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Campania – Culture

Campania - Culture


Historically and geographically, Campania is a region with a double identity. On one hand, there are the mountains in the provinces of Avellino and Benevento, which fall into the geographical area of the Southern Apennines and present physical, demographic, 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, we find Naples, the capital of the region. One of the most important cities in Italy and in Europe, Naples has been a main point of transition between Southern Italy and the rest of the world.

Although the route of communication between the various regions has 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 may not fully understand. Still, 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 region of Italy is particularly appreciated as an emblem of the art of carefree living.

Campania’s Art and Architecture

From an archaeological standpoint, Campania is one of the richest Italian regions that documents the various phases of the development of local civilizations, from prehistory to the colonization of the Etruscans, Greeks, 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 AD. Among them, we can mention Herculaneum and Pompeii, two settlements that offer 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 reveals some important examples of Greek paintings from the 5th century BC. Many architectural remains from the golden era are present in Naples, Nola, and Stabia as well as Baia, a 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, where a complex that features four small basilicas from the Paleo Christian Era can be found. The mosaics in the Cathedral of Naples and those from the vault of the Chapel of Santa Matrona located in 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 7th and 11th 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 8th 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 basilicas, including San Giovanni in Corte located in Naples as well as San Salvatore Maggiore a Corte and San Michele a Corte, both located in Capua.

Between the Norman invasion and the reign of Frederick II, Campania met a period of rich artistic blossoming. In architecture, the use of plans 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 Formis, reconstructed by Desiderio in 1073, 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 13th century, under the influences of Arab-Norman architecture of Sicilian origins, architectural details in Campania 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 the 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 Byzantine art, and this unique blend is mostly visible in the mosaic decorations, marble tombstones, and intricately decorated floors. Despite these influences, local architecture did maintain 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 12th century, with 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 Italian and French Gothic influences, while artistic activity became more and more concentrated in Naples.

Starting with the 14th century, Campania became an artistic province where French masters imported the Gothic style of 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 14th 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 during the 15th 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 is striking 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 from the second half of the 15th century is the Church of Sant’Anna dei Lombardi in Monteoliveto.

The Neapolitan paintings of the 15th 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, the Church of Girolamini, Palazzo degli Studi, and 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 a Chiaia.

In the same period, Francesco Solimena marked the passage to the Rococo, or Late Baroque. Meanwhile in painting, after a weak start, the models of Caravaggio laid the premises for 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 Florentine mannerism, the eclecticism of Cosimo Fanzago was established in Campania.

The sculpture evolved and developed to a unique form of art in the 18th century, with one of the most famous complexes of sculptural decorations being the Chapel of San Severo. Among the many sculptures made by local artists, the one that stands out is the sculpture of the Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino, a remarkable life-like masterpiece.

Under the reign of Charles III of Bourbon, Naples regained its position as 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 is remarkable due to its unique architectural style and richly decorated interiors, while the Royal Park of Caserta is a true oasis of peace that includes Italian and English gardens, famous worldwide for their complexity and beauty as well as their fountains.

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

The last 20 years of the 18th 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, all in Naples.

The Neoclassical style transformed into eclectic architecture, mainly thanks to Enrico Alvino who proposed a specific style be dedicated to 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 underwent a true environmental remediation with a mass demolition of entire areas and the construction of new, quaint districts characterized by large squares and connected by a more agile network of roads.

In painting, the beginning of the 19th century saw 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 Hildebrand introduced a wave of novelty and modernity in Neapolitan art.

The architecture at the beginning of the 20th century is characterized by Liberty buildings, such as Galleria Umberto I. 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. While observing the skies, the scientist identified 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 the study and development of mathematical analysis in Italy during the 20th century. Immediately after his graduation, he became an assistant of Mathematical Analysis and was soon regarded as a genius of the discipline. His contribution to the field of mathematical analysis influenced mathematical thinking not only in Italy, but on a global scale.

In medicine, one of the most important scientists in Campania is Domenico Cotugno, whose work greatly influenced 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. During his time in Naples, Cotugno served as a professor of surgery in one of the city's historic hospital complexes and was even appointed as the royal physician to the King of Naples. His research led to breakthroughs in the theories of resonance and hearing and Cotugno also discovered cerebrospinal fluid.

Philosophy and Literature In Campania

Beyond science, philosophy and literature are other important cultural elements of Campania. In philosophy, one of the most significant names linked to the region is Giordano Bruno, who is considered to be among 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 to be 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 crossroads of ideas from all the corners of the world.

Giambattista Vico was one of these brilliant minds that influenced perspectives on philosophy and history. The philosopher was born in 1668 in a humble house on San Biagio dei Librai street in Naples. In his youth, a skull fracture transformed him from a lively and unmanageable child to a reserved 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 well-known 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 Gerusalemme Liberata (The Liberation of Jerusalem), an epic poem inspired by the First Crusade, that follows Goffredo di Buglione, a hero who guides the crusaders in the fight against Muslims to capture the Holy City. This concludes with the liberation of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where, according to tradition, Christ was buried.

