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The Certosa of Padula

A workshop is currently running at the San Lorenzo monastery in Padula, south-east of Salerno. It is dedicated to the art of landscaping and gardening. The organizers picked a good place for the workshop. The monastery is on the edge of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano national park, one of the most bucolic settings in Italy, and the monastery grounds, themselves—as most such places—have a long history of cultivating nature as well as the spirit. In the case of San Lorenzo, that history has had its ups and downs. 

The monastery was founded in 1306 on an earlier site belonging to the Abbey of Montevergine. Technically, it is called in Italian the "Certosa" (not "Monastery") of Padula because it was built for the Certosines, a French monastic order, one favored by the French Angevin rulers of Naples. The order then took on the responsibility of reclaiming the area from swampy conditions into which it had degraded since the fall of the Roman Empire, 800 years earlier. Even today—just off the main north-south A3 autostrada— the area is in the middle of nowhere. Imagine 1300. The area, presumably, was of some strategic importance during the days of Magna Grecia since it is relatively near the ancient Greek port of Velia; then it was important to the subsequent rulers of Rome, who used the nearby Tamagro river for navigation. Thus, major land reclamation was undertaken by both the Certosine and Benedictine orders at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century. 

The complex has been relatively ignored in the recent history of southern Italy, all the more interesting since it was—and is—so vast. Throughout the centuries, well into the 1700s when the architects of the by-then Bourbon Kingdom of Naples added their ornamental touches, the certosa was modified and added to, all in the sense of keeping it a truly self-sufficient community, thriving on its own agriculture and crafts. 

When the French took over the Kingdom of Naples, the fate of the certosa was the same as that of all monasteries in Napoleonic Europe—it was closed. The order was dispossessed and the treasures within—not just gold and silver religious trinkets, but treasures of culture, the books in the library (the great monastic library, the single great preserver of learning in our Dark Ages) were scattered. Those items from the certosa—those that remain— currently reside in various institutions in the south of Italy, including the National Library of Naples. Though the property was restored to the order after the Congress of Vienna, it was described in 1845 as a place of "total abandon". The further suppression of monastic orders and expropriation of church property in the new united nation of Italy in 1866 ended the 500 year history of the Certosa of Padula as a working monastery. 

In 1882, many of these institutions, including Padula, were declared national monuments, which didn't really help; when someone needed the space, the certosa was used as a hospital, an orphanage, a warehouse, and a POW camp in World War I and concentration camp in WW II. In the 1982 the site was put under the auspices of the Superintendent of Culture of Salerno, at which point restoration was undertaken, a project that has largely been completed.


Archeological Museum of West Lucania

The premises of the certosa now house the Provincial Archeological Museum of West Lucania. The areas of Sala Consilina, Padula and essentially the whole valley of the Tanagro river have long been known to be a rich source of artifacts of the Italic people of ancient Lucania. A large pre-Hellenic necropolis containing about 2,500 tombs was discovered at Sala Consilina in 1872 during work on the National Calabrian roadway n. 19. The early excavations from the 1930s were done by the University of Salerno and many of those artifacts are on display in Salerno, Naples and abroad. The Museum of Provincial Archaeology of West Lucania in the Padula Certosa contains some of those artifacts but mainly focuses on work done since 1955 and which, indeed, is still going on. The core of the museum consists of artifacts from tombs and covers a time span of sixteen centuries, from the tenth century BC to the sixth century AD. From the museum's published literature:

The people buried at Sala Consilina were part of South Campania's native population. As often happens in similar cases, the ancient tomb objects give us the only opportunity to get information on the way these people lived...the Necropolis at Sala Consilina and no doubt the one at Padula were located along the internal trade route connecting Campania with southern Basilicata [Lucania] and Calabria. That is why there is such a link between the grave goods and the surrounding regions, so that the finds may also give us useful information about who travelled there or who controlled the trade routes. All those people had more or less an influence on the inhabitants of the Vallo di Diano, such as the Villanovan people at the beginning of the period of the necropolis or the Greeks towards the end of that period, who dominated culturally all the areas around their colony of Poseidonia/Paestum founded by the Sybarites in the 6th century BC.
The current exhibits will expand to cover findings from other important archaeological sites in the area, such as at Vallo, Atena Lucana, Buccino and Palinuro. It is worth noting that there are in the area other well-established, but smaller, museums that contain material about the people of ancient Lucania (see this item on Roccagloriosa).


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