Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry June 2015, revised June 2019

1. Modern Political and Administrative Names  (directly below)
2. Historical Geographical Names in Campania

1. The official political-administrative (PA) divisions of the Campania region of Italy, until recently, are shown in this map of Campania. The map is now somewhat outdated, but most people would look at it and still say it looks fine. It shows the five traditional provinces in Campania: Caserta, Benevento, Napoli, Avellino, and Salerno.


The official PA hierarchy still runs (for most places in Italy), 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 (but see #2, below, for the more recent METROPOLITAN AREA). The number of provinces within the regions has changed frequently in recent Italian history. Currently, there are 110 provinces in all of the 20 regions in Italy. (In Campania, there were 5 traditional provinces, as shown.) At the next and last level down, we have the COMUNE, usually called a 'municipality' in English. They are small cities or towns with their own 'city hall' (the meaning of comune). Below that, smaller towns and villages, not independent administratively, "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, had 92 municipalities, not as many as the province of Salerno, simply because Salerno is larger geographically with 158 municipalities. The size of a city is important; the largest city in an area is always a capital; that is, Naples was the largest municipality in the Campania region; thus, it was the capital of that region but also the capital of its own province of Naples. Hierarchically, then, it went ITALY -> CAMPANIA -> NAPLES -> NAPLES (twice, because Naples was both the name of the province and the name of the largest comune). Another comune in the same province, such as Pozzuoli ran ITALY -> CAMPANIA -> NAPLES -> POZZUOLI. But (start paying attention) in 2014 Italy introduced the term
area metropolitana (metropolitan area, also urban area) for the area in and around the 10 largest cities in Italy (and ONLY those ten). This was meant to replace the traditional term "province". For normal persons (and that excludes most politicians and administrators!) the two terms may be considered synonymous. Thus, in the new terminology, "Naples is the largest city in, and capital city of, the Naples metropolitan area (NMA) [Area metropolitana di Napoli] in the Campania region of Italy." Further descriptive details would tell you that the NMA is the second largest metropolitan area in Italy after Milan. The Naples metropolitan area currently (2019) has a population of approximately 4 million, making it the 10th-most populous metropolitan or urban area in the European Union. In keeping with that newer terminology, we can string out the hierarchical chain (above) as  ITALY -> CAMPANIA -> NAPLES METROPOLITAN AREA -> NAPLES (or any other comune -- i.e. city or town in the NMA). Everyone I know still says the "province" of Naples. Even those I don't know, such as newscasters.


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 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 in Italy: Barbagia is in Sardina, Beianza in Lombardy, Casentino in Tuscany, and so on throughout the nation. The areas often cross modern province and region 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. (A fine province museum, the museo irpino, is in the city of Avellino.)
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.
update: Jan 2020. Newest member of the PA hierarchy - the "Metropolitan City". What is it?
Historical geographical names of Sardinia            to top of this page

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