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©   Jeff Matthews   entry June 2015

Historical Geographical Names in Campania

I don't mean the official political-administrative (PA) divisions such as the province names shown in this map of the Campania region image on the right. I mean something quite different, but... way of introduction, the official PA hierarchy in Italy runs, top down, from NATION to REGION to PROVINCE to COMUNE. Thus, the largest unit, NATION, is ITALY. Below that, there are 20 first-level PA units called REGIONS. One of these is Campania. Others are Lazio, Lombardy, Umbria, Tuscany, Sicily, etc. At the next level down we have the PROVINCE. The number of provinces within many regions has changed frequently in recent Italian history. Currently, there are 110 provinces in all of the 20 regions in Italy. In Campania, the are 5 provinces, as shown: Naples, Salerno, Benevento, Caserta, and Avellino. At the next and last level down, we have the COMUNE (usually called a 'municipality' in English, they are small cities or towns). Below that, smaller towns and villages, not independent administrativey, "belong to" a nearby comune higher up the chain and are termed frazioni. The number of municipalities (comuni, plural) in a province varies greatly. The province of Naples, for example, has 92 municipalities, not as many as the province of Salerno, simply because Salerno is larger geographically; it has 158 municipalities). The size of a city is important; the largest city in an area is always a capital; that is, Naples is the largest municipality in the Campania region; thus, it is the capital of that region but also the capital of its own province of Naples. Hierarchically, thus, it goes ITALY - CAMPANIA - NAPLES - NAPLES because Naples is both the name of the province and the name of the largest comune. Another comune in the same province, such as Pozzuoli would run ITALY - CAMPANIA - NAPLES - POZZUOLI. I mention but admit I don't understand the recent (2014) decision to insert another level into the hierarchy by converting the 10 largest cities in Italy (Naples is one of them) into something called a METROPOLITAN AREA, apparently between PROVINCE AND COMUNE. Can Naples be both the capital of a province and a separate Metropolitan Area? Isn't that double jeopardy? Rest assured that at least the mayor will get twice as much money. Confused?

Fortunately, we don't have to worry about any of that because this entry is really about historical geographical names, something much simpler. Italians still make extensive use of place names that are not part of the modern PA hierarchy. That is, if you say that you are "going to Cilento," you are referring to an historically recognized area in the southern part of the province of Salerno in the region of Campania. There is no town of Cilento, no official lines drawn anywhere, but everyone calls it "Cilento" and always has and always will. There are dozens of these commonly used names throughout Italy: Barbagia is in Sardina, Beianza in Lombardy, Casentino in Tuscany, and so on throughout the nation. The areas often cross modern provincial and regional boundaries (that is, a particular historical area is not necessarily all contained within a single modern province or region). The common historical names in Campania are Cilento, Sannio, Irpinia, and Matese:

Cilento is entirely within (and takes up about one-third of) the province of Salerno in Campania. It is the mountainous spur of the Apennines that bulges out into the Tyrrhenian Sea to form the southern end of the Gulf of Salerno, separating it from the Gulf of Policastro to the south.

Sannio (Samnium) is a very large historical mountainous area roughly centered on the city of Benevento

Irpinia, historically a smaller part of Samnium, today corresponds roughly to the mountainous area of the province of Avellino, east of Naples.
Matese is a mountainous region northeast of Naples on the way to the Adriatic. The Matese massif is in two Campanian provinces (Benevento and Caserta) but part of it sticks over into provinces of the Molise region, north of Campania.
See also Historical geographical names of Sardinia

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