In the Agri Valley, in the footsteps of the Ancient Romans

Storia e storie di Basilicata

BASILICATA, AN INTERTWINING OF PEOPLES AND CULTURES
A crossroads of different peoples, Basilicata, once Lucania, was inhabited by the Romans from the 3rd century BC. The Lucanian people, who first settled in these lands by occupying natural caves, found themselves up against the Greeks, whose colonies built on the Ionian coast soon became flourishing cities, between the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The Lucanians emerged victorious, but their strength could not hold a candle to the greatness of the Roman Empire as it expanded southwards. Two centuries of Roman domination marked the history of Lucania, followed, from the 5th century BC onwards, by invasions by a number of populations, such as the Goths, the Lombards, the Byzantines, the Swabians and the Aragonese, right up to the Bourbons. Each of these peoples etched a symbol of their culture, a sign of their passage, into the soul of Lucania, in some areas more than in others, whether it be customs, habits or architectural remains. The appeal of discovering Basilicata lies precisely in this: unexpectedly, its villages reveal their origins, whether ancient, painful, epic or simply fragmentary. Often legend mixes with history, adding salt to an already richly flavoured dish.

IN GRUMENTUM, UNDER THE AEGIS OF THE ROMANS
In the Agri Valley, the Roman influence can be seen in the fascinating remains of the archaeological park of Grumentum, which today resembles a sort of time portal that takes us back to a remote past, when the small pre-Roman and Roman colony was strategically located on high ground, surrounded by slopes carved out by various waterways, including the Agri and the Sciaura. The structure, which you can wander around, gives you a glimpse of the urban planning model of the period; private and public spaces, the sewerage system and water pipes can be clearly distinguished. Outside the city are the baths, the impressive amphitheatre and several public buildings. The ancient Roman colony is now home to a captivating archaeological area and the National Archaeological Museum of Alta Val d’Agri.

NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF ALTA VAL D’AGRI
In Spineta, near Lago di Pietra del Pertusillo lake, a reservoir built in 1962 and now an enchanting oasis, history reigns supreme, and you can lose yourself in its meanders by following the path traced between the walls of the National Archaeological Museum of Alta Val D’agri, where you can explore the history of the area’s population, from prehistoric times to the Roman era, represented by the city of Grumentum, whose remains are still visible today. This is followed by sections dedicated to the prehistory and protohistory of the area, with fossil remains of equids over 120,000 years old and the Elephas antiquus, an imposing proboscidean with 3 metre-long straight tusks, cousin of the well-known mammoth, which migrated southwards from central Europe at the time of major climate cooling in the Pleistocene. There are also sections from the Classical and Hellenistic periods, where entire grave goods can be seen, whose details illustrate the customs of different periods and the differences between social strata. Precious ceramics depicting red figures, as well as armour, cosmetic objects and various furnishings stand out in the showcases. All due to the strong presence of an aristocratic elite. There are also numerous sacred artefacts from the Hellenistic period from the 4th-3rd century sanctuary at the edge of the town, dedicated to a goddess of fertility. But the most interesting area remains the one dedicated to the Roman Age and Grumentum, the Roman colony built in the 3rd century BC. This section features an abundance of marble statues that once decorated the forum and baths area, as well as a rich collection of coins from the Republican and Imperial periods.

THE BATTLE OF GRUMENTUM
A leap into the past takes us back to a crucial historical moment: the Romans were preparing to bring the war against the Samnites to a victorious end, and Grumentum was one of the most strategic fortified outposts from a military point of view, a junction between two important public roads, the Via Herculea, which led to Heraclea on the Ionian side, and the Via Popilia, which led to the Tyrrhenian coast. Entire pages of Livy’s Annales tell of the Second Punic War, in which two battles took place between the Romans and the Samnites, in 215 and 207 BC respectively. It was in the latter that Hannibal set up camp near the town of Grumentum, exactly 500 steps from today’s Grumento Nova (as the story goes), and was defeated by the Romans led by Gaius Claudius Nero. Unfortunately, the fate of the Roman town was sealed. Having escaped the wrath of Hannibal, it was destroyed by the Italics because it sided with the Romans in the social war of the 1st century BC. In the Caesarean and Augustan periods, however, it underwent a thorough process of reconstruction and modernisation and was promoted to the status of colony. Flourishing during the Diocletian era, it boasted thermal baths and renovated roads, until it reached the height of its splendour in 370 BC when it became an episcopal see. It was the Saracens who sacked and destroyed it in two attacks, in 872 and 975.

SAINT LAVERIUS MARTYR AND THE BEGINNING OF CHRISTIANITY IN GRUMENTUM
The episode that led to the nomination of Grumentum as an episcopal see sees the martyr Laverius at the centre of a tangle of history, legend and hagiography. He was a young Roman soldier, born of pagan parents but intent on professing the Christian religion, spreading the word of the Gospel among the people of Teggiano first, and then Acerenza. It was here that he met the pagan prefect Agrippa who, opposed to the soldier’s actions, arrested him and forced him to convert to paganism. When he refused, he tortured him for a whole night and then threatened to have him mauled by beasts in the amphitheatre. When he was brought in, they approached him and knelt before him instead of biting him. The image of Laverius as a friend of the Lord only strengthened. He was thus imprisoned but another miracle saw him freed. This time an angel brought him out of his cell and showed him the way to Grumentum. He went to this town where he continued to preach the word of Jesus. Agrippa soon discovered his hiding place and, after having him flogged several times, ordered him to be beheaded. So, taken to the point where the river Agri and the stream Sciaura meet, Laverius was beheaded. It was 312 AD when a sword pushed his soul out of his body. It is said that many saw him fly to heaven to receive the crown of glory and the palm of martyrdom. An image that terrified Agrippa’s soldiers stationed there. His body was solemnly buried, probably in the Roman necropolis. The 19th-century chapel dedicated to him stands there today. Archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of an early Christian church dating back to the 5th-6th centuries, which was later replaced by a smaller one until the 19th-century one. Two sarcophagi were found, one of which, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Alta Val d’Agri, is thought to contain the remains of the saint.

Roman traces can also be found in Marsicovetere.

The remains of a silent, monumentalised Roman villa from the Imperial age were discovered in 2006. This country house is thought to have belonged to the Brutti Praesentes family, the family of the wife of Commodus in 178, Empress Bruttia Crispina. The villa is located at the foot of Monte Volturino, an advantageous position in Roman times because it was close to the Via Herculia and therefore well connected to Potentia, Venusia and Grumentum, strategic locations for trade.


