient times, there was a toll door within the arch, used to block off any potential invaders from attacking the colony in Elea. Over the years, Elea became the most important center for the study of philosophy in all of Magna Graecia, with a school being established there in the VI century AC by the philosopher Senofane. It was also the site of the oldest medical school in the European continent, which became the precursor of the prestigious medical school in nearby Salerno.

Acciaroli di Pollica in Cilento National Park

The Lucana and Roman dominations.

Until conquered by the Roman armies, the Cilento was under the control of the Lucanean army. A northern European clan that fought its way southward. The Roman armies brought a downfall of Cilento as a center of culture, when Emperor Ottaviano Augusto declared that Cilento's role as a roman province was solely to provide livestock and produce to the markets in Rome.

The dock at Palinuro in Cilento National Park

King Federick II of Svevia

After the fall of the Roman Empire, in the year 410 DC, the Cilento region became victim to the hoards of barbarian invaders pillaging the rest of the continent. For nearly 300 years, the people of Cilento had to endure the succession of northern invaders such as the Visigoti, the Goti, as well as the Longobardi, the latter establishing the Princedom of Salerno. In the year 752 the Longobardi converted to Christendom, and began a more enlightened rule in the area, especially with the religious and monastic institutions that took hold in the area. Some of the religious buildings from the period are still standing, such as the abbey of Cava, and the Certosa of Padula. In the year 1076 the Normans conquered the Cilento from the Longobardi, and established a baron ruled fief, the likes of which dotted the Italian landscape until the unification of Italy as a nation in the 19th century.

San Marco di Castellabate in Cilento National Park

The Period of the Briganti (Bandits)

The period between the 16th and 17th century was perhaps the darkest and cruelest time in Cilento's history, it came to be known as "Brigantaggio" or the "rule of bandits". Brigantaggio was a violent outburst from some of the locals, resulting from the oppressive regime of the ruling barons. The local barons ruled with an iron fist, with little care for the wellbeing of their subjects. Starvation and virtual slavery characterized the condition of the inhabitants of Cilento. This class struggle between the oppressed and the nobility often resulted in the indiscriminate massacre of local nobles and their servants at the hands of 'Briganti" reciprocated by the public hangings of "Briganti" at the hands of other nobles. This sad state of affairs continued unabated until the early 19th century, and it began to spread in other parts of Italy. One of the bloodiest revolts was in the year 1828 when Cilento's populace took arms against King Francesco II of the Borbone family and his ministers. The revolt ended in indiscriminate bloodshed when the King's army decimated the rebels and completely obliterated the nearby town of Bosco. To teach the rest of the people a lesson, the rebellion leaders were beheaded, and their heads were driven on stakes to be displayed in town squares around the region. Even mother nature was not spared the King's fury, as the forests of Bruca and Monteforte were set ablaze by the king's armies to drive out any briganti hiding there. The "Brigantaggio", and the republican class struggle which it brought forth was one of the main factors eventually leading to the demise of the city states which dotted the Italian landscape, and the unification of Italy as a nation, under the auspices of the Kingdom of Italy.

Civilization and Society in ancient Cilento

Cilento: A cradle of Democracy as described in a letter from two thousand years ago !

First settlement at Elea Velia in Cilento National Park

It is a little known fact that Cicero, the famed roman politician, writer and philosopher (106-43 AC) frequently vacationed in Cilento. He adored the Cilentean's customs and institutions, their forests, and beaches. One of Cicero's closest friends in Cilento was the lawyer Caio Trebazio Testa, a nobleman from Velia. Prior to being assassinated, Cicero wrote a letter to his good friend. This letter stands as a testament to their friendship, and furthermore to Cicero's devotion to Cilento.

"To Caio Trebazio Testa, Greetings!

