Basilicata is a region in the south of Italy that forms the ‘instep’ of Italy’s boot, and has one of the most ancient histories in all of Italy.
It is nestled between Campania, Calabria, and Puglia and has two stretches of coastline; one on the Western shore which is the Tyrrhenian Sea, and one on the southern ‘instep’ shore which is the Ionian Sea.
There are only 611,000 inhabitants within the 9,987 square kilometres that make up Basilicata. There are two provinces; Potenza and Matera, and the capital is the city of Potenza.
Similar to Abruzzo, Basilicata has a mostly mountainous landscape, along with forests, rolling hills pitted with ancient villages, and fields full of vineyards. Also like Abruzzo, Basilicata is virtually unknown by tourist standards and is the very reason why Italian Provincial Tours has included Basilicata, as one of our destinations to be discovered off the beaten track of Italy.
The ancient name for Basilicata is Lucania, named after the Oscan-speaking population from Central Italy. Locals still refer to themselves as ‘Lucani’.
Human habitation of Basilicata dates back to the Palaeolithic age, a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. From these pre-historic times until modern day, Basilicata has been influenced by many waves of invaders, each who tired at one stage to control the region including, the Greek, French, Spanish and Arabians.
The “gem” of Basilicata without a doubt is the city of Matera. Matera is the third-oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and the first human dwellings in Italy are believed to be amongst those in Matera, some 9,000 years old.
Within Matera are the Sassi (caves) which are a honeycomb of dwellings built into the limestone, which were once home to local farmers who struggled to survive. The Sassi are in two sections: the Barisano and the older Caveoso, where more of the sites are.
In the 1940’s, Carlo Levi, the political activist, wrote a book called “Christ Stopped at Eboli”. The book speaks of the poverty and daily hardship of the inhabitants of Basilicata who felt that they had been excluded and bypassed by the rest of the world. As a communist, Carlo Levi was exiled to Basilicata during the fascist era, then after his time in exile he wrote the book. Levi wrote of how he was shocked to see that in the 40’s and 50’s people were still living in the caves in appalling conditions. After the release of the book, the living conditions in Matera became a national scandal. Levi had called the city “The shame of Italy” in the book that then changed the history of Matera.
After the books release, the government relocated the inhabitants of the city, and a few decades later in the 80’s, people started to move back the Sassi and began to restore.
Today, the Sassi is a UNESCO world heritage site and the European Capital of Culture for 2019. There are restored homes, hotels, restaurants and bars, artisan stores and museums. Today, Matera is the place to be in Italy.
Due to Matera’s appearance which resembles somewhere out of the bible, Matera has been used in films like ‘The Passion of the Christ’, ‘Wonder Woman’, the 2016 remake of ‘Ben Hur’, and the recently released ‘Mary Magdalene’. Hollywood director, wine maker and hotelier Francis Ford Coppola, is from Bernalda in Basilcata. Most famous for his movie The Godfather, Coppola visits the region of his grandfather regularly, where he owns a palazzo which he turned into the Margarita Hotel.
Basilicata has a number of national parks within the Lucanian Apennines which run through the middle of the region vertically. The part of the Lucanian Apennines that lies within Basilicata is known as the Dolomiti Lucane (Lucanian Dolomites). The beauty of these ranges is breathtaking, with tall, rocky, odd shaped peaks, hilltop towns and hidden lakes. Within the Lucanian Apennines are the villages of Castelmezzano and Piertapertosa, perched on the mountainside overlooking spectacular scenery. Pietrapertosa is a medieval village and is the highest village in Basilicata, with a Saracen castle built into the rock with spectacular views.
Between the villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, runs one of the world highest and longest zip lines, named “Volo dell’Angelo” (flight of the angel).
The true magic of Basilicata however, is its people. The Lucani have big hearts and enjoy the simple pleasures of everyday life.
The region’s cuisine has been influenced by its colourful history with ingredients originating from northern European cultures, Spanish, French and Arabic. Having been a historically poor and isolated region, much of the cuisine today is made up of cucina povera (poor man’s food) dishes using rustic yet delicious ingredients. Within the authentic restaurants of Basilicata Italy, you will find dishes that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in Italy.
Basilicata boasts the first records of pasta being made in Italy. There are over ten different kinds of pasta made in the region such as orecchiette (little ears) which is the most well-known, tapparelle (big ears) and chiappute which is like a wide tagliatelle.
The most well-known wine of the region is the Aglianico del Vulture with D.O.C. status. The grapes used to make to wine are grown on vines within the volcanic district around the Vulture Mountain which produces grapes of exceptional quality. It is considered to be one of the great wines of Southern Italy. Terra dell’ Alta Val d’Agri is another more recent wine which is produced within the province of Potenza.
Join Italian Provincial Tours as we step off the beaten path of Italy, step foot on Italy’s most historic grounds, and get up close and personal with the local people and their everyday provincial lives. Discover the simple pleasures of life in Basilicata with us,
and Become More Italian!