Italian America’s Culture, Traditions Deeply Rooted in Campania


A hub of history, culture, the arts and cuisine, Campania is a region to behold.

The following article, written by ISDA President Basil Russo, was published in La Nostra Voce.

Let’s explore a region of Italy from which many of our members trace their ancestral roots:

Here’s a guide of the rich and fascinating history and culture of Campania.

History: Campania’s birth and growth can be traced to the merger of two of the greatest civilizations in world history—the Greeks and Romans.

The Greeks initially occupied the region as early as the 7thcentury B.C., at which point it became part of Magna Graecia. Several hundred years later the Romans arrived, and the region assimilated into a Greco-Roman culture. The Romans began to call the territory “Campania Felix,” which meant fertile countryside.

Naples, the capital of Campania, is one of the oldest continually inhabited urban areas in the world. During the 1600s, Naples was the largest city in all of Europe, and one of the major centers for culture and wealth. Naples has more royal palaces than Paris, more world class museums than Florence, and nearly as many churches as Rome.

The Poseiden temple, in the ancient city of Paestum, was built around 450 BC by the Greek colonist in Magna Graecia. Eighteenth-century archaeologist named it the Basilica. 

Population and geography: Campania has a population of nearly 5.9 million people, making it the third most populated region of Italy; however, because of its small geographic size, Campania is the most densely populated region in Italy. Approximately two-thirds of the people in Campania live in or around the city of Naples.

Geographically, Campania sits along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in southwest Italy, with several beautiful gulfs along its shores. The land is primarily hilly or mountainous with the great Mt. Vesuvius dominating the skyline of Naples.

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking coastlines in the entire world. It is made up of several picturesque towns clinging to the cliffs along the Sorrentine Peninsula. The best known of these coastal towns are Positano, Ravello, Amalfi, Maiori and Minori.

Take in the Amalfi Coast!

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Food: What is arguably the most popular food in the world, pizza, originated in Naples. In 1889, to honor the Queen of Italy – Margherita of Savoy – pizza maker Raffaele Esposito created “Pizza Margherita,” with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to represent the three colors of the Italian flag.

Today, tourists stand in line to get a table at Naples’ two oldest pizzerias, “Di Michele” and “Antica Pizzeria Port Alba” to taste their world-renowned pies.

Because Campania is home to buffalo mozzarella, tasty tomatoes and seafood, some of the region’s specialty dishes include spaghetti vongole, fitto misto di mare and caprese salad.

Pizza maker Raffaele Esposito created “Pizza Margherita,” with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to represent the three colors of the Italian flag.

Music: Naples has a rich music history that has influenced the art throughout Western Europe and the United States.

Beginning with the creation of music schools in the 17thcentury to educate children, to the progression of classical music, to the comic operas of Piccinni and Rossini, to popular Neopolitan songs – such as O Sole Mio, Torna a Surriento and Funiculi Funicula – Naples has been the birthplace of many genres of world-class music.

A man plays a Tammorra while people dance the Tarantella during a street performance in the center of Napoli.

Craftsman: The Neapolitan school of violin making, which was begun by Alessandro Gagliano in 1700, is considered to be among the very best in Italy. Naples is also the home of skilled artisans who carve nativity figurines, mangers and accessories needed to create a presepe. Since all Italian families display presepios in their homes at Christmastime, this is a very important craft.

Naples is home to skilled artisans who carve nativity figurines, mangers and accessories needed to create a presepe.

Conclusion: Campania, along with Sicily, are the two most populous and most important regions of southern Italy. The city of Naples dominates the region, and it has had an impressive history as one of the wealthiest and culturally influential cities, of not only Italy, but of all of Europe.

During the past few centuries, Naples has lost much of its stature, but it remains an earthy, exciting city with a vibrant and emotional people who are very reminiscent of the Italians who emigrated to America.  The Campania region has produced many well-known Italian Americans, including Mario Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro, Rocky Marciano, Vince Lombardi, Jay Leno and Leonardo DiCaprio.

This article first appeared in La Nostra Voce, ISDA’s 28-page monthly newspaper, which chronicles Italian life, culture and traditions. Make the ISDA pledge and subscribe today!

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