The ghost village

Along the course of the Mingardo river, a few kilometers from its mouth, you can find the village of San Severino, an extraordinary example of Early Medieval hamlet of Cilento region.

Ph. Enrico Nocera - Trentaremi

Ph. Enrico Nocera - Trentaremi

This place is one of the many hidden pearls of Cilento, but it’s not difficult to find. It’s located a few kilometers from the famous beaches of Palinuro and Marina di Camerota and it could be a good alternative to visit when the sea is too rough or crowded.

The medieval village overlooks the modern town, which developed at the beginning of the twentieth century. It looks out over the “Gola del Diavolo” (Devil’s Gorge), a suggestive landscape created by the millennial erosive action of the river. Its unassailable position made it easy to control the Mingardo river, which connected the coast with the hinterland since ancient ages.

The birth of San Severino dates back to the Lombard period, around the seventh century, most probably by the Bulgarian mercenaries of Altzek, who settled in the area between the Mingardo, Roccagloriosa and Bulgheria mountain. The name “Bulgheria” would derive, therefore, from the Bulgarian militias mentioned by the historian Paolo Diacono in the Historia Longobardorum. Diacono tells how the Longobard princes of Salerno used the Bulgarian militia to control the Devil’s Gorge, which was the main link with the Gulf of Policastro. In fact, San Severino was on the border of the County of Policastro.

Between the tenth and eleventh centuries it experienced its heyday: along with Castelluccio of Licusati village (also called Castle of Montelmo), it was one of the most fortified castle and one of the most unusual: it stood  between the cliff edge over the river, with a line of houses that defended it like a wall. Because of it, when the Normans arrived in Southern Italy and in Cilento,San Severino’s control became strategic: Guido, “light of all Lombards” – as Amato of Montecassino wrote about him in his Storia dei Normanni (History of the Normans) – Count of Policastro and brother of the Lombard prince Guaimario, was killed precisely because he tried to stand against the new Norman supremacy, as the historian Pietro Ebner also reports.

His formidable castle was one of the largest in the area and controlled a masonry bridge “over the river that flows in front of San Severino”, as reported in an ancient document. The bridge was in the place of an ancient ford and all the surrounding communities had to contribute to its  maintenance. This shows the strategic importance it played in the communication routes between the Mingardo and the Bussento.

As Egidio Finamore writes in his Dizionario toponomastico della Campania(Campania toponymic dictionary), this hamlet gave the name to the powerful Norman family of Sanseverino, who had these lands in fief by Roberto il Guiscardo and that for over five centuries marked its history. They obtained a semi-sovereign treatment and were the first of the Seven Great Houses of the Kingdom of Naples: for instance, one of the most extraordinary monuments in the world, the Certosa of Padula, was built by a Sanseverino, Thomas II.

Ph. Enrico Nocera - Trentaremi

Ph. Enrico Nocera - Trentaremi

For ages San Severino had a great importance. It was the capital of the Barony, in the Suevian period it became “Castrum” at the behest of Frederick II. It was a theater of war during the Vespers wars, and after the battle between the Angevins and the Aragonese entered the dominions of the latter. Its strategic role is confirmed by the fact that even in the seventeenth century it lived under the jurisdiction of the Lombards, despite the fact that the Norman and the Angevin settlements already lived under the jurisdiction of the Franks.

In the Spanish period, it was affected by of the plague of the 1656, which decimated the population of the whole Cilento. The depopulation of the village increased with the construction of the railway, to be completed in the 20th century.

Still today the charm of San Severino, its majestic beauty, the spectacular landscape of the river gorges, fascinate every tourist: the views, the houses resting on the living rock, the cliffs on the river, the mountains of Basilicata and Calabria in the distance, all make this place magical. Lovers of photography and trekking, however, may find unforgettable views at sunset, when the light plays with the dolomite rock of the foothills of  Bulgheria mountain and paint them of pink.

Gisella Forte - Culture


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