Maratea and its Patron, a saint who came from the sea

Storia e storie di Basilicata

SAINT BLAISE, HISTORY AND LEGEND
There is an unwavering sentiment that distinguishes all Marateans, the feeling of profound devotion and love that binds them inextricably to Saint Blaise, Patron and Protector of the city. The beginning of the worship of the Holy Martyr has ancient origins and dates back to the period of Iconoclasm. According to legend, at the time of the Iconoclastic persecutions, in the 8th century AD, the saint’s relics were brought from Armenia to Maratea; in reality, the ship containing the sacred remains was apparently heading for Rome, but due to bad sea conditions it was pushed by impetuous waves to the small island of Santo Janni. Once on the island, the urn containing the chest of Saint Blaise was cloaked in a dazzling halo, so bright that the light was visible to all the inhabitants of Maratea. Faced with this prodigious event, the Armenians decided to leave the relics of the saint in the hands of the locals, who then took them to the Sanctuary on the top of the mountain.

FROM SANCTUARY TO BASILICA
From then on, the Sanctuary became a source of pride and deep faith for the people of Maratea, as well as a destination for pilgrims from all over the world, who came there to pray to the miracle-working Saint, especially for healing illnesses related to the throat. The Sanctuary also became the site of the miracle of the Manna; the miracle once took place at more or less regular intervals and consisted of the Manna, a kind of water, pouring out of the urn containing the Saint’s relics and from the columns of the Chapel, which was then collected and distributed to the needy in special reliquaries. According to popular belief, the Manna is an unexpected phenomenon and represents the sweat that the Martyr would produce during his intercession with God in order to save people from their sins, which is why it is a source of concern when it is abundant. A very important date for Maratea was May 3, 1941, when the Sanctuary acquired the title of Basilica. On that occasion, the sacred urn was also recognised and moved to the Chapel dedicated to the Saint and known as the Regia Cappella. This event was attended by many believers and the miracle of the Manna was repeated amidst the emotion and excitement of all.

A MIRACLE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Saint Blaise is credited with many miracles in favour of Maratea, testifying to the deep bond between the saint and the pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea; popular memory recalls the saint’s salvation miracle during the Second World War. According to the testimony of an allied pilot, it seems that he was unable to bomb Maratea because the city was covered by a thick fog that made it impossible to hit the targets, so much so that the bombs he dropped fell into the sea unexploded, and because when he tried to hit the Basilica, the image of the Saint appeared to him several times, making him give up.

THE BASILICA OF SAN BIAGIO
The Basilica of San Biagio (Saint Blaise), built on the homonymous mountain at the highest point of the town of Maratea, called the castle, houses the remains of the patron saint. The place of worship is characterised by simple, linear architectural forms, a façade with a classical profile and an entrance portico with three arches. On the tympanum, in a niche, there is a small statue of Saint Blaise, dating back to 1600, which is affectionately called Sambiasello by the people of Maratea, due to its small size. The interior is Romanesque in style, also very basic in its architectural lines and undecorated, all in the name of simplicity and sobriety. Unfortunately, there is no certain information about the construction of the Basilica, but it was probably originally a Basilian monastery, which in 732 housed the Holy Relics of Saint Blaise and for this reason became a church. The importance of the strategic geographical position on which the place of worship stands was recognised immediately, so much so that under the Lombards it became the site of military fortifications and towers, as well as the first refuge for the inhabitants of Blanda, refugees who gave life to the first community of Maratea, that of Maratea Superiore. The church was remodelled several times over the centuries and was gradually expanded until 1700, when it began to take on its current appearance with the construction of the portico and bell tower. It then underwent other changes until 1963, when Count Rivetti had all the additions removed, returning the church to the ancient and sober simplicity that still characterises it today. The most important part inside the Basilica is the ‘Regia Cappella’ (Royal Chapel), completely covered in marble, named so not because of a reference to royalty, but almost certainly to underline the extraordinary importance it holds for the inhabitants, since it houses the real heart of Maratea: the Relics of Saint Blaise.

DEVOTION TO THE SAINT AND THE RITE OF THE RED CLOAK
The crowds of worshippers who have been coming to the town on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea for years in devotion to Saint Blaise and seeking a miracle from him do so on two occasions in particular: February 3 in memory of the Saint’s martyrdom, when the ritual of the blessing of the throat and the distribution of blessed bread bearing the Martyr’s effigy takes place, and the first Saturday in May when the silver bust of the Martyr is carried in procession through the streets of Maratea, thus opening the celebrations for the annual event, the Feast of the Translation. The celebration lasts for a week and culminates on the second Sunday in May when the Statue is returned to the Basilica. The procession winds its way along a path on the slope of Mount San Biagio, passing by panoramic viewpoints offering unique and breathtaking landscapes. The celebrations follow a series of rituals: after the first procession on Saturday, there is a special supplication known as the “forty hours” supplication; on the following Thursday, the simulacrum is taken to Capocasale (formerly Maratea Inferiore), stripped of the red cloak that covers it and dressed with the episcopal insignia, before being entrusted to the mayor, who symbolically hands it the keys to the city.
The custom of covering the statue of the saint with a red cloak to symbolise martyrdom and episcopal dignity has not always existed, but refers to a disagreement in 1871 between the parish priests of the two settlements into which Maratea was once divided. The parish priest of Maratea Superiore, who has always been the guardian of the Saint’s relics, and the parish priest of Maratea Inferiore, who claimed the role of the other part of the town in the celebration. It took several years to settle these disputes over religious jurisdiction, until 1833 when the Bishop of the time established the ceremony of the festivities. The celebrations continue on Saturday with the procession “on land”, passing through the streets of the town and blessing the sea from Pietra del Sole, and end on Sunday morning, the second Sunday in May, when the saint returns to the castle (formerly Maratea Superiore) to his basilica, a true sacred casket not only of the holy relics but also of Maratea’s civil and sacred history.

* foto di Biagio Calderano

THE CONFRATERNITY OF SAINT BLAISE
According to tradition, the statue of the patron saint is only carried on the shoulders of members of the Confraternity of Saint Blaise. There is no certain data on the origin of this group, but it is thought to be the descendants of the ancient Confraternity of Saint Biase, most probably founded in 1400 with the primary aim of spreading the worship of the Martyr. The members of the Confraternity are believers who play a particularly prestigious role, and can be recognised by their ‘uniform’, as they are dressed in a white tunic and headdress, a red cincture tied around the waist and a sort of red cape on the shoulders with the effigy of the Saint.
Over the years, the Confraternity has also carried out work at its own expense in the Basilica of San Biagio and in the chapel that houses the Saint’s relics. Being a member of the Confraternity of Saint Blaise has always been an honour for the people of Marateo, a source of pride and prestige given their special bond with and devotion to the healer Saint. The group is very closed, the right to join is handed down from father to son, and outsiders are only allowed to join if one of the members dies childless, but entry to the Confraternity is reserved for members of the deceased member’s family.