I pray for Goddess Athena to always hold you in her highest esteem, Esculapio to be the protector of your family, but for me, my dearest friend, all I pray for is the tranquillity one can only find in your delightful city Velia! Rome gets worse by the day as its climate, the natural, as well as the political, becomes more and more hazardous to my health. My head aches constantly probably due to the humidity, perhaps more so by the incessant bickering I endure. I would be back in Velia in a heartbeat were it not for the sense of duty I have for our Republic. The other night I dreamt that the Romans finally adopted a resolution to model their political institutions after those of your city. And like in Velia, the people to be followed and listened to were the city's philosophers. In my dream no one plotted against the state to impose personal ambitions. Military leaders, allegiant to the Republic, made sure to follow the will of the Senate, without acting as warlords over the distant provinces. Like in Velia, my dream had young people pursuing their studies, gymnastics, refining their oratory, as well as their philosophical thoughts, paying no attention to the vulgarity of the gladiators' blood lust. Even the whorehouses had emptied, their patrons finding pleasures in an acceptable and dignified way. At the end of the dream, a blue sea appeared, and I knew then that I was not really dreaming of land-locked Rome but of your outstanding city. When I awoke I felt angst for being so far away from all of you, and angst for Rome being so far away from Velia's civility.
I could not wait to write this letter. I am not ashamed to admit that in telling you these things, even if by letter, makes me feel as if I was there in Velia, the Gods know how much I would like for that to be true right now. How it would soothe me to walk through the woods of Velia or alongside the beach that takes us from Porta Marina to the seaport. Oh, how much I long for the discussions and arguments we have amongst friends, in the shade of the Porta Rosa, or on the steps of the temple of Athena. But enough with my lamentations and funeral chants! How goes it, my divine friend, with your young son, so well educated and so eager to learn? Is he still tending diligently to his studies in grammar, and rhetoric? Is he still passionate about music and the theater? Make sure to tutor him with care, my friend, for the education of your young ones is the only remedy against tyrants and barbarians.
Also tell me, my dear friend, tell me of your endeavors, of your boat trips and your trading. Are Africa and Corsica still your favorite destinations? Do you know if the news is really true that some of your town's sailors navigated their way past the unconquerable columns of Hercules? (Today's strait of Gibraltar). And what has been of your nearby neighbors the Lucanians? Are they still a hostile bunch, or have you found a way to befriend them? To that effect, my dear Trebazio, I will advise you: try to the outmost, and intervene with the strength of your authority to make sure that your people establish a cordial and helpful relationship with the Lucanians. Do not overlook any possibilities to make this happen. I realize that my advice is probably superfluous since your far-reaching ideas and the wisdom of your thoughts keep this goal on the horizon every step of the way.
Keep me in your thoughts, as you are always in mine, take good care of your health and of your sweet family.
Marco Tullio Cicerone."

You can learn more about Cicero and other important historical figures by going to:

Poera Rosa Gate at Elea Velia in Cilento National Park

Landscape of Cilento

The Cilento shows the unknown side of Campania; pristine beaches, sheer rock cliffs puckered with caves, series of mountains cut by live water streams. The extraordinary beauty of this area has been preserved for centuries thanks to its isolation due in large part to the challenging terrain. The Cilento has a variety of landscapes to be enjoyed.

Stunning cliff with sheer drops at Palinuro Cape in Cilento National Park

The coastline is typically Mediterranean in nature, with many inlets, sandy beaches, sheer cliffs and promontories complete with ancient look-out towers used in years past to warn the inhabitants of impending invasions of foreigners or pirates. This rock formation projected forward in the sea, extending from the fertile valley of Paestum to the enchanting gulf of Sapri brings forth rare natural treasures; vegetation, minerals, crystalline springs, and nearly extinct animals.

The Cilento is a true slice of heaven on earth surrounding small villages and the activities of its inhabitants. Dotted with high mountain-peaks in its interior, the Cilento is perhaps best known for its sea-side summer resorts in places like Santa Maria di Castellabate, Acciaroli, Pioppi, Pisciotta, Palinuro, Camerota and point of Infreschi. The rocky coastline falling into the blue sea features hundreds of grottoes that are of particular interest for the prehistoric artifacts that have been discovered there, as well as the inviting sandy beaches that are often found at their entrances.

Seascape in Cilento at south of Palinuro

The interior of Cilento is characterized by a lunar landscape of barren mountains, calcareous carbonate plains, islands of dense vegetations, and rushing streams. Perched on these peaks are tiny stone villages originally built by locals trying to protect themselves from foreign invaders. The austere interior landscape is mitigated by the sprinkling of agrarian activities of the region, with short stone walls and terraced hillsides planted with olive trees whose oil is renown across Europe.

The village of Campora on a stunning cliff in Cilento National Park

The Climate of Cilento is very mild

Weather conditions in Cilento National Park, a rainbow after the rain

The presence of both the mountains and the sea in a narrow space gives to Cilento one of the mildest climate available on the whole earth. The mountains give to this area a good protection from the strong winds and the heavy rains; and the sea mitigates the already soft winter. The thermic breezes due to the vicinity of both the sea and the mountains also refresh during the heat in the summer. One can expects here at least six months of full sunny days for each year, and other three months of good enough weather. The lowest temperature degree in the winter is usually above the 6°Celsius during the nights and above 11°Celsius during the days. In the summer the highest temperature degree is usually below 37°Celsius and the humidity percentage is below 70%. And even when the climate of Cilento shows the worst conditions, manytimes soon a rainbow will lessen your troubles and advises of a change toward the better !

Villages of Cilento

The villages of the Cilento show the history and the tradition of this nice region of Campania in Southern Italy. Here a list of the most beautiful and important, we will try to list all of them in the next future and to set up a section for each one. We consider a village the nice and developed enough hamlets too.

  • Acciaroli
  • Agnone
  • Agropoli
  • Ascea
  • Camerota
  • Casal Velino
  • Castellabate
  • Castel Nuovo
  • Campora
  • Caselle in Pittari
  • Centola
  • Felitto
  • Laurino
  • Novivelia
  • Ogliastro
  • Padula
  • Palinuro
  • Pattano
  • Perdifumo
  • Pisciotta
  • Roscigno
  • Pollica
  • San Marco
  • Santa Maria Castellabate
  • Scario
  • Stio
  • Villa Littoria
The famous hump-backed bridge at Felitto in Cileno National Park