Hidden Basilicata: all its finest hidden treasures and secrets

You would need the legs and the bike of Fabian Cancellara, and the eyes and camera of Francis Ford Coppola to describe their land in full. The French cycling champion has Lucanian blood, his father hails from San Fele in Potenza; Coppola, an icon of world cinema, who has directed many masterpieces including The Godfather, is the nephew of Agostino Coppola from Bernalda (Matera). His father, Carmine Coppola (magnificent jazz player) spoke to him in dialect, like his mother, Itala Pennino (daughter of the composer Francesco Pennino), in Neapolitan. The Coppola family is a dynasty of world cinema (Nicolas Cage is Francis’ nephew, Thalia Shire Coppola is his sister) and all it would take is one of their stories in images to give us a sense of this wonderful land. A land which has an alpha and an omega: it starts from Melfi where the castle of Fredrick II continues to sternly dominate the land and from where the universal value of the Melfi constitutions still emanates. Liber Augustalis which the Stupor Mondi (name given to Fredrick II which meant Wonder of the World) promulgated in 1231 from Melfi is probably the highest example of legislation after the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian. It is an example of the enlightened sovereignty and could be called illuminist of the great Swabian Emperor. The Swabian Castle of Melfi is still an outstanding example of military architecture which has become an aristocratic palace and a place where history has taken home: considering that five Councils have been hosted in these rooms, and that at least a couple of Emperors have sojourned here. Why? Probably because Melfi is the gateway to Vultura, unique in geographical terms. It is Vulture, an extinct volcano at the foot of which extends a fertile land. The Aglianico, one of the most celebrated wines of southern Italy is produced here, but also a very fragrant extra virgin olive oil: the Dop Vulture. From Vulture the journey continues eastwards to reach the city which symbolizes the beauty of Basilicata: Matera. It has been proclaimed European Capital of Culture 2019 and if Venice is known the world over as the city on water, Matera is known as the city of stone. Palazzo Lanfranchi, which dominates it, faces onto the Stones: the Baresano and Caveoso stone crossed by the Gravina a fissure in limestone on which stands the Civita. The rupestrian churches, the cathedrals, the houses dug into the limestone rocks and the water reservoirs make Matera of Stone (the high part of the city is an outstanding example of Baroque) a world apart. It is no coincidence that the city has been chosen as the setting of many films, including masterpieces like the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson or Ben Hur by Timur Bekmambetov. Matera is a cross-section of the archaic rural civilisation and, to this very day, its bread which was cooked in the underground ovens and marked by each family with special symbols, is considered a culinary gem. To eat perhaps with the cruschi (crunchy) peppers of Senise, with the aubergines of Rotonda, with the beans of Sarconi. These are just a selection of the products of the fertile countryside of Lucania which mostly extends into the area of Potenza. It also stretches towards the zone of Policoro which is home to the largest plain of the region and prelude to the beautiful Ionian coast of finest sand. This is home to Metaponto and one cannot but contemplate the remains of the magnificent temple of Hera which recalls the ancient-Greek origin of these lands. The areas surrounding Matera are also ideal for tasting excellent virgin olive oil and a visit to Miglionico is a must. This village is home to the dominating castle of Malconsiglio so-called because it hosted the Barons who conspired against Ferdinand 1st King of Naples. Basilicata is also an extraordinary wealth of nature: the so-called “Lucanian Dolomites”, a mountain chain which dominates the Basento valley covered by immense forests. The same also embellish the Apennine chain of Lucania (in the south-western part of the region) home to the villages of the great cheeses of Basilicata: Filiano and Moliterno, places where time seems to have stopped. The Lombard and Swabian traces in the architecture are still clearly visible and a prelude to Sila, the mountainous plateau that joins Basilicata to Calabria and where the caciocavallo cheese is a natural gem. From Sila you descend into the very short and beautiful Tyrrhenian coast of Basilicata to meet Maratea. It is a jewel city, loved by Charles V who spent Imperial holidays here. Surrounded by woods and by Mediterranean scrub Maratea boasts specimens of magnificent architecture: from the theory of the patrician villas including Villa Nitti which was the summer residence of Francesco Saverio Nitti, first President of the radical Council of Italy, great economist, man of the historical left, to the churches including the most important Basilica of San Biagio until what is left of the fortified castles like that of Castrocucco. A detail which makes Maratea known all over Italy is the statue of the Redeemer which stands on Mount San Biagio. Work of the Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenti, it is the highest statue in Italy, standing 22 metres tall. From Maratea the journey heads back towards Potenza without neglecting Acerenza considered to be one of the most beautiful villages of the South and which gathers around its Cathedral dating to the high Middle Ages. It is a complex of immense value which encloses five centuries of artistic production. In Potenza history is encountered in the Roman villa of Poggio Tre Galli (which preserves beautiful mosaics), in the 9th century Torre Guevara, in the beautiful cathedral of San Gerardo, and in the many aristocratic palaces still standing that bear witness to the centrality of this city which has always been the crossroads of Southern Italy. 

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Edit by Carlo Cambi: journalist experienced in the wine, tourism and culinary sectors which make him one of the greatest experts in the communication of territorial products.