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Basilicata – Culture

Basilicata - Culture


The region of Basilicata, found at the southern base of Italy, is filled with rich culture that flows directly from its deep roots, tracing as far back as the Paleolithic age. Today, the region has a tight link to those roots, with many of its people immersed in a simple life of agriculture and seasonal tradition that has endured for thousands of years.

The dialect of the region is a perfect example of this culture that clings to its heritage and long-standing traditions. In particular, the dialect of Potenza is very distinctive in sound. Also adding to the unique dialect is the presence of a small group of Albanians who speak in their own language called Arbëreshë.

Unlike the fine examples of art and history one might see carefully guarded in brick and mortar museums, life in Basilicata is pulsing with culture in real time that allows visitors to actively experience art, music, and more as they travel throughout this beautiful region.

Basilicata’s Art and Architecture

The crown jewel of architecture can be found in the historic city of Matera. It is here that The Sassi, an ancient complex of cave dwellings and rock churches built into the sides of the Gravina Gorge, were recognized as the 2019 European Capital of Culture. The distinction created an opportunity for Matera to host and celebrate a number of cultural events with a pan-European dimension.

In recent years, the area has done some limited redevelopment that stays true to the specific architecture of the original city, but allows for the introduction of a few hotels and restaurants for visitors. The spot is a favorite for tourists to take in the sprawling rock city and explore nature’s architecture.

As the oldest continuously inhabited city of the region, Matera showcases a number of beautifully preserved buildings related to the Christian faith that are now recognized as World Monuments to watch by the World Monuments Fund. The Matera Cathedral is a must-see with a 170-foot bell tower and statues of Maria della Bruna and those of Saints Peter and Paul. There are also a number of other churches and deep underground cave dwellings thought to have been used for meditation by monks.

The ancient city of Matera was built on top of a deep ravine and early inhabitants worked tirelessly to create cisterns and very small waterways that would bring water to The Sassi. Today visitors can still tour the Piazza Vittorio Veneto Cistern. It is the largest of the area on record, with the stone vault measuring almost fifty feet tall.

One of the only above ground structures to be found in The Sassi is the Tramontano Castle. The castle features three large towers, although the structure was suspected to have originally been built with twelve towers.

Also of note are Basilicata's archeological and art museums, such as the Metaponto National Archeological Museum and the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art in Matera.

Science in Basilicata

One of the key scientific centers in the small region of Basilicata is the Planetarium and Astronomical Observatory located at the top of Mount Siri in the town of Anzi. The Observatory hosts one of the most powerful reflecting telescopes in Southern Italy. This fact together with the Observatory's high elevation and minimal light pollution from the surrounding area allows for incredible views of the stars and planets. Additionally, the Observatory regularly hosts scientific events featuring notable astronomers and astronauts such as Paolo Nespoli, Umberto Guidoni, and Luca Parmitano.

Furthermore, the region of Basilicata is able to count a few noteworthy scientists among its former citizens. For instance, Giuseppe Forlenza, who was considered to be one of the foremost ophthalmologists of the 18th and 19th centuries, was born in Basilicata. A skilled surgeon, Forlenza was renowned for his work treating eye diseases in France, where he spent the majority of his life. However, he was also active in England and Italy where he was known to perform surgeries for free.

An important scientific figure in Matera during the 19th and early 20th centuries was Domenico Ridola. A noted physician, politician, and archeologist, Ridola worked to improve medical care in Matera and even discovered a new pediatric disease, which was named after him. Ridola also contributed to the city's archeological heritage with several significant archeological discoveries dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras.

Literature in Basilicata

Quinto Orazio Flacco, more commonly known as Orazio (Horace), is considered to be one of the most influential poets in Basilicata’s history. Born in Venosa, this Roman poet was a grand lover of words and took great care in choosing just the right ones to convey his celebration of life and the joy of being a part of the world. He is, in fact, the creator of one of the most well-known verses in the world that encourages the beholder to seize the day, “Carpe Diem!” Thousands of years later, Orazio still inspires writers, readers, and poets alike in their pursuit of poetry.

Another literary symbol of the region is Rocco Scotellaro. Although the writer died suddenly at the young age of thirty, his sad and tormented life gave way to strong writing abilities that earned him both local and national fame after his death. His now critically acclaimed works strongly link to the region’s quaint world of agriculture and nature.

Albino Pierro, another influential poet born in the province of Matera, was renowned for his poetry composed in the Lucan dialect. Pierro's works have been translated into a number of languages, including English, French, and Arabic, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Although not originally from the region, Italian writer Carlo Levi was inspired by the beauty of Basilicata and the friendliness of the region's inhabitants, despite their poverty. Due to his ardent anti-Fascist views, Levi spent one year in exile in Lucania (1935-1936), a period in which he became familiar with the locals and the region's widespread poverty. Levi chronicled his experiences in the nationally-acclaimed memoir Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ stopped at Eboli). The work describes the cultural distance of the region from the rest of Italy and takes great care in accurately portraying the region's inhabitants. For this specific reason, Basilicata will always be deeply connected with Levi’s masterpiece.

Music in Basilicata

The Francesco Stabile Theater in Potenza was built in the late 1800s to be a smaller replica of Naples’ San Carlo Opera House.  Although the Francesco Stabile Theater was damaged by an earthquake in 1980, it has since reopened and offers a regular season of opera and classical music concerts.

Though the region has always had a modest population, several prominent composers and musicians have called Basilicata home. Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, was a prolific composer born in the 16th century equally known for his musical pursuits, namely his creative madrigals and scared music, as well as the brutal murder of his wife and her lover upon finding them together in his apartment. Egidio Duni, an 18th century composer known for his Italian and French operas, was also born in Basilicata.

In more recent times, Leonardo De Lorenzo was a skilled flautist who eventually immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century where he played in orchestras and taught many young musicians, including Julius Baker, who was considered to be one of the most prodigious American flautists. Additionally, singer songwriter and actress Arisa, frequent participant of the prestigious Sanremo Music Festival and winner in 2014, grew up in the town of Pignola, located in the province of Potenza.

Movies and Cinema in Basilicata

Basilicata has and continues to serve as a filming location for several cinematic masterpieces, which contribute to the local economy. While it is commonly used for its breathtaking, one of a kind scenery for Italian movies, the filming of The Passion of the Christ in 2004 by Mel Gibson catapulted the region to the world stage. Many directors appreciate the area for its incredible beauty and deep connection with nature.
Some other motion pictures filmed in Basilicata include The Nativity Story (2006), Let’s Get Married (2015), Ben-Hur (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Mary Magdalene (2018), and No Time to Die (2020).