SCOPRI MARATEA E I SUOI ITINERARI


Festival of the Madonna della Bruna

According to tradition, since 1389, every year on the 2nd July, Matera celebrates the Madonna della Bruna, the city’s Patron saint. Steeped in religious traditions, full of vibrant pagan rites, this spectacular festival is magical to be a part of. The Madonna della Bruna festival is the longest day of the year for Materans: the entire city pays homage to the Virgin, with celebrations long-awaited by the faithful. The festival celebrates the Virgin Mary apparition to a peasant, in a neighbourhood known today as Piccianello. The Carro Trionfale, a giant float, carries the Madonna around the streets of the town centre, up to the Cathedral. At night, the float continues its journey across the town’s central square, where it is grabbed and destroyed by the citizens, according to tradition.

The legend

A mysterious noble woman appeared to a peasant and his child while they were walking to the town. It is told that they agreed to take her to the inhabited centre. Once at the district known today as Piccianello district, in front of the most notable people in town, she disclosed all the magnificence of the Virgin Mary and asked the peasant to bring a letter to the Bishop, where she revealed she was the Mother of Jesus. All bystanders had a sudden flash of inspiration and since then, each year, on the 2nd of July, the apparition of the Virgin has been commemorated by carrying her statue in procession along the streets of Matera, on a giant float that is grabbed and destroyed by the citizens.


The golden age of Magna Graecia in Basilicata, discovering the Ionian Coast

Storia e storie di Basilicata

Metaponto, vestiges of ancient splendour

Thirty-five kilometres of blue sea lapping the coastline of fine golden sand characterise the Ionian coast of Basilicata, where the intense colour of the water blends with the vivid green of the Mediterranean scrub.
The extraordinary fertility of the Ionian coastline has been known since antiquity. Indeed, the coastal area between the Bradano and Basento rivers was chosen by Greek settlers around eight centuries before Christ to found Metapontum, today’s Metaponto. According to the geographer Strabo, it was the Greek hero Nestor, returning from the Trojan War, who gave life to the city.
The Greek colonists were merchants, farmers, livestock breeders, artisans, who decided to emigrate in the interest of establishing new commercial activities, but the motivation to leave Greece was also due to social tensions generated by the increase in population that the meagre local agricultural production could no longer support.
Thanks to the extraordinary fertility of its countryside, Metapontum soon became one of the most powerful cities of Magna Graecia, as the colonised areas of the Italian peninsula were called, testifying to the pride of the Greek colonists in having created a community that had reached such high levels in the social, cultural and economic spheres that it could be considered, by comparison, greater than the mother country itself.
Metapontum immediately became an important agricultural and commercial centre, but the Greek settlers also imported Hellenic culture, so that art, literature and philosophy flourished in the newly founded cities in addition to trade. Metapontum itself was chosen by the great Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who held a school here in 490 BC and lived here until his death.
The Ionian Sea tells of flourishing trade, but also of great battles. Over the years, it was sailed by fleets of ships and there were many wars between the numerous colonies on the Ionian coast and the local populations. With the Hannibalic wars and the arrival of the Romans, the splendour of Metapontum was overshadowed. The Romans conquered the area and built an encampment there, traces of which remain until the 4th century AD.
Today, that ancient splendour is reflected in the numerous finds, ruins and buildings that make the city one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy. The symbol of Metaponto, a hamlet of Bernalda, and its archaeological park are undoubtedly the Tavole Palatine (‘Palatine Tables’). Fifteen columns remain of the temple of Hera, wife and sister of Zeus, built in the 6th century in the Doric style, making it one of the greatest testimonies of worship in Magna Graecia.
In addition to the Palatine Tables, the Archaeological Park contains the remains of the temples of Apollo Lycius, Aphrodite and Athena, part of the agora, the artisanal district for the production of ceramics (kerameikos) and the great north-south road axis (plateia). Not far away you can also admire the agora dedicated to Zeus, the site of public buildings used for meetings and gatherings, and the large theatre with its semicircular cavea.
Traces of a considerable number of monuments that marked the civil and religious life of the colony are recognisable throughout.

The National Archaeological Museum of Metaponto

The artefacts found, not only in the area of the archaeological park but also in other areas of Metapontum, are kept in the National Archaeological Museum of Metaponto.
This important cultural venue presents the reconstruction of the archaeological framework of the Metapontine area, which is one of the most authoritative examples of the culture and history of Magna Graecia.
The exhibition space houses numerous exhibits from different historical periods, the oldest of which date back to prehistoric times and consist of various objects and furnishings found in grave goods, including jewellery and high-quality bronze and ivory objects; these refer to the earliest stages of settlement by the Oenotrian and Chonians during the Middle Bronze and Iron Ages. In addition to the section on prehistory, there are other sections, starting with the one on the arrival of Greek settlers during the 7th century BC, which shows the creation of the colony starting from the occupation of the territory to the formation and development of the city. The next section is devoted to the intermingling of the Greeks and the indigenous population, other sections of the Museum deal with the Greek colonies of Siris and Herakleia and the Italic world of the Agri and Sinni valleys, the last shows the changes brought about by the arrival of the Romans until the gradual abandonment of Metapontum. Most of the exhibits are pottery artefacts, the most important and beautiful being the censer with a stem decorated with animals and mythological scenes from the Incoronata site in Pisticci.

POLICORO, HERAKLEIA

The golden atmosphere of Magna Graecia also pervades Policoro, the ancient Herakleia in the Siritide region near Siris. Policoro was one of the most important centres of antiquity due to its strategic position, which allowed it to play an active role in trading of the time. The city also played a leading military role, in fact it was the scene of the most famous battle of Pyrrhus against the Roman army in 280 BC.
Some vestiges of Hellenic splendour remain today in the Archaeological Park which includes the remains of the acropolis of Herakleia dating from 433-32 BC, where the ruins of the temple dedicated to Demeter can be seen.

The National Archaeological Museum of Siritide

The most significant findings relating to the Greek cities of Siris and Herakleia are collected and exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Siritide. Noteworthy are the treasures of coins and jewels, including precious amber and coral jewellery, and the impressive grave goods found in the tomb of the “Policoro painter” which includes 23 vases with scenes referring to Greek mythology.
In addition to exhibits of Hellenic origin, the museum also displays artefacts from prehistoric and medieval times. The first excavation were carried out by the well-known archaeologist Dino Adamesteanu in the 1960s.
Along the exhibition route, votive statuettes and grave goods from the 7th-6th century BC are displayed in showcases, with locally produced figured pottery, among the oldest made in Magna Graecia, dating from the Siris phase.. The Herakleia phase yields important grave goods from the 4th-3th century BC, characterised by splendid red-figure ceramics and refined filigree gold jewellery, some of which was produced by local workshops.