Publio Virgilio Marone, commonly 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. Though he was born in northern Italy, Virgil studied and lived in Naples for several years and his tomb is located in Naples.

Another key figure worth mentioning is heavily tied to "fairytales", a word that designates a narrative of folk tradition based on events of fantastic characters. Today, the style is inevitably associated with the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and 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  (The Tale of Tales), which was written in the Neapolitan dialect, preserving oral tradition. As such, his fables actually represented a source of inspiration for the most famous writers mentioned above, and we can say that the origins of many stories such as Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella are found in Basile's writings.

Many Neapolitan writers have contributed to Italy's literary tradition in the modern era. Of these, the foremost is Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, a best-selling investigative look at the Camorra, the criminal organization that originated in Campania. The book was adapted into a film directed by Matteo Garrone as well as a television series.

Finally, one cannot discuss modern Neapolitan literature without mentioning Elena Ferrante. Working under a pen name, Ferrante's true identity is unknown, however her works, particularly the Neapolitan Novels provide a rich portrayal of life in Naples from the eyes of a native. Despite the writer's chosen anonymity, Ferrante's works are internationally acclaimed and she is often cited as one of Italy's most influential modern writers.

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.

First and foremost is Campania's traditional music, particularly the tammurriata tradition, which is a series of folk dances accompanied by drums and local instruments including types of flutes and mouth harps. Part of the tarantella tradition that originated in Apulia, the tammuriata is present throughout Campania and different styles can be identified in specific areas.

Domenico Cimarosa, an avid composer of the Neapolitan school, was one of the most famous composers of the 18th 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.

The 19th century saw the beginning of the canzone classica napoletana (classic Neapolitan song), which refers to traditional songs written in Neapolitan. These songs have contributed greatly to Campania's popular music and many have reached international fame including "O sole mio", "Torna a Sorrento", and "Funiculì, Funiculà".

One of the greatest tenors of all time, Enrico Caruso, was born and raised in Naples' San Carlo neighborhood. Caruso manifested his singing skills since childhood through parochial choir activity, and thanks to his distinctive voice he was soon recognized as one of the greatest tenors on a global scale.

One singer songwriter that found success both with with canzone napoletana and contemporary music of the 20th century was Renato Carosone. Perhaps best known outside of Italy for "Tu vuò fà l'americano", which has been covered and sampled by many international artists since its 1956 release, Carosone is one of very few Italian musicians to sell hit records in the United States without translating them to English.

Other modern singers of note from Campania include Pino Daniele, Edoardo Bennato, Nino D'Angelo, and Gigi D’Alessio, to name just a few of the many musicians who shaped the musical heritage of the region.

Theater in Campania

The Campania region is notable for its longstanding theatrical tradition, which dates back to the period of the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans. In fact, the Roman amphitheater in Capua is likely the first of its kind built by the Romans, serving as a model for the Colosseum.

In the 16th century, one of the earliest forms of professional theater, known as Commedia dell'arte developed in Italy with strong ties to Naples. Specifically, one of the iconic characters of the Commedia dell'arte is Pulcinella, who is associated with the city of Naples. The Commedia dell'arte performances featured a recurring set of masked characters that would act out sketches or scenarios. Representing particular social archetypes, the characters would act in an exaggerated manner for comedic effect. Commedia dell'arte spread throughout Europe and remained popular until the end of the 18th century. Many key elements and characters of this theatrical style have influenced modern theater as well as other media.

Naples is also home to the Teatro San Carlo, which is considered to be the oldest active opera house in the world, dating back to 1737.

Finally, several key figures of 20th century Italian theater were originally from Campania, including Eduardo Scarpetta, Raffaele Viviani, and Eduardo De Filippo (the latter two contributed to cinema as well with Raffaele Viviani screenwriting several films and Eduardo De Filippo acting in and directing many films from the 1930s through the 1960s).

Cinema in Campania

Movies and cinema are important elements in Campania’s cultural heritage. From actors to directors, 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 performances are perfect examples of how an actor should be: sarcastic, smart, and capable of passing from graveness to wittiness in the blink of an eye. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Totò starred in nearly 100 films, many of which remain popular and continue to be aired on TV in Italy.

Also worth mentioning is legendary Italian actress Sophia Loren, who grew up in Pozzuoli, and whose lengthy career has made her an icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, resulting in a number of prestigious awards including an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement.

One of the most famous Neapolitan actors, who conquered the world with his flawless and comic interpretation, is Bud Spencer, an actor mostly known for his unforgettable Spaghetti Western movies featuring long-time film partner Terrence Hill.

Massimo Troisi, an actor, screenwriter, and director born in a town near Naples, rose to international fame after starring in the 1994 film Il Postino (The Postman).

Lastly, two Neapolitans have directed films that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film: Gabriele Salvatores, whose film Mediterraneo (Mediterranean) won the award in 1991, and Paolo Sorrentino, who directed La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), which won in 2014.