Having explored the Campania region in Italy, I was struck by its perfect blend of ancient history and contemporary allure, all under the radiant Italian sun.
In this article, I’ll dive into:
- Where is the Campania Region of Italy.
- The regions’s diverse landscape.
- The historical depths of Naples and the architectural wonders.
- Campania’s cuisine and food that originates from there.
- The wine tradition of the region.
- An introduction to Campania’s festive culture.
In a hurry? Maybe this will help:
- Campania’s geography is as diverse as its history, with everything from bustling cities like Naples to the tranquil and stunning Amalfi Coast.
- The region is steeped in history, home to some of the world’s best-preserved ancient ruins, including Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
- A culinary heartland of Italy, Campania is the birthplace of authentic Neapolitan pizza and has a rich tradition of pasta-making that is integral to its culture.
- Festivals in Campania are vibrant affairs that celebrate local wines, saint days, and even the protective powers of patron saints against natural disasters.
Where is the Campania Region of Italy?
Located in Italy’s southwest, Campania borders the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Italian Peninsula’s western side. Naples, a dynamic city, marks the heart of the region and its influence extends across diverse terrains, from the seafront to the harsh mountainous areas.
The iconic Mount Vesuvius, a rare active European volcano, dominates the landscape.
The region also claims the scenic Amalfi Coast, where towns teeter over the sea on steep cliffs, and the ancient, preserved cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Offshore, the island of Capri offers a slice of paradise with its upscale amenities. Campania’s southernmost point reaches down to the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, celebrated for its untouched natural beauty and historical significance.
Campania’s Contrasting Landscapes
Campania uniquely encapsulates Italy’s extremes. Vesuvius looms over Naples, a city teeming with life and packed closely together. Yet, on the volcano’s other side, you’ll find serene plains where water buffaloes graze undisturbed.
Ancient historical sites, exceptionally preserved, are a short distance from the hum of factories fueling the nation.
There’s a sharp divide in how people live here. Simple, traditional homes fill Naples, while not far away, the wealthy indulge in Amalfi’s luxurious coastal villas.
Naples – The Soul of Southern Italy
Nestled between the towering Mount Vesuvius and the Mediterranean, Naples thrives as a bustling Italian port with a deep history.
Originally an Etruscan hub, it later became a cornerstone of the Greek empire. Over the centuries, influential powers from across Europe left their stamp on the city: Germans establishing universities, the French erecting Gothic structures, and Spaniards fostering a golden age of commerce and thought.
Naples captures the essence of the South with its warmth, vigor, and a touch of unruliness. It’s a place deeply rooted in traditions, especially the art of good eating. Neapolitans are known for their playful challenge to convention, famously illustrated when they responded to seat belt laws with graphic t-shirts rather than compliance.
From the refined Vomero hilltop offering vistas of the Gulf of Naples to the vibrant Quartieri Spagnoli, the city’s districts unveil its diversity. Along the shoreline, historic landmarks stand proud — the imposing castle, the stately former royal palace, and the grand Piazza del Plebiscito, gracefully edged by a neoclassical colonnade.
The Amalfi Coast’s Allure
Departing from Vesuvius’ populated base, the route begins its ascent, hugging the cliffs of the coastline. The lack of road signs speaks to the singularity of the road – the only path that threads through this rugged terrain.
Further into Campania’s untamed parts, Amalfi reveals itself as a polished jewel. More reserved than its urban counterpart, Naples, it is adorned with tiered dwellings, lush vineyards, and the shimmering sea at its doorstep. For ages, it has reigned as a distinguished maritime force.
Amalfi’s noble rank is traced to its epoch as a naval powerhouse alongside Pisa, Genoa, and Venice in the 10th century. The main cathedral is a tangible narrative of the region’s layered history, with its Arab-influenced arches and Norman structural heft, reflecting a past where cultures converged.
To fully embrace the Amalfi coast’s splendor, one must take to the waters. Setting sail from Salerno, the trip glides past the elevated Ravello and along the coastline to Positano, each locale a display of natural artistry and panoramic grandeur.
Sorrento’s Citrus and Crafts
Sorrento perches at the tip of the peninsula, embraced by slopes dotted with orange and lemon orchards. These citrus groves birth the lemons used to create limoncello, the refreshingly sweet liqueur enjoyed chilled throughout the south of Italy.
The area is also known for crafting liqueurs from other local produce like nuts (walnuts), bay leaves, and mandarin oranges.
Continuing a longstanding tradition, the Amalfi Coast’s economy thrives on artisanal workshops that produce vividly colored ceramics, detailed wooden inlays, and meticulously crafted lace, all steeped in generations of history.
Capri – An Island Retreat
A stone’s throw to the west from the Amalfi Coast lies Capri, an island paradise dotted with some of Campania’s finest hotels and dining establishments. It became a storied retreat in ancient times when Roman emperors chose this idyllic spot for their summer escapes, erecting luxurious villas atop its volcanic landscape.
The island is also renowned for its dramatic natural features, including the majestic faraglioni — towering rock stacks that rise from the sea, guiding mariners like age-old sentinels.
Where the rugged cliffs of Capri kiss the sea, the famed Blue Grotto, la grotta azzurra, invites the adventurous to traverse its darkened waters, revealing a sunlit azure sanctuary within.
