Molise, the youngest Italian region (until 1963 it was part of Abruzzo), lies in central-southern Italy on the Adriatic coastline of the peninsula.
Only its south-western section belongs to the Tyrrhenian coastline.
As regards area and population, it is the penultimate of the Italian regions, larger only than Val d'Aosta; lying to the north-east on the Adriatic, it borders with Abruzzo to the north, with Latium to the west, with Campania to the south and with Puglia (Apulia) to the south-east.
Its borders are mostly artificial, due mainly to complex feudal and administrative vicissitudes: natural limits are the Trigno and the Fortore rivers, which respectively mark most of the border with Abruzzo and Puglia and the calcareous massifs of Meta, the Mainardes and Matese, administratively divided between Latium and Campania.
The regional territory is nearly all mountainous (55% of the surface area) or hilly, with limited flat ground in the lower valleys and along the Adriatic coast; the Apennines divide Molise into isolated mountains and a chaotic array of hills, which stretch within a few kilometres of the coast, making communications difficult and creating a state of isolation.
The highest mountains are at the heart of the region and are part of `Samnite Apennine' (northern and eastern parts of Appennino Campano which the Bocca di Forlì (891 m.) separates from the Abruzzese Apennines) which include the southern extreme of the Meta mountains, here culminating at 2,185 m., the northern slope of the calcareous Matese massif (Mt. Miletto, 2,050 m.) and the Mount Mutria group; in addition, the Molise border passes the Apennine watershed, including the upper valley of the Volturno River, between the Mainardes and Matese.
Towards the Adriatic, the mountainous landscape of the Apennines is succeeded by hills. Here the land becomes increasingly lower as it approaches the Adriatic and meets the sea, dominated by a coastline, often high and picturesque but without ports and generally uniform, except for the modest deltas of the Trigno and the Biferno rivers and the small Termoli headland. The only Molise river whose course is entirely in regional territory is the Biferno, which, like the Trigno and the Fortore, flows into the Adriatic. These rivers, crossing the transversal valleys to the Apennines lie semi-parallel to each other, flowing for a long distance at the limits of the regional territory onto the Tyrrhenian slope of the Volturno and the Tamaro. Only the upper parts of their basins lie in Molise. All the waterways are greatly affected by seasonal variations of the precipitations and consequently are torrent-like. As a result of environmental differences between the coastline and the inland mountains, and varying distances from the sea, the climate of Molise has a wide range of characteristics, from the typically maritime (modest variations in temperature, mild weather in all seasons, scarce precipitations) to the continental characteristics of the mountainous interior (marked differences in temperature in contrasting seasons and between day and night, heavy precipitations, including snow, up to over 2,500 mm./year, at higher altitudes). Rainfall is most frequent and heaviest in autumn and spring, though of short duration, but lasts longer in winter, with peak levels in November and the lowest levels in July.
In the north of the region some small nature reserves have been created, including Collemelucco and Montedimezzo which protect splendid woods in the municipalities of Pescolanciano and Vastogirardi. The environment of this Molise woodland is a sequence of gentle hills intersected by low-lying ground with many rivers, and often snowclad in winter. Here, the cool climate has aided the preservation of some belts purely of Norway spruce, an extraordinary survivor of the ancient Apenninic vegetation.
The results of haphazard felling and uncontrolled grazing in the past are evident where wild rose, hawthorn and briers are growing in the now thin firwoods while at the fringes, towards the clearings, straggle honeysuckle, agaric and spindle trees.
The fauna in this zone is not particularly abundant, but there are some interesting species: the wild boar is quite common, as is the fox. Of the birds, the most obvious are the diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey, such as the buzzard, the barn owl and various migrants.
On the whole, Molise is the least populated Italian region after the Val d'Aosta, with also a very low average density of population. Apart from the historical difficulties of settling in a territory which is mainly mountainous, this is due to a flow of emigrants abroad and to other Italian regions, a phenomenon which reached a peak at the beginning of the century and in the post-war period, and started to decline to a certain extent only from the 1970s onwards. The population distribution is highest in the areas surrounding Campobasso, the regional capital, and along the Adriatic coast, while the mountainous areas (for example in the Province of Isernia) are almost uninhabited.
The Molise dialect, with that of northern Apulia, is a sub-group of the broad family of southern Italian dialects; the presence of Albanian (Larino, Ururi, Campomarino, Portocannone, Santa Croce di Magliano, Montecilfone) and Serbo-Croat (Acquaviva Collecroce, Montemitro) linguistic enclaves, all in the Province of Campobasso, is significant.
Molise is without doubt one of the poorest parts of the country, characterized by endemic underdevelopment, caused also by its isolation. Not even its organization as a Region in 1973, when it separated from Abruzzo, has contributed to consistent improvement of general economic conditions; consequently the standard of living here is one of the lowest in Italy.
Agriculture is still of considerable importance, though it is an impoverished sector, frequently subsistence farming, and characterized by large numbers of tiny holdings, and the average age of the active population is very high. The primary sector is now adopting efficient production techniques only in the coastal area, as a result of irrigation systems and better communications. The most common crops are wheat, broad beans and potatoes. Olives and wine-growing are of a certain importance, as are some vegetables and sunflowers. Livestock is decreasing except for the traditional sheep-farming, while fishing is of little importance, since the only available port is Termoli. Mineral resources consist of the natural gas deposits at Larino.
