Outline of the history of Massa Lubrense

Massa Lubrense was originally named after the mythical sirens who lived on these coasts. According to legend Ulysses was also a visitor to these shores and is said to have founded the famous temple of Athena. The first inhabitants of this area were probably two tribes of Italic origin: the Ausonians and the Oscans. Evidence of the latter bas been found in rock inscriptions discovered a few years ago on the eastern side of Punta Campanella.

When the Greeks formed a colony here, the name of the temple (Athenaion) was used to describe the whole tip of this peninsula which conserved its marked Hellenistic character even during Roman times, when it was called Promontorium Minervae, a name appearing on the Tabula Peutingeriana (IV century) next to the first drawing of the temple.

It was only in the first century that Latin culture came to the fore with the arrival of eminent patricians who spent their holidays and free time here in luxurious villas of which we still have interesting remains. There were no inhabited centres of any importance and apart from the Roman villas there were just a few dwellings dotted here and there in the fields and inhabited by people who made a living from agriculture. During this period, veterans who bad been given land to cultivate by Augustus were also to be found in this area.

The Apostles may have brought Christianity to these regions, but it was very slow to replace the Pagan cults. The Middle Ages marked a long period of intense poverty for our inhabitants, reduced as they were to servitude and continually exposed to attacks from the Saracens. Meantime the first social classes were gradually forming, introducing new activities although agriculture remained dominant.

The first residential areas developed groups of houses which became hamlets (casali), and then villages, thus laying the foundations for the social and administrative organisation of the district today.

The name Massa first appears following the brief domination of the Longobards (VI century), but it did not completely affirm itself until later. Most historians believe that Massa derives from mansa, a Longobard word indicating a place dedicated to cultivation. The adjective publica (938) was added to the name Massa to mean state-owned land, public domain, in this case evidently belonging to the state of Sorrento. Around 1306 publica was replaced by lubrensis (delubrum = temple, in reference to the cathedral to be found on the beach of Fontanella). The municipality added both this adjective and an image of the Virgin of the Lobra to its coat of arms. The name Massa without adjectives usually refers to the cathedral house, nowadays indicated as the centre of the town.

Massa Lubrense formed part of the Dukedom of Sorrento and its fortunes alternated until the arrival of the Normans. Its emancipation began under the Svevians, when it declared itself a civitas. In 1273 its citizens, who were mainly Ghibellines, suffered the reprisals of Carlo d'Angiņ, who took the territory back under Sorrento's jurisdiction.

A period of great confusion followed until 1465, when after a 2 year siege Ferrante d'Aragona destroyed the village of Annunziata, seat of the Bishop and the civil authorities and the only village with fortified walls and a defence tower.  

Giovanna II of Durazzo stayed in the hamlet of Quarazzano in a magnificent mansion, in 1600 the Jesuit Vincenzo Maggio built on its remains the imposing Collegio (Quartiere) with its high defence tower (il Torrione), an important architectural example of fortifications and one of the town's main monuments.

During the Spanish viceroyalty, Massa Lubrense underwent a period of political unrest in an era of civil and moral decadence made worse by the frequent invasions of Turkish pirates who in 1558 after horrendous massacres and pillaging took away about one thousand five hundred people as slaves, some of whom were then ransomed. The continual threat from the sea forced the people of Massa to build a series of watch towers along the coast, almost all of which are reasonably preserved and can still be seen today.

In 1656 the plague, which had broken out in Naples some years earlier, spread to this area causing many victims.

Eventually, during the domination of the Bourbons, even Massa began to feel the progress of the times, and new commercial and artisan activities began to emerge alongside the ancient peasant civilisation. Due to the poor communications by land, a substantial fleet of large ships sailed to the capital and to other Mediterranean ports exporting agricultural produce, livestock and artisan products and importing raw materials and consumer articles. Commerce with Naples was so intense that an entire district down at the quay side was named Porta di Massa.

The Massesi made a noble contribution of men and ideas to the Neapolitan Republic in 1799 and three townsmen, Luigi Bozzaotra, Severo Caputo and Nicola Pacifico were victims of the repression and subsequently executed.

In 1808 Gioacchino Murat directed military operations from Massa against the English who had occupied Capri. On the return of the Bourbons to the throne of Naples, there were numerous conspiracies of the Carbonaria up until the liberation of the Reign of the 2 Sicilies which was followed by the Unification of Italy.

From the end of 1800 until after the first World War the first mass emigrations took place, mainly towards the Americas and New Zealand; but after the second World War a significant number of townspeople also emigrated in search of work and better living conditions. In contrast, the numerous stone quarries (the most important being Marcigliano, Puolo and Ieranto, active from the 1920's to 1968) attracted considerable numbers of Sardinian miners who had no difficulty in settling into the Massa society.

During the Second World War, many people were evacuated from the heavily bombarded Naples and came to stay here. Following the 1943 armistice, dozens of disbanded soldiers who had been employed in coastal defence at Tore and Reola, found refuge with families in Massa. Once the war ended, many of them stayed here, whilst others went back to their home towns taking their young brides with them. In 1944 groups of refugees from Cassino and Nettuno were taken in, and small groups of Irish and American soldiers came here to Massa and S. Agata on furlough.

Over the last few decades in spite of the crisis in this sector, agriculture has remained fairly prosperous, whilst thanks to the improvement and expansion of its services and facilities, domestic and international tourism has flourished.