Driving from the Maldivean-like beaches of the Apulian coasts to the rolling hills covered with wheat fields is a geographical, ethnical, historical, emotional journey. The region of Basilicata is pinned on the tourist Atlas only by the Unesco World heritage site of “Sassi” of Matera, and even Italians almost ignore this corner of “Bel Paese”. One more reason to indulge into a deeper exploration.
The dry, brown, sun-drenched hills are dotted with medieval villages perched atop rocky outcrops, reminiscent of the Andalusian “Pueblos Blancos”. A magnificent scenic ride along winding countryside roads where you meet only the occasional tractor or the (probably) weekly local bus, a relaxing and almost hypnotic landscape interrupted by the sight of an imposing tower nested among stone houses. The majestic silhoutte of Craco immediately reminded us of an ascent to The Name of the Rose" monastery, with a twist of biblical setting.
Craco is a modern Pompei where the devastation was not caused purely by natural elements, but is the result of human carelessness for the basic rules of construction and environmental respect. The village grew quickly in the 20th century and the urbanization projects were carried out ignoring (or better saying, trying to forget) the risk of superimposing heavy roads to friable ground, abandoning the routine maintenance of houses´ wells and public canalization was a habit of the good old times. The result was a disastrous landslide which hit the village in 1963, damaging beyond repair most of the houses and forcing the population, slowly but endlessly, to relocate down to valley in anonymous concrete buildings, or to emigrate to North Italy or abroad in search of a better life.
As usual, the best preserved buildings are the oldest, in particular a massive Norman watchtower built in the 12th century, which hosted the Lombard prisoners following the wars between a northern Italian league and Emperor Frederick II, the builder of Castel del Monte of our previous report.
The contrast with the creepy, mysterious atmospheres of Craco couldn´t be more blatant: we arrive just in time for the yearly “Festa della Bruna”, a celebration of Holy Mary whom, according to a 600 years old legend, appeared to a local farmer and transformed herself into a statue. The effigy was then triumphantly brought to the city on a richly decorated carriage, subsequently destroyed to avoid the interests of Turkish pirates which infested these lands for centuries. Every year, the local master craftsmen create a wonderful papier-mache carriage, which is then madly destroyed by the crowds.
During the festivities, the city centre is adorned with marvellous lights, purple and emerald green electric ribbons adorn the streets leading to a giant turquoise amphitheatre, layered curtains of light shelter the local crowds enjoying grilled meat, poisonously-coloured candies, coconut slices and all imaginable kind of goodies.
A naturally meditative and spiritual mood drifts through the air, totally opposite to the visual distractions of the suffering, fearful images dominating the opulent Baroque churches.
Greetings from Fred Flintstones, let´s enjoy a proper pizza in the lively "modern" city centre of Matera and time to drive to … TIBET !