Basilicata is predominantly mountainous and arid. Indeed, this is the most mountainous region in the whole of southern Italy. Two coastlines lie on either side of the region. One runs from the Gulf of Taranto to the Ionian Sea while the other runs into the Tyrrhenian Sea. This region is divided into provinces; Matera and Potenza. Potenza is the administrative capital of the region.
Due to massive emigration in the past, the region is under populated. Even though agriculture is one of the principal economic activities, the region’s climate cannot support large scale production. Industrial development is also low, except for light industrial products such as ceramics, textiles, woodwork. However, tourism, especially along the Tyrrhenian coast, has the potential to be a promising earner for the region.
Basilicata has a long history extending into the Paleolithic period. Archeological findings have shown that the Lyki had settled along the rivers in the 13th century BC. The Greeks colonized the region in the 8th century BC leaving a trail of cultural influences on Posidonia, Metaponto and Heraclea. During these times, the region was called Lucania. When Roman expansion reached Lucania in the 2nd century BC, they began to exhaustively exploit the forest cover.
The Byzantines pushed the Romans out and renamed the region Basilicata. However, their stay was cut short by the Swabians and Normans in the 13th century AD, who established a feudal system further pushing the region into poverty. In the 18th century Basilicata fell under the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until 1860 when it became part of the Italian Kingdom. Despite these political transformations, the economy continued to lag behind until after World War II when the government instituted land reforms. The establishment of Fiat speeded up economic recovery.
Just like most regions in Italy, Basilicata is rich in archeological relics dating back to the prehistoric times. Relics of the Greek era can be found in Metaponto, while those of the Roman era are preserved in Venosa. Romanesque styles of medieval art can be found at the Venosa and Cerenza. Architectural masterpieces with Arab, Byzantine and French influences can be seen in Lagopesole, Matera, and Melfi.
The Provincial Archaeological Museum of Potenza has a large collection of prehistoric relics with Latin and Greek inscriptions. The Ridola National Museum in Matera holds Paleolithic relics and ceramics dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages. Neapolitan paintings from the 17th and 18th century are displayed at the Pinacoteca d’Errico.
Agricultural cultivation mainly consists of wheat, potatoes, maize, olives, and wine. Rionero, known for the ‘Aglianco del Vulture’ is one of the major wine producing regions in Basilicata.
As an instep to the Italian mainland it borders Calabria to the south and Apulia to the north and east. It also provides a getaway from the bustles of these two economically bustling territories. From the arid and barren mountain landscapes to the depopulation, the region somewhat sounds desolate, but being the most mountainous region in southern Italy with extremely high volcanic mountains, it offers a resort to adventurers such as mountaineers who have the tenacity to attempt to ascend the frightening rock faces.
The capital of the province of Potenza and the Basilicata region, Potenza is the highest provincial capital in Italy and overlooks the valley of the Basento river in the Apennine Mountains. The town was mostly rebuilt following an earthquake in 1857 and incurred severe damage during World War II, thus losing many of its historical buildings. However, it is a picturesque city and since most of its attractions are located in the center of town, Potenza can easily be explored by foot. Main sites of the city include the Duomo of San Gerardo, the Church of San Francesco, the Torre Guevara and the beautifully restored Palazzo Loffredo.
The most fascinating city in Basilicata has to be Matera, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its cave houses called “sassi” and over 100 rock churches. The city is picturesquely situated above a rocky gorge and has been the background for many films, including Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Gibson’s recent The Passion of the Christ.
Located on a hill at the foot of the prehistoric volcano Mount Vulture, Melfi is an important town in the Basilicata region for both tourism and as an economic center. It is an old medieval town surrounded by 4km of Norman walls and dominated by a castle which houses the Museo Nazionale del Malfese. The museum has an excellent collection of artifacts from the area dating back to the 8th century BC. Melfi had been the favored residence of the Norman kings and then of Frederick the Great.