Campania’s Archeological Wonders
Campania’s landscape is etched with the tragic history of Mount Vesuvius’s catastrophic eruption in 79 AD, which entombed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a shroud of volcanic ash.
This disaster claimed many lives, yet paradoxically preserved a treasure trove of antiquity—frescoes, grand edifices, and sculptures were encapsulated in near-perfect condition.
Today, Pompeii sprawls as a ghostly relic, its stone-paved streets and robust structures frozen in time. You can wander through an ancient world of temples, baths, and an amphitheater, all remarkably intact, with some homes still housing their original décor.
Nearby, Herculaneum offers a quieter glimpse into the past, boasting exquisite wall paintings and well-preserved buildings, standing as a testament to the area’s opulent history.
Campania Cuisine & Food
Campania’s dishes reflect the rich history of the Kingdom of Naples, preserving a culinary heritage that stretches back across the ages.
The flavors of Neapolitan food are a tapestry woven from the various cultures that have passed through, from the Greeks and Romans to the French and Spanish, and even a touch from the Austrians.
While some of the fancier recipes from the French-influenced monzú chefs of the 17th and 18th centuries are reserved for special occasions, the core of Neapolitan cooking remains vibrant in everyday life.
Neapolitan Pizza, Mozzarella di Bufala and more
Pizza, Naples’ claim to culinary fame, took shape in the 18th and 19th centuries and has become the dish we know and love today, with a myriad of topping choices that are now famous worldwide.
Campania is also home to some of Italy’s most celebrated ingredients. The region boasts the renowned San Marzano tomatoes and the exquisite mozzarella di bufala. Not to be outdone are the sumptuous burrata and burrini cheeses.
A local favorite, mozzarella in carrozza, which translates to “mozzarella in a carriage,” is a deep-fried cheese delight commonly found in eateries throughout the region.
The local menu also features:
- a festive ragù,
- a variety of eggplant creations
- stuffed ziti pasta
- seafood delights like polpi affogati — tender stewed octopus.
Sweets and pastries are tied to holidays and celebrations, with pastiera napoletana earmarked for Easter, struffoli lighting up Christmas tables, and zeppole adorning St. Joseph’s Day.
Pasta Dining in Campania
In Campania, pasta isn’t just food; it’s a way of life. Locals typically eat it twice a day, and it’s been the heart of their meals for centuries.
Fun fact: Before Italy became one nation in 1870, the people of the South were even nicknamed “pasta eaters,” setting them apart from the “rice eaters” up North.
Dating back to the 16th century, spaghetti has held a special place in the hearts of Neapolitans. Back then, it was a hands-on affair, even with the sauciest of noodles. It’s said that King Ferdinand II loved his spaghetti but had to enjoy it away from prying eyes to avoid a mess. That’s because forks at the time weren’t much help—they had three wide prongs and were seen more as a display piece than a practical tool.
Enter Gennaro Spadaccini, a clever member of the king’s court, who came up with a solution. He designed a fork with four short tines, perfect for twirling spaghetti gracefully. With this new utensil, the king could indulge in his favored dish at even the most stately dinners. Thanks to this innovation, we all can enjoy our pasta today without making a mess.
Campania’s fertile volcanic soil and temperate climate not only nurture a wealth of produce but also give life to some of Italy’s most distinctive wines. The region’s winemaking history is ancient, with roots reaching back to the Greeks and Romans, who recognized the area’s potential for cultivating vines.
From the full-bodied Taurasi, known as the “Barolo of the South,” to the delicate notes of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, Campania’s wines are as varied as its landscapes. Lacrima Cristi, which translates to “Tears of Christ,” is another local specialty, grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and steeped in myth and legend.
Check out our dedicated guide to the wines of Campania region.
Festivals in Campania
Campania comes alive with vibrant festivals that reflect its rich tapestry of culture and history. These events are not only a showcase of the region’s traditions but also a celebration of its community spirit and local pride.
This is a wine aficionado’s dream, typically held within the first ten days of August in Guardia Sanframondi, Benevento. Here, you can savor wines from over 30 different producers and partake in wine conferences, exhibitions, and a variety of shows and concerts.
It’s a modern homage to the ancient Roman festival, offering a perfect blend of history and contemporary enjoyment.
- Date: Within the first 10 days of August
- Town: Guardia Sanframondi
- Province: Benevento
- Region: Campania
- For more info: Check out www.vinalia.it
La festa di San Gennaro
It takes place mid-September in the Piazza San Gennaro in Trecase, near Naples. It commemorates the saint’s protection over the village during the 1906 eruption of Vesuvius.
During the festival, the streets burst into life with stalls displaying local crafts and foods, with the air filled with traditional music.
- Date: Mid-September
- Location: Piazza San Gennaro
- Town: Trecase
- Province: Napoli
- Region: Campania
- For more info: check out this page (in Italian)
In addition to these two, Campania hosts a calendar full of events celebrating everything from its world-famous cuisine to its historical landmarks.
Whether it’s the sweet scent of lemons during a citrus festival in Sorrento or the sacred processions of Holy Week, Campania’s festivals are a doorway to understanding the heart and soul of this Italian jewel.