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Campania – Culture

Campania - Culture


Historically and geographically, Campania is a region with a double identity. On one hand, there is the mountain in the provinces of Avellino and Benevento, who fall into the geographical area of the Southern Apennines and present physical, demographical and cultural characteristics similar to those of the surrounding regions, such as Abruzzo, Molise, and Basilicata. On the other hand, there is the coastal area characterized by a unique territory that is urbanized and densely populated.

At the heart of these areas, there is Naples, the capital of the region. One of the most important cities in Italy and in Europe, Naples has been for a long time one of the main points of transition between Southern Italy and the rest of the world.

Although the route of communication between the various regions developed and with time other cities such as Bari in Apulia reshaped the hegemonic role Naples once had, the city still maintains the appearance and pride of a great capital.

Apart from this, Campania itself represents a world apart. The region grew with a series of contradictions that external observers can hardly understand. This warm and welcoming region makes for a perfect trip to Italy. The local lifestyle is cheerful, and thanks to the perfect blend of mountains and volcanic areas overlooking a coastline and gulfs of rare beauty, this symbolic region of Italy is particularly appreciated and is an emblem of the art of living thoughtlessly.

Campania’s Art and Architecture

From an archaeological standpoint, Campania is one of the richest Italian regions in evidence that document the various phases of the development of the local civilizations, from prehistory to the colonization of Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans.

The passage of all these peoples is attested in various centers, especially in those that were buried under the ashes of Vesuvius in the year 79. Among them, we can mention Herculaneum and Pompeii, two settlements that offer a great and comprehensive insight into the opulent Roman lifestyle.

The remains of classical art are documented in several other centers, such as Paestum, which in addition to its famous architectural monuments reveal some important examples of Greek paintings from the fifth century BC. Many architectural remains from the golden era are present in Naples, Nola, Stabia, and Baia, a whole Roman city literally submerged by the crystal clear waters of the sea.

In Campania, art began to develop early on, and a splendid example of early Christian art is the holy city of Cimitile, a complex that includes four small basilicas that are unique from an architectural point of view. The mosaics of the cathedral of Naples, and those from the vault of Chapel Santa Matrona and from the church of San Prisco in Santa Maria Capua Vetere document a local interpretation of classic motifs.

The intense architectural activity performed under the Longobard domination, between the seventh and eleventh centuries AD, is unfortunately poorly documented. The earliest period corresponds to the foundations of the Abbey of Saint Peter in Benevento. One of the most interesting examples of the eighth-century architecture is the church of Santa Sofia, in Benevento. The church was completed in 762 and features beautiful examples of Christian paintings.

From the end of the Longobard domination, Campania boasts three basilica churches, including San Giovanni a Corte, San Salvatore Maggiore a Corte, and San Michele a Corte in Capua.

Between the Norman invasion and the reign of Frederick II, Campania met a period of rich artistic blossoming. In architecture, the basilica tradition became dominant, and the use of plants with three naves, atriums and three semi circular apses spread throughout the region.

Some beautiful examples of the architecture of the era are the Basilica of the Benedictine Monastery of Sant’Angelo in Fromis, reconstructed by Desiderio in 1073, near Capua, the Cathedral of Salerno erected by Roberto il Guiscardo between 1079 and 1085, and also the cathedrals of Sessa Aurunca, Ravello, Casertavecchia, and Carinola.

After the thirteenth century, under the influences of the Arab-Norman architecture of Sicilian origins, the architectural details gained new elements, such as twisted and horseshoe arches. These influences are predominantly visible in the Amalfi Coast area and some representative examples are the cloisters of the cathedral of the former convent of Cappuccini in Amalfi, the cathedral of San Domenico in Salerno, the cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi in Sorrento, and also the courtyard of Villa Rufolo in Ravello.

The Muslim influence overlays itself with the Byzantine art, and this unique blend is mostly visible in the mosaic decorations, marble tombstones, and intricately decorated floors. Despite these influences, architecture maintains its classicism visible both in the imitation of the late Roman models and in the Ottoman-Byzantine influences that are linked, from the second half of the twelfth century, with the Provencal classicism.

The Byzantine influence manifested itself almost exclusively in the field of painting. Some prime examples include the frescoes in the atrium of the Basilica of Sant’Angelo in Formis, showing the work of a Byzantine artist, while the imposing pictorial decoration of the interior of the church shows how the Byzantine style translates into a local interpretation.

The advent of the Angevin dynasty and the spread of the Franciscan and Dominican orders introduced Campania to the Italian and French Gothic influences, while the artistic activity became more and more concentrated in Naples.

Starting with the fourteenth century, Campania became an artistic province where French masters imported the Gothic style of the Southern France. This style soon spread among the local architects and gave life to important edifices such as the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore and the church of Santa Chiara.

In the first half of the fourteenth century, painters from Tuscany and Lazio, including Cavallini, Martini, and Giotto, brought their artistic talent to Naples offering to the city and to Campania important artworks of an immense value.