The WWF Oasis Bosco Pantano di Policoro

An ideal destination for a relaxing holiday among archaeology, sea and nature, Policoro offers a wide range of tourist activities. Mountain lovers can immerse themselves in the uncontaminated nature of the oasis protected by the WWF of the Bosco del Pantano wood, where you can enjoy tree and flower species of enormous naturalistic, scientific and scenic value due to their rarity. Here you can also admire some rare fauna species, such as the Caretta Caretta sea turtles, which have chosen the wide expanses of soft, fine sand bathed by the wonderful crystal-clear, clean sea of Policoro as their breeding ground. Inside the oasis you can go trekking on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, or simply relax in the areas equipped for a break or a picnic. There are also many outdoor activities such as golf, sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, diving in the depths of the Ionian Sea as well as sport fishing.

Last but not least, the tourist port of Marina di Policoro, considered to be the largest and best equipped in the Ionian Sea. The port offers around 750 berths and offers services and assistance to the boats that land there.


Tree rites and the liturgy of nature in Basilicata

Storia e storie di Basilicata

THE CHARM OF ANCIENT RITUALS, THE WEDDING BETWEEN TREES

Basilicata is a land rich in traditions and boasts unique rituals which, since ancient times, have celebrated the ancestral bond between man and nature. In particular, during the spring and summer period, the region becomes the stage for truly unique ceremonies: “wedding between trees”.
The unusual marriage takes place between a trunk and a treetop of two different trees, a symbolic union between “two spouses” that recalls the archaic ode to fertility and the renewal of life in the hope of abundance. The arboreal rites therefore celebrate the union of two plants that are literally grafted together to form a single new tree and raised into the sky in an atmosphere of celebration and solemnity.
These rituals usually take place as the spring equinox approaches, coinciding with the rebirth of the plant world but also a material and spiritual re-generation of the Lucanian community.
The ceremony is well defined and articulated but may change slightly depending on the town in which it takes place. In most cases, the “marriage” involves cutting down a tree from the wood which is towed into the village by pairs of oxen; the trunk is then joined, in a mystical partnership between heaven and earth, to the treetop of another tree felledfrom a different wood to the first. The trunk represents masculine vigour, while the treetop represents the feminine side. The “wedding” ends with a climb by the bravest, who climb up to the top amid the applause and incitement of the crowd.
The trips that lead the trunk and the treetop from the wood to the town square have become special events and, to alleviate the effort of transporting them, there are several stops at traditional food and wine locations in the area. The festival also features traditional music and the cries of the cattlemen who, together with the bellowing of the oxen themselves, accompany and mark the progress of the ancient rite in a slow and cadenced rhythm.

A CEREMONY BOTH SACRED AND PROFANE

Tree rites are ceremonies that have their origins in the distant past and that take place in different parts of the world and in some parts of Italy. But it is in the Lucanian land where they are most widespread and where they appear in their most complete form, characterised by a perfect dualism between the sacred and the profane.
In Basilicata these rituals are born as a sort of magical ceremony that celebrates the very close relationship of the population with the nature that surrounds it. However, while originally the “marriages” between the trees had more profane values linked to the world of paganism, later, over the centuries, they have been transformed by welcoming and amplifying the religious significance of this tradition.
Today, therefore, both the pagan and the Christian aspects coexist in the rite. To the original meaning of the rite, linked to the Nordic-Celtic traditions and to the veneration of nature, the Christian value has been added, in a perfect union, through the concomitant celebrations of the patron saints of the various towns in which they take place. In most cases, the saint of reference is Saint Anthony of Padua.
The rite is carefully blessed by the priest and the oxen that are used to transport the trunk and the treetop, as well as being adorned with broom and coloured ribbons, bear the image of the patron saint on their forehead.

AN UNBREAKABLE BOND WITH OUR LAND

Over the years, something that has never changed in Lucanian tree rites is the strong sense of belonging and the spirit of identity that have always characterised these events. For the local people it is a moment eagerly awaited for the whole year: the “maggiaioli” (trunk bearers) and “cimaioli” (treetop bearers) compete to be able to take part in the “spouses” procession and, proudly, guide the pair of trees along the route.
The ritual thus renews every year the inextricable bond with its land and history and there is no lack of dances, songs and typical products that are enjoyed an atmosphere of celebration and solemnity.
In Basilicata there are eight towns where tree rituals are celebrated, divided into two areas, the “Maggio” area and the “Abete” area.

THE RITES OF MAGGIO

The “Maggio” area includes the area of the Gallipoli Cognato Regional Park and the Lucanian Dolomites and in particular the villages of Accettura, Castelmezzano, Oliveto Lucano and Pietrapertosa. There are many theories surrounding the meaning of the name “Maggio”, as this term is not always ascribable to the month (‘maggio’ means May in Italian) in which the ritual takes place. Perhaps it could derive from “Major”, indicating the choice of the largest and tallest tree from the wood as a “groom” for the wedding ceremony, or it could refer to the goddess Maja, a divinity who personified the fertility of the land, as the feast of tree fertility was dedicated to her.

THE MAGGIO OF ACCETTURA

The most famous arboreal ritual in the Maggio area is undoubtedly the Maggio of Accettura. The wedding takes place between the groom, a large oak tree chosen on the first Sunday after Easter from the Montepiano wood, and the bride, a holly plant chosen the following Sunday in the Gallipoli Cognato forest. The path of the future spouses towards the “crowning of their love” through the “wedding” begins on Pentecost Sunday when the trunk and the treetop embark on their journey towards the town square in Largo San Vito. The groom and the bride proceed separately accompanied by their respective Maggiaioli and Cimaioli and their journey is enlivened by songs, dances and above all stops to taste the typical dishes of the area, washed down with plenty of good wine. The Maggio of Accettura is dedicated to the patron saint Saint Julian and takes place every year from the Octave of Easter to the Sunday of Corpus Domini. But it is when the processions of the “groom” and the “bride” arrive in Largo San Vito that the ritual reaches its peak: the trunk and the treetop are grafted together, giving life to a single tree in an atmosphere of celebration and solemn religiosity.

THE MAGGIO OF PIETRAPERTOSA

On the Sunday following 13 June, Pietrapertosa is the stage for the “U’ Masc’” arboreal ritual celebrated every year in honour of Saint Anthony. The two main trees are chosen, cut and pared down a few days before the “wedding” in the Montepiano wood, inside the Gallipoli Cognato Park. The wedding procession begins early in the morning, the spouses walk in two different groups and are carried by pairs of oxen (paricchij) and by the massari (ox drivers) to the Convent of San Francesco and it is there, in front of the bell tower, that the ritual reaches its peak with the spectacular union of the trunk to the treetop and lifting the tree among the cheering crowd. The “U’ Masc'” of Pietrapertosa ends with a “maggiaiolo” bravely climbing a tree.Clinging to one of the ropes used to raise the Maggio, this courageous person climbs up to the top full of prizes, moving and dancing upside down to the beat of the music.

