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Southern Italy (Italian: ''Italia Meridionale'') or the ''Mezzogiorno'' (Midday) generally refers to the southern portion of the continental Italian peninsula and Sicily, historically forming the Kingdom of Two Sicilies plus the island of Sardinia. It encompasses the modern regions of Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Apulia and Molise, which lie in Italy's south, and Abruzzo which is located in central Italy and the islands of Sicily and finally Sardinia (that is recognised as part of ''Mezzogiorno'' for economic reasons, because it benefited of Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, but it also belongs geographically to Insular Italy. Sardinia is culturally and historically close to Central and Northern Italy, as it was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and related to the Maritime Republics of Genoa and Pisa). Some would also include the most southern and eastern parts of Lazio (Sora, Cassino, Gaeta, Cittaducale, and Amatrice districts), which historically were part of the southern kingdom.
Southern Italy boasts a unique, diverse and multicultural culture. It has many tourist attractions, such as Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Palace of Caserta, the Amalfi Coast and many more sites. Pompeii is one of the world's most visited tourist attractions, and southern Italy is well known for its beautiful beaches and coastlines, rich art, culture, cuisine, literature and history, its numerous archaeological sites (many of which are protected by UNESCO) and its folkloric traditions. The history of Southern Italy boasts a numerous amount of great kings, queens, princes, popes, writers, poets, philosophers, knights, artists, architects, craftsmen, musicians, scholars, scientists, politicians, farmers and leaders.
The term Mezzogiorno first came into use in the 18th century and is an Italian rendition of ''meridies'' (Latin for 'south', because of the sun's position at midday in the northern hemisphere). "Mezzogiorno" was popularised by Giuseppe Garibaldi and the term came into vogue after Italy's unification. It was sometimes associated with notions of poverty, illiteracy, and crime: stereotypes of the South that often persist to this day. The Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (ISTAT) uses the term Southern Italy but excludes Sicily, which it groups with Sardinia as Insular Italy; this is the same grouping used for European parliament elections.
Southern Italy forms the lower "boot" of the Italian peninsula, containing the ankle (Abruzzo and Molise and southern Lazio), the toe (Calabria), and the heel (Apulia) along with the major islands (Sicily and Sardinia). Separating the "heel" and the "boot" is the Gulf of Taranto, named after the city of Taranto, which sits at the angle between the heel and the boot itself. It is an arm of the Ionian Sea. The rest of the southern third of the Italian peninsula is studded with smaller gulfs and inlets.
On the eastern coast is the Adriatic Sea, leading into the rest of the Mediterranean through the Strait of Otranto (named after the largest city on the tip of the heel). On the Adriatic, south of the "spur" of the boot, the peninsula of Monte Gargano; On Tirrenian sea, the Gulf of Salerno, the Gulf of Naples, the Gulf of Policastro and the Gulf of Gaeta are each named after a large coastal city. Along the northern coast of the Salernitan gulf, on the south of the Sorrentine peninsula, runs the famous Amalfi Coast. Off the tip of the peninsula is the world-famous island of Capri.
The climate is Mediterranean (Köppen climate classification Csa), except at the highest elevations (Dsa, Dsb) and the semi-arid eastern stretches in Apulia, along the Ionian Sea in Calabria, and the southern stretches of Sicily (BSw). The largest city of Southern Italy is Naples, a title it has historically maintained for centuries. Bari, Taranto, Reggio Calabria, Foggia and Salerno are the next largest cities in the area. Palermo would be the second largest city if one includes Sicily as part of southern Italy. The region is geologically active, and on November 23, 1980 there was a massive earthquake that killed 300 people and left 3,000 others homeless.
Ever since the Greeks colonised Magna Graecia in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, the south of Italy has, in many respects, followed a distinct history from the north. After Pyrrhus of Epirus failed in his attempt to stop the spread of Roman hegemony in 282 BC, the south fell under Roman domination and remained in such a position well into the barbarian invasions (the Gladiator War is a notable suspension of imperial control). It was held by the Byzantine Empire after the fall of Rome in the West and even the Lombards failed to consolidate it, though the centre of the south was theirs from Zotto's conquest in the final quarter of the 6th century. Amalfi, an independent republic from the 7th century until 1075, and to a lesser extent Gaeta, Molfetta, and Trani, rivalled other Italian maritime republics in their domestic prosperity and maritime importance.
Following the Gothic War (535–554), and until the arrival of the Normans, much of southern Italy's destiny was linked to the fortunes of the Eastern Empire, even though Byzantine domination was challenged in the ninth century by the Lombards, who annexed the area of Cosenza to the Duchy of Benevento. Consequently, the Lombard South and the Byzantine areas became influenced by Eastern monasticism. Consequently, much of southern Italy experienced a slow process of orientalisation in religious life (rites, cults and liturgy), which accompanied a spread of Eastern churches and monasteries that preserved and transmitted the Greek and Hellenistic tradition (the Cattolica monastery in Stilo is the most representative of these Byzantine monuments).
