A land and history of knights and bandits: a magical plot for a legendary fate which has enfolded the region of Basilicata in history and mystery many years before the creation of the Roman Empire.
In the surroundings of Muro Lucano the battle between Hannibal and the console Marcello took place in 210 B.C. And in this area, close to a small Roman bridge and near the remains of the Wall, are the so-called "Hannibal's oaks". Legend has it that the great Carthaginian rested under one of these trees, after the battle. But the villages of Materano and Melfi date back to Neolithic times and a witness of this is the incredible heritage of the 'Sassi di Matera' (for UNESCO heritage of all mankind), rural habitations made out of the inner part of tufaceous caves, and for this reason roofs and galleries are clambered by suspended orchards, made visible by the "pinkish and violet sunsets of the malaria-sickened lands", as described and pictured by Carlo Levi.
In Melfi, capital of the Norman Rule as from 1059 and later in the hands of the Swedish saga, Frederick, dressed in his knights' armour, diffused the "Constitutiones Augustales" of the Sicilian Rule, in 1231. And in the nearby castle of Miglionico, feudal land of the medieval warrior Ettore Fieramosca, in 1441, a conspiracy of the Barons faithful to the Angevins, tried to over rule the Aragons. The latter win, and they impose their nobility on the dominion of Matera, which as from 1663 came capital city of the Region (including the Lucania province and the Reign of Naples) and remained so till 1896, when Giuseppe Bonaparte transferred this authority to the prestigious city of Potenza (founded by the Roman console Metellus in 251 B.C.).
The 16th and 17th centuries witness the penetration from Albania, in the layers of the Vulture, an ancient inactive volcano, which, due to its particular lands, has produced the Aglianico, a DOC wine, with such rare characteristics and so appreciated as to transform it in one of the best wines in Italy and in Europe. Even today, the Barile nel Vulture is inhabited by Albanians which still maintain the language and the customs of their native land. The cruelty of the Aragon princes towards farmers is paid through blood-shedding. In December of 1514 Count Giovanni Carlo Tramontano is attacked by Ferdinand of Aragon and is murdered during a popular insurrection.
In centuries to come blood-shedding was very common in Basilicata, the blood of kings and bandits: legendary figures like Crocco, Ninco, Nanco, Romaniello and Caruso are massacred together with some other 1200 Garibaldi bandits in the April of 1861. But their legend lives on in the collective imagery. Poor devils which in time of prosperity delighted on a sublime and austere diet: chickpea soup, leeks or beans from Sarconi (delicious IGP legumes) and cheese, especially those produced from sheep milk (from which the famous Pecorino cheese of Moliterno origins), goat and cow.
Different characteristics are present in the DOP Caciocavallo Silano, obtained from cow's milk and produced in the same manner as in the other regions of Southern Italy. Farming traditions are identified in the production of vegetables, especially the 'pepperoni di Senise IGP'.
Leading the massacred troops in the Risorgimento era the bandits seemed wolves: those who haunted Carlo Levi and dictated the following lines in the famous novel "Cristo si è fermato ad Eboli", worth Herman Hesse in a lucanian version: "One night a saw a wolf on my terrace: a big thin dog, which appeared suddenly out of darkness, it stopped for a moment under the light of a lamp swinging in the wind, raised its head and smelt the air, and slowly and softly turned back and disappeared in the darkness."
But Carlo Levi comes from a world which is completely beyond beliefs. That of the three angels which protect houses from wolves and evil spirits or those beliefs according to which it was enough to sing nursery rhymes on the days of the week to kill bugs: Sunday is Easter/every bug will die.
Another sacred animal was the pig, from whose meat the famous sausages of Bella Muro and Cancellara were produced, and also the 'soppressata di Lagonegro' and the 'ventresca del Picerno'. In these faraway forgotten lands, where Christ never arrived, we will adopt Levi's words: "...first it was experience, painting and poetry... then theory and the joy of living, to finally become an infinite and never ending story ".