The Catalan Gothic style spread in Campania in the fifteenth century, especially in the field of civil architecture. One of the most representative examples of the era is the Castel Nuovo, reconstructed by the Catalan architect, Guillem Sagrera. The entrance of the castle strikes with its Renaissance influences, the result of the work of multiple artists such as Giuliano da Maiano, Benedetto da Maiano, and Francesco di Giorgio Martini among others.

A true masterpiece of Campania’s Renaissance sculptures of the second half of the fifteenth century is the church of Sant’Anna dei Lombardi in Monteoliveto.

The Neapolitan paintings of the fifteenth century have Flemish origins, while the style changes over the years to a late-Romanesque classicism. Examples of paintings belonging to both influences can be admired in the Sanctuary of San Martino and the Church of Girolamini, Palazzo degli Studi in Naples, and in the National Archaeological Museum.

The Baroque style in Campania is dominated above all by the works of architect and sculptor Cosimo Fanzago who constructed the cloister of the Sanctuary of San Martino, the spire of San Gennaro and the church of Santa Teresa in Chiaia.

In the same period, Francesco Solimena marked the passage to the Rococo, or Late Baroque, while in painting, after a weak start, the models of Caravaggio laid the premises of a flourishing Neapolitan art school. One of the most representative Baroque painters in Campania was Luca Giordano, whose works are present in Naples and Florence.

As far as sculptures are concerned, after a long period of dependence on the Florentine mannerism, in Campania was established by the eclecticism of Cosimo Fanzago.

The sculpture evolved and developed to a unique form of art in the eighteenth century, one of the most famous complexes of sculptural decorations being the Chapel of San Severo. Among the many sculptures made by many local artists, the one that stands out is the sculpture of the Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino.

Under the reign of Charles III of Bourbon, Naples regained its position of an autonomous capital and both the city and its surroundings were enriched with grandiose public buildings, such as the Palace of Capodimonte.

Among the splendid edifices of the era, one that stands out is the Royal Palace of Caserta, locally known as Reggia di Caserta. The palace strikes with its unique architectural style and richly decorated interiors, while the Royal Park of Caserta is a true oasis of peace that includes an Italian and an English garden, famous worldwide for their complexity and beauty.

The Rococo style expresses itself especially in the ceramics of Capodimonte, where the Royal Factory was founded in 1739.  Meanwhile in Naples in the same period, many artisans began the production of small statues and items related to the nativity scene.

The last twenty years of the eighteenth century represented a restoration of the neoclassical norms based on the recovery of the Vitruvian lines and the use of a simple and classical repertoire, especially in architecture. A few examples of this style are the church of San Francesco di Paola, the Theater of San Carlo and Villa Floridiana in Naples.

The neoclassical style transformed into an eclectic architecture, thanks mainly to Enrico Alvino who proposed a different style for the different types of constructions. According to his vision, the religious buildings should have been constructed according to the Romanesque and Gothic styles, while the public and private buildings should have been influenced by the Renaissance.

A period of intense architectural activity began after 1884 when districts such as Porto, Pendino and Mercato knew a true environmental remediation that began with a mass demolition of entire areas and the construction of new, quaint districts characterized by large squares connected by a more agile network of roads.

In painting, the beginning of the nineteenth century was characterized by a competition between the academic canons of the neoclassical tradition that opposed the School of Posillipo, the result being the creation of a unique regional style.

At the end of the century, Hans von Marées and Adolf von Hildebrandt introduced a wave of novelty and modernity in the Neapolitan art.

The architecture of the beginning of the twentieth century is characterized by Liberty buildings, such as Galleria Umberto I and the Santa Lucia palace. Liberty style spread throughout Naples and some of the residential suburbs such as Torre del Greco and San Giorgio, which are characterized by a series of splendid edifices.

Science in Campania

Besides a vast artistic and cultural heritage, Campania is also the land of some illustrious scientists who contributed to the general knowledge and understanding of astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.

Among them, is Francesco Fontana, a Neapolitan astronomer who devoted himself to the study of Mars between 1630 and 1650. Fontana was actually a constructor of Keplerian telescopic binoculars that were more powerful than those made by Galileo Galilei. While observing the skies the scientist discovered Mars and was so fascinated by it that he drew the first maps of the planet and described its rotation for the first time.

Fontana was so dedicated to the study of the red planet that the scientific community gave his name to one of the craters present on the surface of Mars.

Another important Neapolitan scientist is Renato Caccioppoli, a famous figure in the field of the study and development of the mathematical analysis in Italy and in the world. After graduating school in 1921, Cacciopolli approached the world of mathematics by first enrolling in the Faculty of Engineering, and then enrolling in the Faculty of Mathematics in 1923.

Immediately after his graduation, he became an assistant of Mathematical Analysis and soon became a genius of the discipline. His contribution to the field of mathematical analysis influenced the mathematical thinking not only in Italy, but on a global scale.

