Mezzogiorno

Mezzogiorno (mĕtˌsōjôrˈnō) [key], region of S Italy. The Mezzogiorno comprises the modern Italian regions of Abruzzi, Campania, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The term Mezzogiorno, meaning midday in Italian, is a reference to the strength of the midday sun in S Italy. The Appenine mountain system is a pervasive feature throughout S Italy. Steep slopes and poor or eroded topsoil render about half of the land unarable; nevertheless, agriculture employs most of the workforce and is the mainstay of the generally underdeveloped economy. The chief crops are grains, fruits, olives, grapes, and vegetables. Industrialization is not as extensive as in the north, and as a result the per capita income and standard of living in S Italy is considerably lower. Two of the larger industrial centers are the port cities of Bari, with chemical and petrochemical plants, and Naples, with manufactures of textiles, iron, steel, machinery, and automobiles. Illiteracy in the Mezzogiorno is significantly higher than the national average. During most of the 12th cent., S Italy was united under the rule of the Normans, who in 1198 were succeeded by the Hohenstaufen of Germany. The French Angevins ruled the region from 1266 to c.1442. During Angevin rule, the capital was moved from Palermo to Naples, and feudalism was strengthened as the powers of the clergy and the nobility grew. Alfonso V of Aragon had conquered the kingdom of Naples by 1442, beginning more than three centuries of Spanish rule. In the early 19th cent. the region was annexed to the French empire under Napoleon, and under the 10-year rule (known as the Decennio) of his brother-in-law, Lucien Murat, many reforms were made, including the abolishment of feudalism and the codification of law. Yet even after the emancipation (1860) of S Italy by Garibaldi's forces, feudal traditions persisted and peasants were still tied to large estates. The Mezzogiorno remained an underdeveloped area as the government in the last half of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s focused on the prosperous north. Large-scale land reforms were not instituted until 1946. In 1950 the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Fund for the South) was set up by the Italian government to stimulate social and economic development in the Mezzogiorno.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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