According to the ancient historians, the charming coasts of the territory of Massa Lubrense, land of the mythical Sirens, from which the original placename of Sirenusion, saw the passage of Ulisses’ ships, who would have founded there the famous Athena temple. But beyond the legend, the presumed natives of the zone were two people of Italic stock, the Ausoni and the Osci. About these last ones, a testimony was found in an inscription discovered few years ago, near the Oriental landing place of Punta Campanella.
With the formation of a Greek colony, the same name of the temple, Athenaion, came to denote all this extreme part of the peninsula which however preserved strong Hellenistic features also in Roman times, when it was called Promontorium Minervae, this name is written on the Tabula Peutingeriana (IV century), near to the first graphic representation of the temple.
Only in the I century of the Roman Empire the Latin characteristics prevailed over the Hellenistic ones, thanks the arrival of eminent patricians who came here to spend leisure moments and vacations in sumptuous residences of which we found interesting ruins. In those times there were no inhabited centres of a certain importance. In the green and thick vegetation there were scattered houses of people who drew their own maintenance from the fields and there were the already mentioned Roman villas.
In addition we have to remember the presence of August’s veterans who were assignees of plots of land to cultivate.
Christian religion already came there perhaps with the Apostles, but it developed with delay, replacing slowly the pagan cult.
In the Middle Age long miserable periods followed for our populations, that were reduced to the vassalage and exposed continuously to the incursions of marauders coming from the sea and still more harassed from the Saracen raids.
Meanwhile the first social aggregations were born. They hardly created other activities that were not only agricultural activities, even if these last ones were absolutely preponderant. The first residential areas rose up, afterward they gave life to casali, later called villages and at least hamlets, that today, being certainly larger in extension and number of inhabitants, constitute the social-administrative structure of the City.
The name Massa appears after the short Longobard domination (VI century), but it established itself permanently only some time after. Massa comes from mansa, a Longobard word which indicated a place suitable for cultivation. This interpretation is the most reliable among the various etymologies supported by some authors. To the name Massa was combined the adjective pubblica (938), to indicate a mass of state property, a public countryside, evidently one of those that belonged to the state of Sorrento. The attribute lubrensis, typical of the episcopate, replaced pubblica around 1306. Lubrense, or of Lobra, (delubrum = temple), cathedral that stood on Fontanella beach. Together with the adjective, the City took in its coat of arms the venerated image of Our Lady of Lobra. Ordinarily the name Massa, without any adjectives, refers to the hamlet of the cathedral, currently indicated as centre or capital. Massa Lubrense was part of the Duchy of Sorrento with mixed successes until the advent of the Norman Kingdom. It started its emancipation under the Swabians domination, becoming a civitas. In 1273 its citizens, almost all Ghibellines, caused it the reprisal of Carlo d’Angiò who incorporated again the territory in Sorrento.
Devastating and confused events followed until 1465, when there was one of the saddest events of the history of our town, the destruction of the main hamlet, the Annunziata, the seat of the bishop and the civil authorities, that was the only one fortified with a tower and walls, by Ferrante of Aragon, who had laid a siege for two years, camped in the clearing opposite the northern slopes of the hill.
Giovanna II of Durazzo stayed in a beautiful building, where, in 1600, on its ruins, the Jesuit Vincenzo Maggio raised the imposing building of the College with an high tower of defense, commonly known as the Torrione, an important architecture work of fortifications and the greatest local monument.
During the Spanish Viceroyalty, Massa Lubrense passed through a period of troubled political events in the affliction of a miserable moral and civil decadence. In addition there were frequent invasions by Turkish pirates who, in 1558, after having made horrible massacres and loots, enslaved about 1500 people, in small part then ransomed.
The constant threat from the sea forced the citizens of Massa to build along the coast, with an appropriate distance, watchtowers, from which someone could give the alarm at the approach of the assailants. Most of these towers still exist and they are more or less in a state of fair preservationand represent a particular feature of the landscape. In 1656 the plague, that broke out in Naples a few years before, spread alse in our town making a lot of victims.
Finally, under the rule of Bourbons, also Massa was influenced by the evolution of times and remarkable commercial and craftmade activities pleaced side by side to the ancient rural civilization. As there were not earthly lines of communication, a fleet of big boats sailed to the capital and other Mediterranean ports, with a strong exporting movement (agricultural products, head of cattle, craftmade works), and importing (raw materials, consumer products).
Trade with Naples was so intense that a whole quarter, near the pier, was called Porta di Massa.
Citizens of Massa gave a noble contribution of men and ideas to Neapolitan Republic. Three fellow citizens, Luigi Bozzaotra, Severo Caputo e Nicola Pacifico, fearless champions of liberty, wrote their name in the register of the repression’s martyrs.
In 1808 Gioacchino Murat directed, from Massa, the military operations against the English occupying Capri. There were also Carbonarist conspiracies after the return of the Bourbons on the throne of Naples, until the liberation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, then followed the unification of Italy.
In the first half of this century, the two waves of emigration to the America and New Zealand are noteworthy. The former, between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, was more massive and continued also after the First World War. The latter, after the second conflict, saw a considerable number of citizens to emigrate to Germany in search for work and better living conditions. On the contrary, the opening of stone quarries (the most important ones were at Vitale and Ieranto, but now both disabled), encoraged the immigration of workers from Sardinia to our town, who without too much difficulty integrated themselves into the social context of Massa assimilating its customs.
During the Second World War, a large number of evacuees, especially from Naples, which was heavily bombed, stayed in so-called manor houses, among the farms of which they themselves were the owners because their ancestors belonging to the rich middle class liked this form of investment. After the armistice in 1943, dozens of disbanded soldiers, already in force for coastal defence positions of Tore and of Reola, found refuge in families of Massa that were helpful to human solidarity. After the war, many of them married and remained there, others returned to their origin places with their young brides. In 1944 groups of refugees of Cassino and Nettuno were accepted and settled there in rotation off small contingents of Irish soldiers (in Massa) and American soldiers (in Sant’Agata).
The last decades are recent history of democratic life and development. The agricultural economy, in spite of the crisis sector, is enough flourishing, while the domestic and international tourism demand is sufficiently satisfied, thanks to the strengthening and improvement of receptive facilities and communication networks. The cultural level of young generation is in a marked progressive increase.
All this may allow Massa Lubrense to keep in step with the times, in the wake of its traditions of hard work and civil progress.