THE MAGGIO OF OLIVETO

The star spouses of the Maggio of Oliveto Lucano, are a trunk of Turkey oak and a treetop of holly chosen from the trees of the forest of Gallipoli Cognato. The arboreal rite takes place in August: on the first Sunday the trunk is chosen and felled, while the treetop is felled on 10 August. Coming down from Monte Croccia, in the town of Piano Torcigliano, the first meeting takes place between the betrothed who are led in two separate processions to the town, where the symbolic union will take place. The path from the mountain to the village lasts eight kilometres, and is a very tiring journey. The trunk, instead of being transported by pairs of oxen as in most arboreal rituals, is carried by tractors, while the treetop is transported by the strong youth of the town who intersperse the arduous journey with dances, songs and frugal banquets washed down with local wine. The two trees are grafted on the street Via del Maggio in a festive atmosphere where a perfect dualism reigns between the pagan soul of the ritual and the sacred spirit testified by the fact that the union takes place under the protective gaze of Saint Roch, who blesses the couple.

THE MAGGIO OF CASTELMEZZANO

The Maggio ritual in Castelmezzano takes place in conjunction with the celebrations of Saint Anthony of Padua on 12 and 13 September. In the woods of the Gallipoli Cognato Regional Park and the Lucanian Dolomites, among the most beautiful and luxuriant trees, a trunk of Turkey oak and a treetop of holly are chosen; the couple will be taken to the town square to celebrate the wedding.
The ‘maggio’, the long Turkey oak that symbolises male vigour, is dragged by pairs of oxen, while the treetop, the female part, is carried in procession between dances, songs and banquets. The symbolic and propitiatory union of the two spouses takes place, as for any self-respecting wedding, in an atmosphere of celebration and joviality and after the mutual “yes”, the new tree is ready to be climbed in order to take possession of the prizes placed at its top.

THE FESTIVAL OF THE FIR TREE

The “Abete” (fir tree) area extends between Monte Alpi and the Pollino peaks, and covers the towns of Castelsaraceno, Rotonda, Terranova di Pollino and Viggianello.

THE “CUNOCCHIA” OF CASTELSARACENO

In Castelsaraceno, Saint Anthony blesses the union between a beech trunk and a pine treetop, the “‘ndenna” and the “cunocchia”, with the wedding taking place during the first three Sundays of June on the occasion of the feast dedicated to the patron saint. On the first Sunday, the most beautiful beech is chosen and felled from the trees of the Pollino National Park, precisely in Favino at the foot of Mount Alpi. The following Sunday it is the turn of the treetop, the “cunocchia” which, chosen and felled on Mount Armizzone, is accompanied by songs, dances and lavish lunches. The couple meet for the first time on the third Sunday in June, and it is in Sant’Antonio square that the grafting and raising of the new tree takes place in a union between the sacred and the profane.

THE “ROCCA” AND THE “A’ PITU” IN ROTONDA

In Rotonda the bride and groom of the tree wedding are the “rocca” and “a ‘pitu”, a fir and a beech. The two trees are felled in the enchanting scenery of the Pollino Park in two distinct locations: the woods of Terranova di Pollino and those of Pedarreto. The ceremony is celebrated from 8 to 13 June in a festive atmosphere that combines the pagan tradition of the ancient hymns linked to fertility and abundance with the religious spirituality connected to the celebration of the feast of Saint Anthony. The ritual, as happens in the most classic of weddings, is enlivened by songs, dances and above all a lot of good food and local wine.

“A PIT” IN TERRANOVA DI POLLINO

The arboreal ritual of Terranova di Pollino is the only of the Lucanian that does not celebrate the union between a trunk and a treetop through the grafting and consequent birth of a “new” tree.
What takes place in this pretty village of the Pollino park is only the felling of the “A Pit”, the tallest and straightest fir of those in the Cugno dell’Acero wood, which is then carried on the shoulders of valiant local men aided by pairs of oxen as far as the town.
The trunk arrives at its destination on the occasion of the feast of Saint Anthony on 13 June when, after the religious celebrations, it is raised and climbed by the bravest in a festive atmosphere where the protagonists are dances and popular songs that resound in every corner of the town.

THE “ROCCA” AND THE “PITU” IN VIGGIANELLO

In Viggianello the tradition of marriage between the trees is repeated three times a year in three different locations. The ritual begins in the first week after Easter in the Pedali district, the newest part of the town, and then continues in the last week of August in the historic centre, where the festivities coincide with the religious celebrations in honour of the patron saint Saint Francis of Paola. It is only in the second weekend of September that the “marriage” between the “rocca” and the “pitu” takes place in Zarafa, in the name of the Madonna del Soccorso. The protagonists of the unusual wedding are a beech or Turkey oak tree, the “a’ pitu”, and a fir, the “rocca”, which are chosen and felled in the woods of the Pollino National Park and then transported by oxen to a procession that winds along the streets of the Viggianello area. In the Viggianellese rite, the wedding also finds its culmination when the two plants, symbols of masculine and feminine vigour, are joined together in an atmosphere that is both joyful and solemn at the same time.


San Gerardo La Porta - Patrono di Potenza

Festival of the Patron Saint

A great event across faith, religious worship and tradition takes place every year.

The patron saint of Potenza, Saint Gerardo da Piacenza, is celebrated each year, on the 30th of May, when his effigy is carried in procession along the main streets of the capital. The day before, during the Historical Parade of the Turks, the sacred merges with the profane, history and legend come together and the ancient and the modern combine to give birth to one whole thing.


HISTORICAL PARADE OF THE TURKS

Gentlemen on steeds covered with drapes parade through the main streets of the city, next to commoners on small carts pulled by oxen, along with slaves, odalisques, flag-wavers, jugglers, sword throwers and other performers. This very long historical procession recalls three moments: the 19th century, with a commemoration in Piazza Sedile where the traditional Iaccara is lighted; the 16th century, at Porta Salza, where Count Alfonso de Guevara receives the silver keys of the city; and the third ‘picture’, with the procession and popular devotion to the Patron Saint in the 12th century. The Parade narrates the legend according to which, as a result of San Gerardo’s intercession, the invasion of the Turks who wanted to besiege the city was stopped.

VIDEO OF “HISTORICAL PARADE OF THE TURKS”



“Lu Braccial” – Popular song dedicated to San Gerardo

Je facc’ lu braccial e nun lu nèa,
e so cuntent e so cuntent assaie.

Nun l’abbanduneragg’ mai mai,
la zappa, lu zappit e lu pagliare.

Mò m’zappa l’urticiedd’
Mò m’zappa lu seminar,
e ogni anno ‘nu purciedd
nun me l’aggia fa mai manca!

