Basilicata (Lucania) Attractions
SituationThe region of Basilicata or Lucania, consisting of the provinces of Potenza and Matera, lies in southern Italy. Most of it is occupied by the southern Neapolitan Apennines, with many rivers, mountain chains and table-land. The region is bounded in the north by Apulia, in the south by Calabria and in the west by Campania; it is open to the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Gulf of Policastro and to the Ionian Sea in the Gulf of Taranto. In spite of the relatively fertile soil, which yields wheat, maize, vines, olives and edible chestnuts, many of the inhabitants of the region still live in poverty.HistoryDespite the establishment of Greek colonies and Hellenistic settlements on the coast of the Ionian Sea in the eighth-seventh century B.C. and the fact that the area was later Romanised, becoming Regio III of the Roman Empire, Basilicata remained throughout its history an area of only little consequence. The region suffered severe damage in an earthquake in November 1980.
Potenza (819m/2,703ft), capital of the more westerly province and of the region of Basilicata, lies above the River Basento on a ridge between two valleys. It was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1857 and again during the Second World War, but has since largely been rebuilt. In the center of the old town (1980 further earthquake damage), on the main street, Via Pretoria, is the Piazza Matteotti; a little way to the northeast stands the 18th century cathedral. Just off the west end of the Via Pretoria rises the Romanesque church of San Michele (11th century). To the north of the town the Museo Archeologico Provinciale, with finds from tombs, architectural fragments from the temple of Apollo Lyceus at Metaponto, is worth visiting.
Rionero in Vulture, Italy
There is a rewarding trip along the road which runs north via Castel Lagopesole (756m/2,495ft) with a well-preserved castle in Gothic style, built by Frederick II about 1242 on an eminence (829m/2,736ft) west of the former Lake Lagopesole to Rionero in Vulture (656m/2,165ft; pop. 12,500).
From Rionero it is 6km/4mi northwest to Monte Vulture (1,330m/4,389ft), an extinct volcano visible from all over Apulia.
10km/6mi west of Rionero are the two small lakes of Monticchio (in the double crater of an extinct volcano; 650m/2,145ft; 35-38m/116-125ft deep); on the smaller lake are the former Capuchin monastery of San Michele and a hydro-electric station. Between the two lakes are the ruins of the abbey of San Ippolito (12th century). 7km/4.5mi away, on the western slopes of the Monte Valtura, is the little spa of Monticchio Bagni (540m/1,782ft).
From Rionero the road continues north 9km/5.5mi to Rapolla (438m/1,445ft), a spa (recommended for rheumatism) with a beautiful Gothic cathedral.
From Rapolla a detour (20km/12mi east) can be made to Venosa (415m/1,370ft; pop. 12,000), an ancient Samnite town, from 291 B.C. the Roman colony of Venusia and the birthplace of the poet Horace. Excavations have brought to light considerable remains of the town dating from the Roman Imperial period. Square stone blocks from the amphitheater were used in the 12th century in the construction of the convent of the Santissima Trinità, founded in 1046, which is situated to the northeast of the town. The original church was intended by the Norman duke Robert Guiscard (d. 1085) as a family burial place but remained unfinished. It contains 11th century frescoes, the tomb of Robert Guiscard's wife, Roman inscriptions and fragments of sculpture. To the north, on the road to the station, are Jewish catacombs (fourth-fifth centuries) with inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. In the center of the town stands a 15th century castle.
About 6km/4mi northwest of Rapolla, on a much-eroded lateral crater of Monte Vulture, is the little town of Melfi (531m/1,752ft; pop. 16,000), the market town of an extensive olive-growing area. It has a fine 12th century cathedral, modernized in 1851; adjoining it is the former Archbishop's Palace. The Norman castle above the town houses the Museo Nazionale Archeologico, which contains a magnificent Roman sarcophagus from Rapolla, made in Asia Minor of a Roman lady (A.D. 165-170).
Matera, the chief town of the more easterly province of Basilicata (399m/1,317ft; pop. 55,000), is picturesquely situated above a rocky gorge. The town is on the site of a prehistoric settlement, remains of which can be seen in the National Museum. The lower old town is made up of the two quarters of Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. Most of the houses here, known as "sassi", are hewn from the rock and built in tiers on the hillside. They are a confusion of small walls, steps, gables and chimneys. In 1960 most of the occupiers were re-housed, and today the "sassi" are occupied largely by squatters. However, it is intended to restore them and use them for a variety of events. The rock architecture of the "sassi di Matera" is on the UNESCO list of protected buildings. On the highest point of the old town stands the 13th century cathedral. Its facade is decorated with a rosette in stone symbolising the Wheel of Life. Inside can be seen a fragment of a fresco of the Madonna della Bruna, the patron saint of Matera. Other old churches nearby include those of San Giovanni Battista (13th century), dedicated to John the Baptist, and San Francesco d'Assisi (stucco, paintings, etc.). In the monastery complex adjoining the church of Santa Chiara is the Museo Nazionale (rich finds from various eras). In the region around Matera there are a number of small churches hewn out of the rock, suggesting that at one time monks, sheep-rearing communities, etc. lived here. The Strada Panoramica runs along the top of the gorge past the church of San Pietro Caveoso to the church of Santa Maria de Idris (Byzantine frescoes), on the rocky hill of Montorrone.
Near the northwest coast of the Gulf of Taranto is Metaponto, with the remains of the famous Greek city of Metapontion, the Roman Metapontum. The town, probably founded by Archaean settlers at the beginning of the seventh century, became in the sixth century a center of Pythagorean teaching, the home of the great mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, who is said to have died here in 497 B.C. at the age of 90. To the north of the town are the Tavole Palatine, the remains of a Doric temple, with 15 of the original 36 columns still standing. The Antiquarium can display at any one time only a selection of the rich store of finds recovered in the excavations of recent years. Most of the material comes from the sacred precinct containing the remains of four large temples, which probably collapsed when they were undermined by rising ground-water in the third century B.C. A remarkable feature of the area is the carefully planned layout of the fertile plain, with regular field boundaries, roads and water channels and more than 300 Greek farmsteads, 11 of which have been excavated. The theater (third century B.C.), the walls of which were pulled down and the stones removed at an early period, had a semicircular cavea and Doric columns, anticipating some of the main features of the Roman theater.