From then to the Norman conquest of the 11th century, the south of the peninsula was constantly plunged into wars between Greece, Lombardy, and the Caliphate. The Norman conquest of southern Italy completely subjugated the Lombard principalities, and overwhelmed the Byzantines from all but Naples, which ultimately gave in to Roger II in 1127. He raised the south to kingdom status in 1130, calling it the Kingdom of Sicily. The Normans retained harmonious control of their territory, and ran the kingdom of Sicily efficiently.
The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II was characterised by its multi-ethnic nature and religious tolerance. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Longobards and "native" Sicilians lived in harmony.
However, it lasted only 64 years before the Holy Roman Emperors long-held designs on the region came to fruition. The Hohenstaufen rule ended in defeat, but the conquering French of Charles of Anjou were themselves forcibly pushed out in the event immortalized as the Sicilian Vespers. Hereafter, until the union in Spain, the kingdom was split between the principalities of Naples on the mainland and of Sicily over the island. The Aragonese rule left its impression on Italy and the Renaissance through such figures as Alfonso the Magnanimous. With the unification of the crowns of Castile and Aragon in the late 15th century, southern Italy and Sicily ceased to have a local monarch and were ruled by viceroys appointed by the Spanish crown.
The region remained a part of Spain until the War of the Spanish Succession, when Duke Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia took Sicily. It was soon exchanged with Austria for Sardinia. It became an independent kingdom for Charles of Bourbon and experienced a period of enlightenment with a local, flourishing royal court. In 1798 the French revolutionaries captured southern Italy and created the short-lived Parthenopaean Republic. Eventually, France created the Kingdom of Naples for the benefit of Napoleon's marshal Joachim Murat. An object of irredentism and the ''Risorgimento'', the land was conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Redshirts in 1861 and, with the north, formed the modern state of Italy.
Garibaldi’s Redshirts were supported by nearly all southern Italians, who wanted the ideals of Unification to improve their still feudal regions. However, to those supporting the Bourbons the "northern regime" of Victor Emanuel II was "a hostile invasion which looted the treasury of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, devastated the heavily protected local industries, and reduced Naples from the fourth largest city in Europe and the capital of a kingdom to a provincial town".
[[http://www.crvp.org/book/Series04/IV-2/chapter_iii.htm Southern Italy at the Millennium: The Outlook for Southern Italy in the Year 2000, by Clark N. Ellis]]
The transition to a united Kingdom of Italy was not smooth for the South. The Southern economy was much more agrarian and feudal than the industrial northern economy (with few notable exceptions: Salerno, "the Manchester of the two Sicilies", could count in 1877 something like 10,000 textile workers, more than twice the textile labour of widely-known productive centers like Turin). Poverty and organized crime, though were persistent problems in Southern Italy as well. Because of this, the South experienced great economic difficulties resulting in massive emigration leading to a worldwide Southern Italian diaspora. Many natives also relocated to the industrial cities in northern Italy, such as Genoa, Milan and Turin. A relative process of industrialisation has developed in some areas of the "Mezzogiorno" after World War II.
In the 1946 referendum after the war, the region voted to keep the monarchy, with its greatest support coming in Campania. Politically, it is often at odds with Northern Italy, which won the referendum to establish a republic. Today, the South remains less economically developed than the north and central regions, which enjoyed an "economic miracle" in the 1950s and 1960s and became highly industrialised. Some Southern Italian secession movements have developed, but have gained little, if any, significant influence.
The regions of Southern Italy were exposed to some different historical influences than the rest of the peninsula, starting most notably with Greek colonisation. Greek influence in the South was dominant until Latinization was completed by the time of the Roman Principate. Greek influences returned by the late Roman Empire, especially following the reconquests of Justinian and the Byzantine Empire.
Sicily, a distinctive culture throughout the Middle Ages, was captured by Muslims (as well as parts of Sardinia and certain mainland regions) and turned into an Emirate for a period, and via Sicily elements of progressive Islamic culture, architecture and science were introduced to Italy and Europe. The rest of the mainland was subject to a struggle of power among the Byzantines, Lombards, and Franks. In addition, the Venetians established outposts as trade with Byzantium and the Near East increased.
Until the Norman conquests of the 11th and 12th centuries much of the South followed Eastern rite (Greek) Christianity. The Normans who settled in Sicily and Southern Italy in the Middle Ages significantly impacted the architecture, religion and high culture of the region. Later, Southern Italy was subjected to rule by the new European nation states, first Aragon, then Spain and Austria. The Spanish had a major impact on the culture of the South, having ruled it for over three centuries.
Jewish communities lived in Sicily and Southern Italy for other 15 centuries but in 1492 the king Ferdinand II of Aragon proclaimed the Edict of expulsion. At their height, Jewish Sicilians probably constituted around one tenth of the island's population. After the Edict they partially converted to Christianity and some moved to Greece and other places in Southern Italy, Rome and Europe. In recent years, Southern Italy has experienced a revival of its traditions and music, such as Neapolitan song and the Tarantella.