Tigne na vigna accant à la jumara
Me pare na canestra chiena d’uva

Tigne na casa n’dreta a lu pagliare
ca quann’ trase vire lu monn’ nuove:
Int’ è chiéne d’ patate,
savucicchie e vine nuovo;
chi la iàsca e chi l’ucciuòlo,
ie me sènt’ d’arricrià!

Domenica m’aggia mett’ lu vuariniedd’,
Ca aggia gì appress a la prucessiona,
ca è la festa d’ lu Prutettore
ca stà esposto sova a lu muraglione.

San Gerarde Prutettore De Putenza Generale
Gnanna fa piglià nu mal’ a chi l’anna disprezzà!

*voice of Michele di Potenza



History and Stories of Basilicata

Basilicata is an ancient land, rich in history and beauty.

Over the millennia, the peoples who have settled there have integrated with the environment, interweaving their customs with the rhythms of nature. The traditions of the Lucanians have guarded traces of ancient rituals, and time has sedimented values that are still relevant today in both places and culture. Therefore, the communities of Basilicata, with their stories, legends, myths and traditions, have so much to tell travellers about this time.

The pages gathered in this section will take you by the hand to guide your discovery of this extraordinary land, which can be mysterious and romantic, passionate and mystical, jovial and welcoming, intimate, authentic…



Vulture, from prehistoric times to the golden age

Storia e storie di Basilicata

The traces of man in the Vulture are lost over time
The territory of the Vulture has been frequented by humans since prehistoric times. In Tuppo dei Sassi, in the countryside of Filiano, some rock paintings have been found inside a natural shelter, depicting men and animals in schematic form, most likely a hunting scene. This is an important example of rock art, as it dates back to the Palaeolithic or Mesolithic times. The site was discovered in the early 1960s during research carried out by the archaeologist Ranaldi on the basis of information provided by some shepherds, which is why, in honour of its discoverer, it is called the “Ranaldi shelter”. In addition to the main scene that illustrates two animals captured by two men, there are three other depictions: a man and an animal, an animal alone (almost certainly a deer) and finally a particular human entity, reproduced higher than the rest and with proportions larger than the other figures, with three heads, which perhaps can be likened to a deity or a sorcerer. Analysing it as a whole, it can be assumed that the scene represents a hunting expedition, the positive outcome of which is due to the intercession of a deity or thanks to the spells of a sorcerer.
In the same site there are other engravings depicting a human figure in a running stance, holding a spear in one hand and with the other hurling others towards two animals, probably deer, depicted below. A short distance away is another deer, rendered with its legs up, very plausibly indicating a killed prey.
In the rock paintings of Tuppo dei Sassi the human figure is rendered in an essential approximation; there is no intention to render the right proportions of body parts or to give a sense of depth, while the animals are drawn with more realistic features, all typical characteristics of Palaeolithic rock art. Below the Tuppo the archaeologist Ranaldi also discovered a sandstone rock with circular incisions and curved lines attributable to more abstract art than the rock paintings found inside the shelter. According to some theories, these engravings could refer to an axe or a dagger or even to a human figure. The latter seems to be the most accredited hypothesis.
Later, in 1971 the archaeologist Edoardo Borzatti von Lowenstern also carried out archaeological excavations in the area, which brought to light numerous stone artefacts from the Mesolithic era.

The classical era and the arrival of the Normans
The hub of a large part of tsouthern Italy and crossing point of traffic between Rome and Puglia, and therefore the East, it has been a strategic area since the classical era, an important crossroads between the Appian Way and the Francigena del Sud: the remains of ancient Venusia, the birthplace of the poet Horace, and the evidence that seamlessly tells us of a place where peoples and cultures met remind us of this. In this area of southern Italy, different peoples and dominations have followed one another over the centuries: Daunians, Samnites, Lucanians, Romans, Lombards, Byzantines and Saracens. But it was with the year 1000 and the arrival of the Normans that the Vulture, and Melfi in particular, reached its splendour and experienced a true “golden age”. With the Hauteville Melfi it became a central hub, the capital of the dukedom and a centre of fundamental importance for Christianity. The first count was Guglielmo di Braccio di Ferro in 1046, but it was thanks to Robert Guiscard that the city gained recognition from the Church and the Papacy and became the centre of the spiritual life of the time. Suffice it to say that in Melfi, between 1059 and 1137, five ecumenical councils took place in the Cathedral of the Assumption, which bears the coat of arms of the Norman dukedom, and important decisions were taken that influenced the religious and civil life of the time. It was here in 1089 that Pope Urban II conceived the First Crusade.
It should be emphasised, however, that relations between the Church and the Normans were not always idyllic. In 1052 Pope Leo IX felt the need to assert the authority of the papacy in the south by facing the Norman army in battle, but was defeated, having to recognise the Normans as important allies of the papacy. And as proof of this relationship, in 1081, on the occasion of the attack on Constantinople, Robert Guiscard was awarded the prestigious vexillum Sancti Petri, the flag of the Church.
It is during this period that a number of sacred buildings such as churches and cathedrals were built in the Vulture and southern art experienced a period of great wealth and magnificence.

The Swabian dynasty:Frederick II and the beloved lands of the Vulture
In 1194 the last descendant of the Hauteville family, Constance, married Henry VI of Hohenstaufen, and from this union the Norman civilisation met that of the Swabians, giving rise to an even more prosperous period. It was from their union that Frederick II was born, an enlightened ruler, a man of culture and art who loved the Vulture unconditionally, electing it as his favourite holiday destination. He was in fact a patron who loved to surround himself with poets, writers, philosophers and scientists: he contributed to the birth of Italian literature, a Sicilian school of poetry was established in his court and it seems that he himself was the author of four songs written in the southern vernacular.
In Melfi he issued Le Costitutiones melphitanae, the largest and most comprehensive code of laws of the Middle Ages in which he set out principles of government that were also very innovative for the time. Perhaps during his stay in Vulture, between the castle of Melfi and the castle of Lagopesole, a stronghold he wanted in order to expand his network of castles and fortresses, Frederick II was inspired to write the De arte venandi cum avibus, a manuscript on hunting activities, a real treatise on falconry, on the breeding, training and use in hunting of birds of prey, which he practised with great passion.
Frederick II was a man of great contradictions, especially in the religious sphere, and his relationship with the Church was ambivalent: from Crusader and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to sovereign excommunicated several times for his actions. His relationship with the Pope was marked by alliances and hostility. In 1241 he even imprisoned French cardinals and bishops in the castle of Melfi who were headed to a papal council to depose him.
The role that the Vulture played during the Crusades was fundamental. Knights about to leave for the Holy Land were welcomed here. Today, signs pf this remain in the Convent of the Trinity in Venosa and in the rock chapel of the Madonna delle Spinelle. Discovered in 1845, it was part of the nearby Basilica of Santo Stefano, from which, according to legend, the Norman knights left for the first Crusade to the Holy Land in 1096, led by Tancred of Hauteville, and mentioned by Tasso in the poem ‘Jerusalem Delivered’.

