The National Park of Cilento, Vallo di Diano and Alburni holds valuable evidence of the history and civilisations of the Mediterranean. These lands have kept their traditional features, which can be seen in the organisation of the territory, the paths and the system of settlements and structure of the crop cultivation. This historic, stratified structure and the presence of sites of world importance, such as Paestum, Velia and the Certosa di Padula, all make the historic cultural values of this territory of extraordinary interest.
Man’s presence in these lands dates far back to the Lower Palaeolithic period (500,000 years ago), as shown by the traces of Homo erectus found in Marina di Camerota. Occupation continued throughout the Palaeolithic period, certainly facilitated by the diffuse presence of caves and ravines, which were used as shelter. Numerous remains of Neanderthal man date back to the Middle Palaeolithic period. These are mainly stone tools used for hunting, discovered not only along the coast (in the area between Marina di Camerota and Capo Palinuro, in the caves of Cala, Poggio and in the large Cave of Scario), but also on the Alburni Mountains. These were the same places that would later be occupied by Homo sapiens, traces of whom have been found in the coastal caves, along the ridge paths (Grotte di Castelcivita) and in the Vallo di Diano (Pertosa).
These ancient paths allowed the local communities to come into contact with the populations of the Apennines or with those who climbed from the Adriatic coast, as shown by the similarity in the shape of the objects found in other sites. This organisation of activities was consolidated in the Bronze Age, when the paths were commonly used for transhumance and trade and exchanges multiplied. However, the same phenomenon also took place by sea: the Cilento area became a crossroads between populations of very diverse cultures and origins.
The foundation of the Greek trading centre of Ischia and that of Cuma triggered exchanges and interaction between the local people and the Greeks, who came to these areas probably along the ancient obsidian routes. The early 6th century BC saw the birth of a new power over the Tyrrhenian Sea: Poseidonia, which was to become the Roman Paestum, founded by the Sybarites, who arrived along the Apennine paths. On the contrary, the people from Phocaea in Asia Minor came via the sea and in 540 BC, with the support of Poseidonia, they founded Elea, the city of Parmenides and his Eleatic Philosophic school, one of the most important and most famous in the classical world. Elea became an important trading centre, thanks to its two ports and its proximity to Poseidonia. Throughout the Archaic period, many other places in the Vallo di Diano were established and kept close trading relationships with the Greek cities in the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Sea.
At the end of the 5th century BC, the Lucanians occupied Eboli, Pontecagnano and Poseidonia. During this domination, the entire area experienced a period of considerable splendour.
In 273 BC, the Romans’ relentless expansion towards the south led to the foundation of Paestum and, five years later, Picentia (with people who had been deported from the Piceno area), on a site which can be roughly identified as today’s Pontecagnano. The towns in the interior developed considerably from the 2nd century AD onwards and the coastal area was revitalised with numerous villas. The silting up of the ports and rampant malaria contributed to the subsequent decline. When life and commercial activities began again, the hub of civilisation had now moved northwards and Salerno became the most prestigious town in the entire area, experiencing moments of significant political and cultural importance.
Following the fall of the Western Empire (6th century AD), the Cilento area was subjugated by barbarian rule and became a land of conflict. Of interest during these centuries was most certainly the feudal rule of the Longobards, who profoundly reorganised the territory, and the diffusion of Basilian Monasticism. The mix of different cultures continued, monasteries and abbeys were founded in which the Greek and Latin rites lived side by side. Dating back to this period are some gems, such as the Badia of Pattano, with the Chapel of San Filadelfo, and the frescoes of the Basilian Chapel in Lentiscosa.In 1076, the Cilento area was conquered by the Normans who introduced the latifundium and assigned extensive lands to different barons. There began an intense period of exploitation of the farming population, which continued under the subsequent rule of the Sanseverino family, the Swabians and the Angevins, often causing bloody revolts. Charles II of Anjou separated the lands of Irpinia and Benevento from the principality of Salerno (Principato Ultra and Principato Citra), a separation which continued until the Unity of Italy.
In subsequent years, the Cilento area returned to being a prevalently rural region, marked by an economy that was unable to flourish and triggered considerable phenomena of emigration, especially after the Second World War, and the mountains were abandoned. Recently, this trend has been reversed and numerous initiatives to promote tourism have given back the edge to these places, especially the villages, still full of churches, noble palaces and fortifications.