San Severino di Centola: a medieval hilltop village that was abandoned at the end of the 19th century after existing for more than 500 years.3 min read
The ruins of the old village San Severino di Centola, known known until 1861 as San Severino di Camerota, are located on a rugged hill in southern Cilento, in the Italian region of Campania.
The village was founded during the 10th-11th centuries, although it seems that some traces of inhabited settlements on the rocky spur are known since the seventh century. However, it was progressively abandoned as inhabitants chose to move their settlement just below the hill but closer to the newly developed railway.
The village was strategically placed above the narrow gorges of the Mingardo river, known as Gola del Diavolo, translate as “Devil’s Throat.”
Among the ruins are medieval houses, churches, and a castle. Initially while under the influence of the Lombard rulers of Salerno, the stronghold was governed by the Normans and the Swabians. The village later suffered significantly during the War of the Vespers and the war between the houses of Aragon and Anjou.
The very early settlements, in the seventh century, apparently originated from Bulgarian mercenary soldiers who emigrated together with their prince Aztek, who was assigned the task of controlling the strategic gorge of the Mingardo river as an important link with Palinuro and its port. Indeed, the remains of an ancient watchtower, the ruins of which are still visible, date back to this era.
The village seems to have taken its name from a well-known family of the Principality of Salerno, the Sanseverino, powerful in the epochs in which the Normans, the Angevins and the Aragonese reigned in the area. Some believe instead that it was the family itself that took the surname from the place. In any case, under the house of Aragon, the fortified village was ruled by this family who were exiled to Spain during the 16th century.
When the Aragonese arrived in the area around 15th century, the village was in decline as a strategic place but in strong development as a civil settlement thanks to the quarrying activity. A few years later the Sanseverinos, who had always remained Lords of the village, were exiled due to conflicts with King Charles V and their fief was sold off and divided into many small parts.
The new owners of these lands taxed the population in an unsustainable manner and delegated unscrupulous people to the collection who used every means at their disposal for the purpose.
In addition, in 1624, the population was decimated by an epidemic of plague. All events that brought great poverty to the village and resulted in the abandonment, in 1700, of its main cathedral which had now fallen into disrepair. There were not the necessary funds to restore it.
In 1888 the Pisciotta – Castrocucco railway was built which contributed to a slow migration towards the valley which came to an end in about fifty years.
The few who remained kept the village and its church alive until 1977, when decided to abandon the ancient town.
The village is now a tourist destination for coastal vacationers who can treat themselves to a different day by treading places steeped in history that have remained motionless for a hundred years.
In recent years, the church has been restored, and the square in front of it is often used for singing and theatrical performances as well as for the Christmas nativity scene.