When asking a friend what time you should meet for lunch, she may say ‘a mezzogiorno’ – at midday, at noon, or at 12pm.
However, when Italians use the word ‘il Mezzogiorno’, they are not always be talking about lunchtime.
Instead they could be referring to the southern area of Italy, including the regions Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia.
The expression is thought to refer to the intensity of the midday sun in the south of the Italian peninsula.
Historically, there has been an economic divide between north and south Italy. In the 1950s, the government set up La Cassa per il Mezzogiorno – the Fund for the South – to stimulate economic growth in the area. However, it was not considered successful and was dissolved in the 1980s.
There continues to be high unemployment rates in the regions. In Puglia, Sicily, Campania and Calabria, less than 50% of people aged between 20 and 64 had a job in 2018 according to Eurostat figures.
It is, however, an impressive and beautiful area to visit in terms of culture, landscape and food. There are many tourist attractions including Pompeii, the Palace of Caserta and the Amalfi coast in Campania. There are Greek cities and temples in Paestum in Campania and Syracuse, Taormina and Agrigento in Sicily. Some of its beaches, forests and mountains are preserved and protected as national parks.
The food varies from region to region, but highlights include Neapolitan pizza, Calabrian spicy salami paste ‘nduja and Puglia’s ear-shaped orecchiette pasta. There are delicious olive oils and wines to try. And the fruit and vegetables benefit from the warm climate, so visitors can try an abundance of regional and seasonal produce grown locally.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear the Italian word ‘mezzogiorno’!