In medicine, one of the most important scientists in Campania is Domenico Cotugno, one of the main founders of modern medicine. Cotugno was actually born in Ruvo di Puglia in the province of Bari, yet he moved to Naples at only 16, and the city soon became his adoptive home.

Here, the scientist began to cultivate his passion for science and medicine, and after only two years he became a physician at Hospital Incurabili. Continuing his studies and pursuing a university career in Naples, Cotugno made a difference in the descriptive and pathological anatomy.

Philosophy and Literature In Campania

Beyond science, philosophy and literature are other important cultural elements of Campania. In philosophy, one of the greatest names linked to the region is Giordano Bruno, one of the greatest writers and philosophers in the world.

For Giordano Bruno, God and Nature blended into a unique reality that he loved and respected, but that also led to thoughts and theories on the Trinity, Christianity and Sacred Scripture that cost him his life. Because of his beliefs, Bruno was considered a heretic by the Holy Inquisition who condemned him to death.

Despite the cruel execution, his philosophy became immortal and his writings opened the door to a true scientific revolution. In fact, Giordano Bruno is considered the father of some modern theories of cosmology, and he is widely considered a martyr of free thought.

Naples has always created brilliant minds prone to thought and research, mainly because the city, since its foundation, has been the meeting place of different peoples and cultures, a crossroad of ideas from all the corners of the world.

Giambattista Vico was one of these brilliant minds that changed the way of seeing and conceiving the world and its history.

The philosopher was born in 1668 in a humble house on San Biagio dei Librai street in Naples, and a skull fracture transformed him from a lively and unmanageable child to a closed and introverted person. As such, Giambattista Vico is considered one of the most melancholic personalities who developed a real interest in civil and canon law studies.

The idea of the existence of primitive humanity dominated by sense and imagination became the center of the philosopher’s thought and the main subject of some of his most important works, such as Diritto Universale and Scienza Nuova.

In literature, one of the most notorious names linked to Campania is Torquato Tasso, a poet born in Sorrento in 1544. Although Tasso left his native land when he was still very young, he remained tied to the territory for the rest of his life.

The greatest work of the author is Jerusalem Delivered, an epic poem inspired by a real occurrence, the First Crusade, that has Goffredo di Buglione, a hero who guides the crusaders in the fight against Muslims and to the capture of the Holy City, concluded with the liberation of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where, according to tradition, Christ was buried.

Publio Virgilio Marone, mostly known as Virgil, is another famous poet linked to the cultural heritage of Campania. Virgil was well-known for his artistic abilities and, in some way, the author was considered a protector of the city of Naples.

His greatest work is the Aeneid, an epic poem modeled after Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. The tomb of the poet, located in Naples, is proof of the profound bond between the genius of poetry and Campania’s territory.

The word “fairytale” designates a narrative of folk tradition based on events of fantastic characters, and the style is inevitably associated with the Brothers Grimm, with Charles Perrault, and with Hans Christian Andersen.

Nevertheless, the first to divulge the fairy tale as a popular expression was a Neapolitan, more precisely Giambattista Basile, a writer and passionate literate born in 1566.

Basile was the first to publish a collection of fairy tales for children named “Lo Cunto de li Cunti” which would translate from the local dialect to “The Tale of the Tales.”

As such, his tales actually represented a source of inspiration for the most famous writers reminded above, and we can say that the origins of many stories such as Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella are found in his writings.

Music in Campania

From folkloristic interpretation to classical music and renowned singers and composers, Campania boasts a rich musical background and a complex culture that shaped a unique musical style in the region.

Domenico Cimarosa was one of the most famous composers of the eighteenth century, and his music was appreciated by Napoleon Bonaparte and Stendhal, among many others. From an artistic point of view, the greatest rival of Cimarosa was Amadeus Mozart.

One of the greatest tenors of all times, Enrico Caruso, saw the light of day in the San Carlo district in Naples. Caruso manifested his singing skills since childhood through some parochial choir activity, and thanks to his distinctive voice he was soon recognized as one of the greatest tenors on a global scale.

Other important singers from Campania are Pino Daniele, Gigi D’Alessio, and Nino D’Angelo, to name just a few of the many musicians who shaped the musical heritage of the region.

Movies and Cinema in Campania

Movies and cinema are important elements in Campania’s cultural heritage. From actors to registers, the region boasts some of the greatest names of international cinema.

Among them, probably the most important worth mentioning is Antonio de Curtis known under the name of Totò. In Italy, Totò was nicknamed “the prince of laughter” and his performance is a perfect example of how an actor should be: sarcastic, smart, and capable of passing from graveness to wittiness in the blink of an eye.

Raffaele Viviani is another important name linked not only to Campania’s cinema but also to its theatre, poetry, and lyric works.

One of the most famous Neapolitan actors, who conquered the whole world with his flawless and comic interpretation, is Bud Spencer, an actor mostly known for his unforgettable movies featuring Terrence Hill as a partner.

Lastly, one of the most famous producers and registers of Campania is Paolo Sorrentino, who won the Oscar prize for his film “La Grande Bellezza.