21 Aug 2019

ENIT Itineraries: Basilicata

The New York Times ranked it third in its list of “52 Places to Go in 2018″, defining it “Italy’s best-kept secret”. A region, in the south of Italy, quite undiscovered, but rich in minerals, in the middle of two seas. One of the oldest landscapes on Earth lay derelict and uninhabited for most part less than 70 years ago. Now, says Fleur Rollet-Manus, a shining example of human resilience.

In ancient historical times the region was originally known as Lucania, named for the Lucani, an Oscan-speaking population from central Italy. Their name might be derived from Greek leukos meaning “white”, lykos (“gray wolf”), or Latin lucus (“sacred grove”).  Starting from the late eighth century BC, the Greeks established a settlement first. Then with the foundation of Metaponto from Achaean colonists, they started the conquest of the whole Ionian coast. The first contacts between the Lucanians and the Romans date from the latter half of the fourth century BC. After the conquest of Taranto in 272, Roman rule was extended to the whole region: the Appian Way reached Brindisi and the colonies of Potentia (modern Potenza) and Grumentum were founded.

In the last few years, new productive sectors have developed: manufacturing, automotive, and especially oil extraction, but the region has a tourist vocation. Basilicata hosts Matera, European Capital of Culture 2019. With evidence of continuous settlement spanning over 9000 years, the labyrinth of rock-hewn homes (known as the Sassi, or “Stones”) fell into disrepair in the 1950s. Despite the ingenious ancient plumbing and cistern systems (which secured its Unesco World Heritage status) many inhabitants lived in poverty and were relocated to the modern city. Then, as craftsmen, web developers and punchy young Italians reclaimed the natural fortress, Matera has been transformed into an honeypot for creatives.

Walk down the winding road to the centre of Matera to reach the cave dwellings of Sasso Barisano. Best explored on foot, maze-like steps lead to alleys occupied by trendy bars, museums and boutique hotels burrowed in the rock. Running parallel to the area, the Unesco-protected Parco delle Chiese Rupestri di Matera comprises over 150 churches, hermitages and settlements spanning two millennia. Hike along the edge of the gorge for sweeping vistas. Stand on the Belvedere for sunset views. Inhabitants of Sassi relied heavily on community spirit. Using a communal oven, they had dinner all together and produced the bread of Matera, an horn-shaped bread that formed a staple part of their diet. Nowadays it is served up as a sandwich. They can be loaded with aubergine, courgette, cheese and pesto. Influenced by neighbouring Puglia, already described in a previous itineraries which could be combined with, you will find the same orecchiette pasta and fava bean puree on menus, and figs stuffed with orange ricotta and mint alongside courgette pies. Bundles of cruschi peppers decorate market stalls and kitchens. The slightly sweet chilli is dried in the sun for a month, before being fried in olive oil and served obviously with cave cheese and a glass of red Aglianico.

Brought to you by: ENIT – Italian National Tourist Board

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