Salerno is the main town close to the Costiera Amalfitana (the "Amalfi Coast" on the Tyrrhenian, which includes the famous towns of Amalfi, Positano, and others) and is mostly known for its Schola Medica Salernitana (the first University of Medicine in the world). In the 16th century, under the Sanseverino family, among the most powerful feudal lords in Southern Italy, the city became a great centre of learning, culture and the arts, and the family hired several of the greatest intellectuals of the time. Later, in 1694, the city was struck by several catastrophic earthquakes and plagues, and afterwards a period of Spanish rule which would last until the 18th century. After that, Salerno became part of the Parthenopean Republic and saw a period of Napoleonic rule.
In recent history the city hosted the King of Italy, who moved from Rome in 1943 after Italy negotiated a peace with the Allies in World War II. A brief so-called "government of the South" was then established in the town, that became the "capital" of Italy for some months. Some of the Allied landings during Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Italy) occurred near Salerno.
Today Salerno is an important cultural centre in Campania and Italy and has had a long and eventful history. The city has a rich and varied culture, and the city is divided into three distinct regions: the medieval sector with a modern state-of-the arts area, the planned 19th century district and the more densely populated post-war area, with its several apartment blocks.
The area of what is now Salerno has been continuously settled since pre-historical times, although the first certain signs of human presence date to the period between the 9th and 6th centuries BC. We know the Oscan-Etruscan city of 'Irna' (founded in the 6th century BC), situated across the Irno river, in today's Salernitan quarter of Fratte. This settlement represented an important base for Etruscan trade with the Greek colonies of Posidonia and Elea. It was occupied by the Samnites around the 5th century BC as consequence of the Battle of Cumae (474 BC) as part of the Syracusan Sphere of influence.
The Roman city
With the Roman advance in Campania, Irna began to lose its importance, being supplanted by the new Roman colony (194 BC) of 'Salernum', developing around an initial castrum. The new city, which gradually lost its military function in favour of its role as a trade center, was connected to Rome by the Via Popilia, which ran towards Lucania and Reggio Calabria.
Archaeological remains, although fragmentary, suggest the idea of a flourishing and lively city. Under the Emperor Diocletian, in the late 3rd century AD, Salernum became the administrative centre of the "Bruttia and Lucania" province.
In the following century, during the Gothic Wars, the Goths were defeated by the Romans, and the Salerno briefly returned to the control of Constantinople (from 553 to 568), before the Lombards invaded almost the whole peninsula. Like many coastal cities of southern Italy (Gaeta, Sorrento, Amalfi), Salerno initially remained untouched by the newcomers, falling only in 646. It subsequently became part of the Duchy of Benevento.
The Lombard city
Under the Lombard dukes Salerno enjoyed the most splendid period of its history.
In 774 Arechis II of Benevento transferred the seat of the Duchy of Benevento to Salerno, in order to elude Charlemagne's offensive and to secure for himself the control of a strategic area, the centre of coastal and internal communications in Campania.
With Arechis II, Salerno became a centre of studies with its famous Medical School. The Lombard prince ordered the city to be fortified; the Castle on the Bonadies mountain had already been built with walls and towers. In 839 Salerno declared independence from Benevento, becoming the capital of a flourishing principality stretching out to Capua, northern Calabria and Puglia up to Taranto.
Around the year 1000 prince Guaimar IV annexed Amalfi, Sorrento, Gaeta and the whole duchy of Puglia and Calabria, starting to conceive a future unification of the whole southern Italy under Salerno's arms. The coins minted in the city circulated in all the Mediterranean, with the Opulenta Salernum wording to certify its richness.
However, the stability of the Principate was continually shaken by the Saracen attacks and, most of all, by internal struggles. In 1056, one of the numerous plots led to the fall of Guaimar. His weaker son Gisulf II succeeded him, but the decline of the principality had begun. In 1077 Salerno reached its zenith but soon lost all its territory to the Normans.
Salerno under the Normans, Hohenstaufen and Anjou
On December 13, 1076 the Norman conqueror Robert Guiscard, who had married Guaimar IV's daughter Sichelgaita, besieged Salerno and defeated his brother-in-law Gisulf. This act put an end to hundreds of years of Lombard dominance, but did not check the city's vitality. In this period the royal palace (Castel Terracena) and the magnificent Arab-Gothic style cathedral were built, and science was boosted as the Salerno Medical School, considered the most ancient medical institution of European West, reached its maximum splendour.
