Craco – How a Ghost Town Become an Open Air Museum

We are in Basilicata – Southern Italy – with Capital in the World and Lonely Planet Italia. This time this Italian travelling radio show is moving with a bunch of video makers, bloggers and other digital communication adventurers, wisely collected and directed by Can’t Forget Italy. I tagged along too, even if a bit late, and went to discover this often neglected side of Italy.

Half the way between the Apennines and the Ionian Sea, our car worms among the hills sided by calanchi – deep cracks dug by the rain water. Behind every turn lies an unexpected sight, a variety of fields and valleys stretching to the horizon without interruption. But behind one specific turn appears the highest hill, with a ghost town on its top. The name of it is Craco, and no living soul inhabits its buildings anymore.

Craco - Basilicata, Italy

A gloomy charm surrounds this village, which is an open air museum standing out against the blue sky. Craco is the beautiful memory of a people’s tragic destiny, the lucid example of a wonderful but suffering region: Basilicata, whose natural beauty and cultural richness are paired with political and economical emptiness, which curses its people to emigration.

Known by its current name since 1060, in the Middle Age Craco was famed as the “combative and never defeated village”. During the Sixties there were about 2000 residents, the most common activity was wheat farming and a number of noble families had here their villas, furnished with marble and frescos. Today Craco counts only 700 inhabitants, all of them living in the newly built area known as Pescheria. The old town, with its invaluable historical centre, has been completely evacuated in the Seventies. The reason were the devastating landslides originated from a baleful attempt to build an aqueduct in the Forties, followed by water infiltrations and fatal urban development.

Three years ago a project started which led to the Musuem Park of Craco’s Old Town (Parco Museale Centro Storico di Craco). A few paths have been made safe and huge enclosures follow the visitors on their way to discover what still remains of the old town – what hasn’t been plundered, destroyed or wasted yet. In the middle of Craco are still to be seen the Church of Saint Nicholas‘ walls, although the treasures it hosted fell pray to plunderers. What is left inside are a few traces of ancient frescos and an 18th century pipe organ.

Craco - Basilicata, Italy

We climb on the higher part of the village and we gaze at a moonlike scene, the grey and brownish shades of Salandrella Valley. The bandits, escaping from the Savoy’s royal army, hid in its shadows for centuries. The most famous one was called Cappuccino – which beside the coffee based drink also means “small hood” – and his gang was defeated right under Craco’s hill. He escaped, but his companions were executed in front of the satisfied look of the Cammarota barons. It said that, upset by the noble family’s pleasure, Cappuccino’s companions cursed their whole lineage, which died for lack of descendants.

Craco - Basilicata, Italy

If you happen to spend a few days in Basilicata, do not forget to visit Craco, you won’t regret it. Go have a look at this tragic monument, enjoy its disquieting beauty and, if possible, feel close to its people. Dig in Craco’s unreal charm and be part of it: after all, it’s just another controversial side of Italy…

Where is Craco?

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Further information about tourism in Basilicata:

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A degree in journalism and a professional limbo ranging from press offices to newspapers, magazines and finally the web. I lived in Verona, Zurich, London, Cape Town, Mumbai and Casablanca. I hate flying and I love jodel music. And when I grow up I wanna be a cosmonaut.

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