Southern Italy or ‘Mezzogiorno‘ (literally meaning ‘midday’), is the traditional term for the southern regions of Italy, encompassing the southern section of the continental Italian Peninsula and the island of Sicily. It generally coincides with the administrative regions of Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Sicily, and Sardinia. Some also include the most southern and eastern parts of Lazio (Sora, Cassino, Gaeta, Cittaducale and Amatrice districts) within the Mezzogiorno, because these territories were also part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the dividing line of which is still present today in our own home town of Vallecorsa – the valley of olive oil. The island of Sardinia, although for cultural and historical reasons having less in common with the aforementioned regions, is frequently included as Southern Italy often for statistical and economical purposes.
Southern Italy carries a unique legacy of culture. It features many major tourist attractions, such as the Palace of Caserta, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and other archaeological sites, many of which are protected by UNESCO. There are also many ancient Greek cities in Southern Italy, such as Sybaris, which were founded several centuries before the start of the Roman Republic. Some of its beaches, woodlands and mountains are preserved in several National Parks; a major example is La Sila, a mountainous plateau occupying the provinces of Cosenza and Catanzaro in the region of Calabria.
Italy’s southern regions have so much to offer. For example, whether you like your beaches high and rocky or low and sandy, you’re never too far from a great beach in southern Italy, which boasts 2849 km of largely unspoiled coastline. Rabbit Beach ofLampedusa, Sicily, is ranked Italy’s best. On top of that, you have the coastline that stretches from Campania to Calabria, not forgetting the crystal-clear waters of Puglia.
In addition to its great beaches, southern Italy protects over 25% of all the country’s UNESCO heritage sites, boasting a wealth of natural, volcanic wonders as well as cultural sites revealing the rich tapestry of the area’s human history.
But in spite of such great resources, tourist revenues in southern Italy were less than half of those for central and northern Italy in 2013. However the richness of the area is slowly being appreciated by first-time tourists and seasoned Italophiles alike, who want to avoid the more crowded destinations of Rome, Florence and Venice.
A recent success story for southern tourism comes from the small town of Matera, in Basilicata. The town went from being one of the poorest in Italy to the European Capital of Culture in 2009. The town has also attracted Hollywood, with scenes from the Ben Hur remake being filmed there earlier this year.
Up until the 1860s, the economy of the southern Italy largely revolved around a feudal agricultural system. Now completely modernized, the south is reaping the benefits of its not-so-distant agricultural past. The area is home to a wide array of wonderful and unique produce, and is a place where where ancient traditions are still alive and well – not least at the table. Testament to its thriving food scene, 79 of Italy’s 221 products that are protected by geographic labels of origin are produced in the south, including buffalo mozzarella. Southern Italy is also full of less well-known wonders like Taurisi red wine, which owes its existence to the volcanic soils around Mount Vesuvius.
It’s easy to join in the fun if you live in the south: just put on some nice clothes and then head out to one of your town’s promenading – ‘passeggiata’ hot spots, usually to be found along a main road in the city center or the sea front. The evening stroll is the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and is a great opportunity to spy on your ex, or even attempt to “bump into”, your latest crush. People living in the south happily reported that the tradition is still very much alive and well, providing them with the perfect opportunity to socialize and catch some light exercise before dinner.
The mid-afternoon nap or ‘riposo’, is alive and well down south where it is still taken after lunch in many areas across southern Italy. In fact, one mayor in Campania was so eager to protect his snoozing citizens, that he banned dogs from barking during the hours of the riposo. The reasons for this differing sleep culture in southern Italy are numerous. Napping allows you to avoid the afternoon heat, stuff yourself at lunch without worrying about feeling drowsy at work and keeps you fresh for your evening passeggiata. In many areas of southern Italy, the shops still close and shutters come down for a good couple of hours to accommodate the longstanding tradition, much to the ire of impatient shoppers who forget it’s nap-time. While the idea of getting some sleep in the middle of the day is probably enough to provoke outrage from anyone living more than 50 degrees north of the equator, it actually has a whole range of health benefits. A 2007 study showed that midday napping reduced the rate of coronary mortality by 37 percent.
Which brings us nicely to living longer, another thing people in Italy’s much maligned southern regions do very well. Especially the women. In southern Italy women live to an average of 80.6 years, compared to the national average of 79.8. The average life expectancy in the south of Italy is among the highest in Europe, and Sicily can even boast a village of centenarians.
Clearly, the combined effects of the south’s good food, lunchtime naps, clean air, great beaches and social evening strolls can do wonders for you.