The industrial sector, as already mentioned, is underdeveloped and there is only one real industrialized area, near Termoli, with engineering, textile, foodstuff, furniture and building materials factories. Elsewhere, firms are small and semi-artisan, operating principally in the textile, woodworking, food processing and building materials sectors.
The service sector employs just under half the active population; here the commercial sector, though badly organized and the public sector, which has been expanded since the Region and the Province of Isernia were established (1970), are of particular importance.
Communications, though improving, have not yet overcome the isolation of the region's internal zones. Only the coast is adequately served by roads (Bologna-Taranto motorway) and railways (Bologna-Lecce). Inland, the only roadway of a certain importance is the dual carriageway in the lower Biferno valley. There is considerable passenger traffic at the port of Termoli, though only in summer (tourist links to the Tremiti islands).
Molise is perhaps the most depressed Italian region, from a tourist point of view. It is such a small area, and an insufficient communications network means isolation. Only in recent years has tourism here begun to expand and some small holiday resorts are trying to attract an increasingly larger clientele. These resorts include the mountain centres of Capracotta, Pescopennataro, Frosolone and Campitello Matese, already a well-known winter sports resort. On the Adriatic coast, with its wide, sandy beaches are seaside resorts such as: Petacciato Marina, Marino di Montanero, Campomarino and, especially, Termoli.
There are other attractions inland. Small solitary villages cling to the hillsides, where beside rich examples of artistic worth, lies a world now almost forgotten, where life is still marked by natural rhythms, old farmers still cling to their land, and skilful craftsmen ply their trades; all values which now seem to be disappearing. Visits should be paid to Larino, where Albanese is still spoken, with its fourteenth century cathedral; Petrella Tifernina, with the beautiful Romanesque church of San Giorgio (12th century); Ferrazzano, dominated by the fifteenth century castle; Guglionesi, with the Romanesque church of San Nicola (12th century); Bojano, with the panoramic village of Civita, in the Province of Campobasso; Agnone, a village of ancient craft traditions; Pescolanciano, with the picturesque castle; Bagnoli del Trigno, at the foot of a steep, rocky cliff on which towers a castle; Venafro, with the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, in the Province of Isernia.
This town lies at 701 m. above sea level, on the hilly ridge between the basins of the Biferno and Fortore rivers.
A centre of medieval origin, it was part of the Lombard Duchy of Benevento. From the 11th century, it shared the fortunes of the Kingdom of Sicily (later of Naples and of the Two Sicilies) though it was held by various local overlords (of which the most famous was Monforte) until the seventeenth century. It was united with the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Campobasso was built round a hill with the Castello Monforte (dating back to 9th century, rebuilt in 16th century) on its crest. In the oldest part of the town, with many interesting features, stand the splendid sixteenth century church of Sant'Antonio Abate and the Romanesque churches of San Giorgio and San Bartolomeo.
With regard to the town's economy, the agricultural sector is still of great importance, while industrial activity is limited to small factories mostly working in the processing of agricultural products (mills, distilleries and oil factories) and textiles. The services sector is important in the field of public employment, linked to the administration of the regional and provincial capital. There is also craft production of knives and scissors.
Events: Sagra dei Misteri (Corpus Christi Day).
Famous People: Achille Sannia (mathematician, 1823-1892), Antonio Nobile (astronomer, 1794-1863), Francesco d'Ovidio (man of letters, 1849-1925), Pasquale Albino (historian, 1827-1899), Francesco Pietrunto (surgeon, 1785-1839).
Cultural Institutions: Conservatory, Biblioteca Provinciale (library), Archivio di Stato (State Archives), Museo Sannitico (museum), Università del Molise (university), Museo Internazionale del Presepe in Miniatura (International Museum of Miniature Nativity statues).
In the Province: Termoli (industrial centre and seaside resort), Larino (Museo Civico, museum), Sepino (archeological centre) and Campitello Matese (ski resort).
This town is situated at 423 m. above sea level on a hill separating the Carpino and Sorde rivers.
An ancient Samnite centre with the name of Aesernia, it was colonized by Rome from 263 BC., becoming an important road communications intersection. Isernia was subjected to domination by the Goths, Byzantines and Lombards and was destroyed at the beginning of the ninth century by the Saracens. It was rebuilt in the eleventh century, from then on sharing the vicissitudes ot the Kingdom of Sicily (later of Naples and the Two Sicilies) until unification with Italy in 1860. Situated in an earthquake-prone area, it was badly damaged by earthquakes in 1349, 1456, 1688 and 1805.
Interesting monuments include the Fontana delle Fraterna (fountain, 13th-14th century), the cathedral (in neo-classical style, 14th century) built over a previous church, destroyed by the 1805 earthquake, and the church of San Francesco.
The economy of the town is still based on the agricultural sector and on the commerce of agricultural products, while great importance is attached to the public sector which has expanded since Isernia Province was established in 1970. Some small production companies also operate in the foodstuffs sector. Lace-making is traditional here.
Events: Fair of San Pietro (28-29 June).
Famous People: Andrea d'Isernia (jurist, 13th century), Gian Vincenzo Ciarlanti (historian, 17th century) and Pietro Angeleri (Pope Celestine V, d. in 1296).
Cultural Institutions: Biblioteca Civica (library), Istituto di Storia Contemporanea `F. A. Cerimele', Società di Studi Celestiniani, Archivio di Stato (State Archives) and Museo Santa Maria delle Monache (museum).
In the Province: Capracotta (mountain resort), Agnone (environmental interest and casting bells), Frosolone (holiday resort), Venafro (agricultural centre).
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