Salerno played a conspicuous part in the fall of the Norman kingdom. After the Emperor Henry VI's invasion on behalf of his wife, Constance, the heiress to the kingdom, in 1191, Salerno surrendered and promised loyalty on the mere news of an incoming army. This so disgusted the archbishop, Nicholas of Ajello, that he abandoned the city and fled to Naples, which held out in a siege. In 1194, the situation reversed itself: Naples capitulated, along with most other cities of the Mezzogiorno, and only Salerno resisted. It was sacked and pillaged, much reducing its importance and prosperity. Henry had his reasons, though. He had entrusted Constance to the citizens and they had betrayed him and handed her over to King Tancred. Her combined treachery and stubbornness cost Salerno much after the Hohenstaufen conquest. Henry's son, Frederick II, moreover, issued a series of edicts that reduced Salerno's role in favour of Naples (in particular, the foundation of the University of Naples in that city).
Moreover Manfred founded Saint Matthew's Fair, which was the most important in the south of Italy. After the Angevin conquest the city was particularly beautified by the work of the famous sculptor, Boboccio da Piperno, admired by Queen Consort Margherita of Durazzo who took up her abode in Salerno and was buried in the monumental tomb, which is today in the cathedral.
Salerno and the revival of medical learning in Western Europe
A noted medical school, or series of schools, existed at Salerno from at least the 10th century, and by the 11th century it was widely acknowledged by contemporaries as the centre of medical knowledge in western Europe, in much the same way as Alexandria had been in the ancient world.
Around 1060 a Benedictine monk and native of Carthage, Constantine the African, arrived at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, to the north of Salerno. With his knowledge of Arabic and Greek as well as Latin, he began to translate many of the medical texts from ancient Greece and Rome from the surviving Arabic translations into Latin. Constantine translated around twenty major works himself, such as Galen's Ars Parva, Hippocratic work including the Aphorisms and the Prognostics and the great encyclopedic work known as the patengi. However, his most significant translation was probably the Isagoge of Johannitius, which would serve as an introduction to medical theory and practice for centuries.
The Princes of Sanseverino
From the 14th century onwards, most of the Salerno province became the territory of the Princes of Sanseverino, powerful feudal lords who acted as real owners of the region. They accumulated an enormous political and administrative power and attracted artists and men of letters in their own princely palace. In the 15th century the city was the scene of battles between the Angevin and the Catalan-Aragonese royal houses with whom the local lords took sides alternatingly.
In the first decades of the 16th century the last descendent of the Sanseverino princes, Ferdinando Sanseverino, was in conflict with the viceroy of the king of Spain, mainly because of his opposition to the Inquisition, causing the ruin of the whole family and the beginning of a long period of decadence for the city. The years 1656, 1688 and 1694 represent sorrowful dates for Salerno: the plague and the earthquake which caused many victims.
A slow renewal of the city occurred in the 18th century with the end of the Spanish dominion and the construction of many refined houses and churches characterising the main streets of the historical centre.
In 1799 Salerno was incorporated into the Parthenopean Republic. During the Napoleonic era, first Joseph Bonaparte and then Joachim Murat ascended the Neapolitan throne. The latter decreed the closing of the Salerno Medical School, that had been declining for decades to the level of a theoretical school. In the same period even the religious Orders were suppressed and numerous ecclesiastical properties were confiscated.
The city expanded beyond the ancient walls and sea connections were potentiated as they represented an important road network that crossed the town connecting the eastern plain with the area leading to Vietri and Naples.
Unification of Italy
Salerno was an active center of Carbonari activities supporting the Unification of Italy in the 19th century.
19th century industrialization
After the unification of Italy a slow urban development continued, many suburban areas were enlarged and large public and private buildings were created. The city went on developing till the Second World War. Its population rose from 20 thousand people around 1861s unification to 80 thousand in early 20th century.
During 19th century foreign industries start settling in Salerno: in 1830 a first textile mill was established by the Swiss entrepreneur Züblin Vonwiller, followed by Schlaepfer-Wenner's textile mills and dye factories; the Wenner family settled permanently in Salerno
At same time Dini's flour mills and pasta factories were founded.
World War II, "Salerno Capital" and actual developments
In September 1943, Salerno was the scene of the Operation Avalanche and suffered a great deal of damage. From February 12 to July 17, 1944, it hosted the Government of Marshal Pietro Badoglio. In those months Salerno was the temporary "Capital of the Kingdom of Italy", and the King Victor Emmanuel III lived in a mansion in its outskirts.
The post-war period was difficult for all the Italian cities, but Salerno managed to improve little by little and to aim at becoming a modern European city. In recent years the town administration has taken great strides giving a great impulse to the revaluation of the whole urban territory. The city's population doubled in a few years, from 80,000 in 1946 to nearly 160,000 in 1976.