THE CASTRA OF FREDERICK II: THE CASTLE OF LAGOPESOLE
In order to strengthen his defensive system, Frederick II had a very efficient network of castles, fortresses and defensive bulwarks built on the mountains and hills of the Vulture, including the castle of Lagopesole, one of the most loved by the sovereign, where he used to spend his summers and hunting seasons. He expanded the stronghold, which was distinguished by its Norman layout with the typical fortified enclosure, with a hall dedicated to music, further evidence of his interest in the arts, with the massive and imposing inner tower and above all with the Palatine Chapel, inside which there is a fragment of a fresco depicting a Crusader in prayer.

Leggende, imperatori e cultura popolare

The Norman-Swabian golden age
Melfi played a major role in the Norman-Swabian golden age and its importance can still be seen today by looking at the artistic and architectural evidence in the city. The Norman political and military hegemony can be seen when admiring the majestic castle of Melfi, one of the largest and most impressive in the south, built by the Normans in a strategic position and expanded by Frederick II of Swabia. It still retains its medieval appearance, echoed by the ten towers that surround it, seven of which are rectangular and three pentagonal. Its prestigious role has endured over time, in fact it is now home to the National Archaeological Museum of the Melfese which preserves archaeological finds from the area.
From the civil symbol to the religious symbol of Melfi: the Cathedral of the Assumption. Construction work began in 1076 by Robert Guiscard, the first Italian count of the Hauteville dynasty. The cathedral has undergone many stylistic changes over the centuries. All that remains from the Norman period is the bell tower with the dichromate griffin, the Hauteville coat of arms.
Other religious buildings include the Church of San Lorenzo, dating back to 1120, and is the oldest building visible in the city today, recognisable by its octagonal baptistery and the Church of Santa Maria ad Nives, dating back to the 12th century with a unique portal enriched by geometric decorations. Among the religious buildings, the rupestrian churches of Santa Margherita and Madonna delle Spinelle deserve a special mention, as they are real treasures that contain artistic and historical treasures of immense value.
The historic centre of Melfi is entirely surrounded by walls, more than 4 km long, erected for defensive purposes. Along the turreted walls there are several gates to the city. The only one still in good condition is the Porta Venusina. Erected in the Swabian era, on one side it still displays the coat of arms of the Melfi and on the other that of the Caracciolo family who restored the walls in the 15th century. According to sources, Frederick II had a commemorative plaque placed there to recallthe glorious and prestigious role played by the city of Melfi at the time.
Other testimonies of the period include two palaces in the historic centre, Palazzo del Vescovado, originally from the 11th century but remodelled in the Baroque era, and Palazzo Araneo with a medieval layout and Renaissance façade.

The rupestrian church of Santa Margherita and the Memento Mori
Speaking of Frederick II, one cannot fail to mention the rupestrian church dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch, a true artistic jewel, modelled in a natural cave composed of stratified volcanic sediments. The vast pictorial cycle can be placed in the period between the end of the 13th century and beginning of the 14th century and recalls, in the isolated iconic images, figurative patterns of the post-Swabian period stylistically linked to the characteristics of a southern culture that acquires Gothic experience encouraged by the Angevin court. The apse space that houses the plinth of the altar is illuminated by an explosion of colours and sacred effigies. In the centre, above the altar, stands the royal figure of Saint Margaret, the virgin and martyr of Antioch. Her real name, Marina, was changed by the Roman church to Margaret to extol the pearly whiteness of her virginity, that is to say, to be as white as a pearl, margarita in the Latin language. The martyr is depicted as a slender but regal girl, wearing a crown of pearls or margarite, in memory of her name. The saint is flanked by two bands where the poignant stages of her martyrdom are illustrated with narrative vivacity in eight panels. But the cave is striking for the dramatic message of the representation of two skeletons in the act of addressing the imperial figures of Frederick II, his wife Isabella of England and his son Conrad, future king of Sicily. It is the Memento Mori, the warning of the dead to the living, the macabre dance celebrated by two deformed skeletons, in the presence of the emperor wearing a scarlet robe adorned with an ermine, and bearing a hawk on his gloved left hand, with an oriental dagger at his belt.


The presence of the Normans
Another jewel of the Vulture is undoubtedly Venosa. The city boasts ancient origins, and crossing through it is like walking through history. It was founded by the Romans in 300 BC and boasts among its most illustrious citizens the Latin poet Horace, who was born in Venosa in 65 BC. His famous lines “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero…” still echo in the streets of the city today.
The Normans also contributed to making art and culture flourish in Venosa. A few steps from the city they built the complex of the Holy Trinity: the religious building stands on an architectural stratification from the Roman era, while the original nucleus consists of an early Christian Basilica dating back to the 5th/6th century BC expanded by the Hauteville family to one day accommodate their mortal remains. In fact, the tomb of the Norman leader Robert Guiscard is of great importance in the Church. The Hauteville family were strongly linked to Venosa and they wanted to create an abbey complex of considerable size by expanding the one dedicated to the Holy Trinity. For this reason, in the 11th century work began on the new church, today known as Incompiuta (Unfinished) as it has never been completed. Today’s visitors can stroll through the remains of this sacred construction, never completed, in a mystical and unique atmosphere: an evocative symphony of stone that seduces with its unfinished nature and its roof of stars, perhaps the true symbol of Venosa.

From Gesualdo da Venosa to the Jewish catacombs
Another illustrious citizen of Venosa was the prince musician and composer Gesualdo, a famous 17th-century madrigalist forced to flee the city after the atrocious murder of his wife and her lover.
Not to be missed is the Castle of Pirro del Balzo dating back to 1470, which stands imposingly in the centre of the town with its cylindrical towers. The coat of arms of the Gesualdo family, consisting of a large sun with rays, can still be seen affixed to the western tower which houses the National Archaeological Museum.
The Jewish Catacombs discovered in 1853 just over a kilometre from Venosa near the Maddalena hill have considerable historical and archaeological value. There are niches in the walls and in the ground as well as numerous epigraphs from the 3rd and 4th centuries in Greek and Latin with Hebrew words in red or graphite painted letters.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that near Venosa it is possible to visit the Palaeolithic Site of Notarchirico, one of the oldest in the Old Continent, dating back 600,000 years. Its importance lies in the discovery in 1985 of a human femur which, possibly attributable to a specimen of Homo erectus, is one of the oldest fossil remains in Europe.

