Come and see Cilento !
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Landscape of Cilento
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 Climate of Cilento is very mild
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.