Southern Italy (Il Mezzogiorno)


Southern Italy (Il Mezzogiorno)
   The Mezzogiorno comprises the regions of Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Latium (south of Rome), and Molise. Campania is Italy’s second-largest region by population, with nearly 6,000,000 inhabitants; Molise is the secondsmallest, with just 320,000 citizens. The largest city in southern Italy is Naples, which has a population of 1.5 million people as well as a huge metropolitan area, but Bari (330,000 inhabitants, plus over 1,000,000 in the metropolitan area), Salerno (146,000), Reggio Calabria (200,000), Taranto (200,000), and Brindisi (90,000) are all important cities. All these cities are ports. Southern Italy is largely mountainous in terrain, with many peaks reaching over 2,000 meters (6,600 feet), and there are very few centers of any size, except Matera and Potenza in Basilicata, away from the coast. The region is very arid and suffers from acute shortages of water in the summer. The coast of the Mezzogiorno is famous for its natural beauty. The Gargano peninsula in Apulia, Tropea in Calabria, the Amalfi coast in Campania, and the islands of the Bay of Naples (Capri, Ischia, Procida) are renowned throughout the world, as is Vesuvius, the active volcano overlooking Naples. In ancient times the Mezzogiorno was colonized by the Greeks, and there are still important remains of Greek culture and civilization to be found. The temples of Paestum (near Salerno) are some of the best-preserved remnants of ancient Greek architecture still standing, while the Bronzi di Riace, astonishingly lifelike bronze statues of Greek warriors, are to be found in Reggio Calabria. Of most historical interest are the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by Vesuvius in AD 79 and rediscovered in the 1730s and 1740s. Southern Italy has suffered a troubled history within the Italian state. With unification in 1861, two economies, one that was already industrializing and the other preindustrial, were hammered together, with the Mezzogiorno being treated almost as a colony of the more developed north. During the 1860s and again in the 1890s, the Italian army was utilized to put down peasant revolts in the Mezzogiorno. Rural poverty in southern Italy caused an exodus in the 1890s and early 20th century. Millions of southern Italians migrated to the United States, South America, and northern Europe. The latifondi system of land tenure gave rise to a more acutely hierarchical society than in northern Italy. Public education was also much slower to be developed than in the North. The North–South gap was neglected by the state until after World War II and still has not been fully eradicated: In 1980, Calabria had the same rate of illiteracy as Piedmont in 1880. The Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Southern Development Fund) was created in 1950 to overcome these disparities. Yet in the first decade of its program, three million southerners left for either northern Italy or northern Europe in search of work. Like Sicily, southern Italy is plagued with criminality. In Calabria, the local mafia equivalent is called the ’ndrangheta; in Naples and Campania, it is called the Camorra. In Apulia, organized crime exists but on a lesser scale, although Bari has a major problem with drugs and microcriminality. Reggio Calabria and Naples, despite the efforts of local prosecutors and judges to eradicate crime, are two of the most violence-ravaged cities in Europe and, again as in Sicily, there is considerable evidence of political complicity with the gang bosses. The root cause of criminality in southern Italy is the region’s relative (and absolute) poverty. Notwithstanding the Italian state’s efforts to bridge the gap between north and south, the difference in wealth between northern and southern Italy persists. Per capita income in Calabria is under C–– 15,000; in Campania and Apulia, it is little more than this sum. This is C––10,000 per year less than in Central Italyand about half of some of the wealthier provinces of the North (Bolzano, Milan, Bologna, Varese). Unemployment rates touch 30 percent in some cities of the South, and black market labor is a huge problem. Hundreds of thousands of people are exploited in the informal economy. Politically the Mezzogiorno tends to the right. The Alleanza Nazionale/National Alliance (AN) has its stronghold in southern Latium and Apulia and regularly gets over 20 percent of the vote in these areas. However, Campania has repeatedly voted for the centerleft in recent years; in 2005, Apulia surprised the nation by electing an openly gay communist, Niki Vendola, as its regional president.
   See also Immigration.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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