10 small unknown villages to be discovered around Basilicata. Beyond the famous provincial capital, travelling across the region from North to South and from West to East permits to discover countless small pearls set in this landscape. So, let’s start a journey in Basilicata among semi-unknown villages whose architectural, urban and historical features promise to amaze.
After a long past in the Italian tourist-cultural background, media have been talking more about Basilicata in the latest years, also thanks to a substantial movie campaign and mainly referring to the rediscovered Matera, the next European Capital of Culture. Other great places of interest have been the starting and arrival points of the famous Volo dell’Angelo (Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa); Maratea, the town overlooking a spectacular stretch of the Thyrrenian sea; the ghost village of Craco; Aliano with its typical Badlands, and the memories of writer Carlo Levi.
Going beyond these relatively known centres, let’s see what else a trip to Basilicata (decreed by the New York Times as the tourist destination not to be missed in 2018) can offer during a journey through 10 hamlets. 10 less-known centres that are able to fascinate with their simplicity, combined with breathtaking views, singular settings, historical features and traditions.
Set on a hill at 800 meters above the sea level, the tiny village stays tight around a “Federician” manor which faces the green valley of Vitalba and the bustling profile of Mount Vulture (an extinct volcano), clearly visible at the other side of the valley. This was the castle chosen by Emperor Frederick II of Svevia and his son Manfred as a hunting lodge, with the structure perhaps already built up by the Saracens.
While visiting the village and losing yourself in the landscape that surrounds Lagopesole (in the name lays the reference to an ancient lake, now dried up,) the past of the castle still resounds. The atmosphere is that of royal courts on vacation, hunting trips among the dense vegetation, raids of brigands. In the post-unification period, the village was, in fact, besieged by the notorious bandit Carmine Crocco, coming from nearby Rionero, and the castle became his refuge. A trip to Basilicata and through its history can’t ignore this legendary figure.
Pietragalla is the symbol of a specific rural archaeology and architecture. While reaching the village – located on a terraced plateau at over 800 meters above sea level – you can admire about 200 typical palmenti. Looking like rural homes coming from a far-away past, these structures actually form a cave complex that originated in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was the result of local winemakers’ labour, a unique example in Basilicata and perhaps in Europe.
Dug into the tufa, in perfect harmony with the land context, and composed of two or four tanks, these buildings were used for the pressing of the grapes and the fermentation of the must until the end of the 60s. The wine obtained was then deposited in artisanal wooden barrels arranged in the characteristic caves (called Rutt) which can be found in the historic centre. In the village, the sixteenth-century ducal palace is also noteworthy.
An Arab-Norman town, Tricarico boasts a medieval urban layout on three hills, among the best-preserved ones in Basilicata. The town in the Matera province has a long and richly documented history. Its prestige depends mainly on its ancient diocese, attested before the year 1000 and originally featuring the Byzantine Rite. The Norman Tower – inserted in a former castle from the ninth century, then donated to the Clarisse nuns in 1033 and transformed into the rich Santa Chiara monastery – is the most evident expression of that historical era.
This mansion was succeeded by the Ducal Palace, home of the Norman counts of Tricarico (above all, the prestigious Sanseverino family). It can still be admired in the historic heart of the town, a few steps from the Duomo built in the 11th century by the Norman Roberto il Guiscardo. This is the only cathedral in Lucania to boast a double arched entrance, and, in 1383, it hosted none other than the coronation of a king of Naples, Louis I of Anjou.
Within walking distance, between the bishop’s palace and the ducal palace, there is a passage, Porta Vecchia or King Ladislao Arch, one of the various access roads to the fortified town today still admirable.
And what about the Arab past? Before it became a Byzantine fortification and then a Norman feud, Tricarico was an Arab stronghold. Its traces in the urban fabric are today more than alive in the Saracen and Ràbata districts. The first one develops around a fortress whose tower, door and part of the walls are still preserved; the second one is the residential area from the Arab era, which can be entered through a door protected by a small tower.
A series of low, white (or painted in soft pastel colours) houses leaning on each other overlook the river Basento valley. This is the picturesque image of a mediaeval hill town, which owes its name to Federico of Aragon. In 1494, in fact, he baptized it with this name in honour of his father, King Ferrante I (or Ferrantino). The dignity and the title of civitas were then attributed to Ferrandina by the sovereign Ferdinando the Catholic in 1507. An important recognition underlined in the Church of Santa Maria della Croce, where three portals from the sixteenth century and three Byzantine domes stand out. The church also hosts two gilded statues, depicting the king of Naples Ferrante of Aragona and his wife, Isabella from Chiaromonte.
But the Langobardic, Norman and then Aragonese past just followed the much older roots of Ferrandina, which lie into the Magna Graecia of 1000 BC. At that time, the city was called Troilia, an important centre of the Hellenic culture built to remember and honour the well-known destroyed city of Asia Minor, Troy.
Located on an upland of the barren Matera hills that look to the coastal plain, the town (about 10,000 inhabitants, a record for the average of the municipalities in Basilicata) shares a vast territory of the Murgia Materana Park with its famous province capital city. This is an area of archaeological, historical and natural interest scattered with rock churches. These buildings for religious (then also residential and pastoral) use, often adorned with ancient, simple frescoes, are dug into the rock and date back to the early Middle Ages.
