Autonomous region (pop., 2001 prelim.: 316,548), south-central Italy. Its western sector is part of the Apennines, and the remainder consists mostly of low mountains and hills. Under Lombard rule during the early Middle Ages, it was controlled by the duchy of Benevento. In the 13th century it successively came under Angevin, Spanish, and Bourbon rulers. In 1860 it was joined to Abruzzi to form Abruzzi e Molise, which was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. In 1965 Abruzzi e Molise was divided back into the separate regions of Abruzzi and Molise. It is one of Italy's most rural regions; its capital, Campobasso, is the only city of any size.
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Many of the towns in the interior have been almost abandoned as young people travel to the larger centres to find employment. There is a particularly rich cluster of communities in the Larino area. These are characteristic medieval hilltowns formed around a church, or - as in the case of Larino - a massive cathedral.
Molise comprises two provinces:
By the tenth century there were nine countdoms: Venafro, Larino, Trivento, Bojano, Isernia, Campomarino, Termoli, Sangro, Pietrabbondante. In 1095 the most powerful of them, Bojano, came under the rule of the Norman Hugo I of Molhouse, who most probably gave his name to the region.
The province enjoyed a resurgence towards the end of the 13th century. The cathedral in Larino was built in 1314. The Franciscan monastery in the same town was dedicated in 1312.
In the 19th century there was a general worsening of the economic conditions of the population, and this gave rise, after the newly established Kingdom of Italy (1861), to brigandage and a massive emigration, not only abroad but also to more industrialised areas of Italy.
Massive destruction occurred during World War II until the Allied forces were able to land at Termoli in September 1943. Huge Allied land forces were based in Campobasso, which was called "Maple Leaf City" by the Canadian troops.
Molise is the newest Italian region, since it was established in 1963, when the region Abruzzi e Molise was split in two.
Agriculture is still of considerable importance, though it is an impoverished sector, frequently subsistence farming, and characterized by large numbers of tiny holdings. 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. There exists a persistent agrarian tradition where even public sector employees will use part of their work day to maintain small working farms. 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 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. One of the success stories is the development of the Fiat plant in the outskirts of Termoli. Recently the sales of Fiat automobiles have enjoyed unprecedented success and the plant has become one of the main employers of local youth. As is often the case in the automotive industry, there are innumerable "support" industries which are springing up. Just outside of Termoli, on the roadway to Larino, a huge shopping centre complex has been developed which rivals the type of "mall" found in North America.
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. After the earthquake of 2002 some of the communities in Molise became the focus of a generous government policy which contributed state money to individuals willing to make their homes more resistant to seismic activity. Larino, near Termoli, was a particular beneficiary of this policy and the town, already one of the most beautiful in the province, has been transformed. It was policy to return the houses to their historical colours and, based on careful research, the structures were painted in a range of soft pastel tones. As a result Larino has become an important centre for tourism and scores of expatriates from all over the world are returning to live in the revived centro storico (antique centre).
International tourism is becoming more evident largely as a result of the international flights from other European states, Great Britain, and North America which enter Pescara not far to the north in Abruzzo. The tourists are attracted by large expanses of unspoiled beaches, a relative lack of congestion, and the gentle pace of life.
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 density 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. In the region there are two ethnic minorities: the Molisan Croats (2,500 people who speak an old Dalmatian dialect of the Croatian language) and the Molisan Albanians (Arbëreshë who speak an old dialect of the Albanian language which is now very different from the Albanian spoken on the other side of the Adriatic Sea). Molisan Albanians are generally of the Orthodox religion.