TRADITIONS AND EVENTS 

The rites of Holy Week
The Vulture is an area of great spirituality, not only because of its many places of worship but also because of the devotional rites linked to the celebrations of Holy Week which are now part of the area’s religious tradition. The sacred representations linked to Easter are shrouded in an atmosphere of intense mysticism, they are choral moments of great strength, suggestion and expressiveness.
In several cities of the Vulture-Melfese area, the Via Crucis is performed at Easter with a strong theatrical and scenic dimension. The inhabitants of Ripacandida, Rapolla, Atella, Barile, Filiano, Maschito, Venosa and Rionero in Vulture become costumed characters and stage religious events according to the Holy Scriptures, re-enacting the drama of Calvary in the city streets, combining religious aspects with history, folklore and typical local identities.

Food and wine

Typical products
The Vulture is a rich and fertile land from every point of view. Not only are there numerous historical, artistic and archaeological masterpieces scattered throughout the territory, but the food and wine delicacies are also worthy of note. A territory capable of enriching soul and taste.
The Vulture-Melfese area is known for chestnut growing, in particular for the Marroncino di Melfi and Marroncino della Varola varieties. Some sources claim that it was Frederick II who introduced the chestnut tree to the Kingdom of the two Sicilies and that the Marroncino variety can probably also be traced back to the great emperor. In Melfi the Varola has been celebrated since 1960 in a festival that revolves around the typical Lucanian variety of chestnuts. In the penultimate week of October, the central Piazza Umberto I and the streets of the historic centre are flooded with smells and flavours and turn into a large forest for tasting chestnuts, but also cheeses, honey, and oil. There are many stands in the shape of typical mountain huts, made with chestnut branches where you can taste the thousand variations of this fruit: from pasta with chestnut flour to meat topped with chestnut cream, from pizza with chestnuts to chestnut beer, from castagnaccio cake to desserts, to chestnut ice cream, a real pleasure for the palate.
But the undisputed protagonist of this territory, due to the large extension of its vineyards, is Aglianico del Vulture DOCG. The ancient Aglianico vine, originally from Greece, is among the greatest red wines in Italy. The nectar of the gods, the red gold of the Vulture, grows on the slopes and in the valley of the extinct volcano and has a ruby colour similar to garnet. On the nose there are recognisable aromas of blackberry and wild plum, notes of violets and wild strawberries, to which time brings hints of liquorice, dark chocolate and black pepper.


Viggiano and the Black Madonna

Storia e storie di Basilicata

Between history and legend
The Sacro Monte di Viggiano, at 1725 m above sea level, is the site of the most important Marian sanctuary in the region, the one dedicated to the Black Madonna, queen of Viggiano, officially proclaimed “Protector” of Basilicata in 1991 by Pope John Paul II.
Portrayed in a wooden statue, this sacred figure has strongly humanised features with robes and details that make her regal and opulent, a true queen to be adored. An important icon in the Lucanian religious landscape which, according to legend, first appeared on the Sacro Monte between 1200 and 1300 to a group of shepherds: sudden flashes attracted their attention, a prelude to something supernatural. The news was immediately reported to Bishop Omerio, then to the Pope, who ordered the clergy and the people to go to the site of the apparition and dig. A few feet away, the statue was found. It had been lying there since 1050, after the destruction wrought by the Saracens in the ancient Grumentum. Exactly, it is said that the statue was created by a group of Italian-Greek monks who had settled in these lands previously occupied by the Basilian monks, replacing the veneration of St. Nicholas, practised by the latter, with the cult of the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The work was then hidden in a cavity of the great mountain to save it from Saracen barbarism and remained there until its revelation.
Thus, began a story of profound faith and devotion.


The devotion of the faithful
The atmosphere surrounding the summit of Sacro Monte today is mystical and the pilgrimages held in honour of the Black Madonna on the first Sunday of May and the first Sunday in September are highly emotional. Her image triumphs among faithful and devotees from all over Basilicata and beyond, who, united in a solemn procession, walk 12 km with prayers, religious songs and well wishes in the name of the Queen of Viggiano.
The sacred effigy is carried on the shoulders of pilgrims from the town centre to the sanctuary on Sacro Monte in May and then returned to the town in September. Again, this choice has a precise meaning dictated by the legend. It is said that after the statue was discovered, it was taken to the town but soon disappeared to reappear again on the Sacro Monte, where the Sanctuary stands today and where, as per her wishes, it is brought back every year in the Marian month.
People from neighbouring towns and distant places flock to praise the protector of the Lucanian people. The streets are filled with faithful who climb the paths that lead to the top of the mountain to join the choir of sacred prayers that ascend to heaven, pronounced in her name.
It is interludes like this that allow seekers of authenticity to experience the soul of places first-hand, to touch their history, to understand their creed. The strength of knowing such real territories, as evidenced by the pilgrimages but also religious tourism, both of which are growing in importance, knows no bounds or limits. One travels kilometres, winding roads and steep paths to follow one’s own spirituality or, in the case of the religious tourist, to enter a cultural world other than one’s own. In both cases the meeting turns into a dialogue between territories, between cultures and, finally, between two antithetical dimensions, body and spirit.


Ancient sheep track of the Madonna di Viggiano
It crossed the thick vegetation of Sacro Monte, the ancient sheep track of the Madonna di Viggiano, gently advancing into an increasingly evocative atmosphere of silence and the sounds of nature at the same time. It climbed one of the high and jagged slopes of the great mountain, crossed by the sacred prayers of the devotees who walked along it, all together, united by faith and the desire to reach the top where the Sanctuary awaited the procession with the simulacrum of the Black Madonna on their shoulders, Queen of Viggiano and Protector of Basilicata.
That path, which in a mystical atmosphere and a green setting guided pilgrims towards the home of their Venerata, was flanked and gradually replaced by the municipal road in 1968.
However, the spiritual value of that ancient sheep track has made its echoes heard over the years, finally prevailing over the sense of comfort provided by the paved road. And so today it has finally been restored with a series of measures to allow visitors to walk along it with ease. Revisited in a modern key, it features stone and wood steps, safety fences, palisades that delimit the walkable areas, separating them from the more dangerous ones, as well as connections to a dense network of paths which gives it considerable added value, linked to the world of hiking, horse riding and mountain biking. A real asset for the surrounding area.


MUSIC as an expression of religion and art.
Music has always been a form of language. Music and religion, as well as art, have always been universal phenomena of humankind, forms of expression that find their presence indiscriminately in time and space, throughout history and in the most disparate places. Tools that often complement each other by joining in a single mission: to transmit the emotions linked to the spiritual dimension. Folk songs, in particular, reflect this pattern well, while at the same time revealing the origins of the land in which they are born.
Viggiano’s harp is an example of this. A hinge, as Sparagna himself says, between Magna Graecia and the land of Lucania, two different worlds whose contact is still narrated and handed down between