Montescaglioso is also called “city of monasteries”, due to the presence of four monastic complexes, among which the abbey of San Michele Arcangelo stands out, dating back to the twelfth century. This hamlet was also awarded the recognition of Gioiello D’Italia in 2012. Its historical centre strikes because of the contrast between the white low houses and the grey stone of the religious architecture, mainly from the late baroque style.
The tiny centre of the Val D’Agri developed around the year 1000 with the arrival of the Basilian monks, has been actually the witness of a more than thousand-year-long history. On the semi-barren hills that face the village – called Serra Lustrante – there is an archaeological site that has unearthed extraordinary findings. They’re the remains of an ancient sanctuary dedicated to Heracles, together with funerary objects testifying to the presence of a sacred Greek area dating back to the 4th century BC.
Another striking feature of Armento is above all the ancient Casale district, almost detached from the main body of the town. Among the small abandoned stone houses, you can see the ruins of the noble palace of the Roman consul Terenzio Lucano, who lived in the territory. There are also several palaces and portals from the eighteenth century that attract the attentive gaze of those wandering around the village.
Not far away, downstream of the village, you can admire a breathtaking scenery. For a moment, you’ll forget being in Basilicata and will be immersed in the grandeur of the overseas canyons. It’s the Murgia (or Stones) of Sant ‘Oronzo, a physical and symbolic gateway to the National Park of Appennino Lucano, Val d’Agri and Lagonegrese. Over the millennia, the slow work of the Agri river created a spectacular gorge, between conglomerate pinnacles (more than a hundred meters high) and overhanging walls formed.
A lively and industrious town, Brienza was born as an important centre of the Kingdom of Naples, a fief of the Caracciolo marquises, who were among the hundred richest and most powerful families of the time. Being a typical village of high-medieval Langobardic origin, Brienza envelopes itself around the hill where the castle stands (a Caracciolo castle, of course, probably from Angevin origin). In addition to the view of the manor that dominates the village from the narrow valley of the Pergola stream (a water path that directly crosses the town, a rarity among the Lucanian municipalities), Brienza impresses the visitor for the diverse, valuable stone portals of the nineteenth century, built after the earthquake of 1857.
The Convent of the Annunciation (now hosting the Town Hall) is also an interesting attraction, with its cloister that preserves 18th-century frescoes. Visitors will surely be intrigued by the legend of the beautiful Bianca from Brienza, who lived in the castle around the middle of 1300. The story has it that she was kidnapped by pirates during a trip on the Tyrrhenian sea and brought to Algiers). It’s said that her treasure may be still hidden in the castle, in the secret and inaccessible 366th room!
The little town lying down in the middle of Agri and Sinni valleys boasts a Saracen origin and a primitive residential nucleus. It’s suggestively limited on each side by deep gullies, typical of the Lucanian hill. This is the Rabatana, called with this name by the Arab populations who dominated the village after the Goths foundation in the fifth century. The main feature of this place is the low stone houses around an ancient castle. Here, the underground tunnels from the former home of marquises and local squires are still visible.
Rabatana – which is accessed by a wide and steep staircase called in dialect Petrizze and built up by Duke Carlo Doria (nephew of Andrea, lord of Genoa) – actually grew even after the expulsion of the Saracens, in Byzantine times. At that time, Tursi was a bishop’s seat of the Greek rite and chief town.
Along with its alleys, you’ll feel the reference to the verses of the twentieth-century dialect poet Albino Pierro, a native of Tursi. While walking in the old town downstream of the Rabatana, the visitor will be fascinated by several aristocratic buildings, narrow alleys and typical arches between the houses. Nearby, do not miss the village of Anglona, an ancient Roman city known for the homonymous sanctuary from the 11th century. Built in tuff and travertine, it has been considered a national monument since 1931.
A village to “be read”, lying between the Pollino mountains and the Ionian Sea. In the rooms of the Morra Castle – home of the homonymous Literary Park – the poignant verses of the poet Isabella and the echoes of her tragic story resound. She was the daughter of the feudal lord and one of the most original and authentic voices in the female lyric of the ‘500. She ended up killed by the wrath of her brothers because of the alleged sentimental relationship with Diego Sandoval de Castro, lord of the nearby Bollita (the current Nova Siri). Truth is, she only started an epistolary relationship with the man, focused on literature itself.
The alleys of this medieval village twist and turn through the sides and at the feet of the rocky spur where the castle stands. Alleys that are connected together by the characteristic gafi (a very common vision during a trip to Basilicata), aka narrow vaulted passages opened underneath the old houses.
San Costantino Albanese
We could have selected many other small and charming villages among those perched on the slopes of the Pollino massif, gateways to the largest Italian National Park. We propose San Costantino as a witness, together with the nearby San Paolo Albanese, of an ethnic minority – the arbëreshë one. In fact, the identity and culture of this population are still alive in many centres between Basilicata and Calabria.
The village was born with the settlement in Val Sarmento of Albanian populations exiled from the south-western Balkan territories. This followed the migration occurred in 1534 with the fall of the Albanian fortress of Korone under the Turkish control. San Costantino is worth a visit to discover this culture (the ancient idiom is used by the local population as a mother tongue,) as well as for venturing into the woods and grasslands of the Pollino.
The historic centre is home to the Arbëreshe Ethnomuseum of Farming Civilization, which also offers a workshop for the construction of typical musical instruments. In San Costantino Albanese, you’ll also experience the Flight of the Eagle, a structure that allows you to try the simulation of a hang-gliding flight.