The first sight of Craco is dramatic. The dead city rises from a jagged rock pinnacle like an ominous vision. Twisted eroded spires jut up in front of the ancient stone edifices, whose windows and doors have been replaced with gaping openings. It is like looking at something from a ghostly Gothic novel or a carefully constructed movie set.
The old town is encircled by weeds and wheat heads that sway in the breeze. Entering the former centro storico, we found abundant physical and olfactory evidence that a flock of sheep have been the town’s only living residents for quite some time, penned up at night in long-abandoned rooms.
The medieval street pattern remains, winding and climbing up to what had been the main piazza. Palazzi, homes, and shops once lined the ancient lanes but are now empty and eerie. Roofs are caved in, paint-bare shutters smack in the wind. Time, neglect and the elements have wrought more destruction than the tremor that emptied the town. A thousand lizards scampered around, a dozen falcons glided up above. We saw a few other curiosity seekers like ourselves wandering about, their voices and presence made it less creepy.
The well-worn stone walkways and rock walls have not deterred the weeds and trees that have taken root and prospered, while the city has slowly been crumbling and returning to the earth. The nearby cemetery is neatly tended, a stark contrast and irony of the dead, decaying town it serves.
Craco died in 1963 when an earthquake rocked the residents’ peace of mind and drove them to the safer plain below. The new Craco they constructed is a depressing square of concrete apartment blocks, as devoid of spirit as the old town is devoid of life.
Ironically, we saw as many people wandering the abandoned city as we saw in the new town. The old centro storico has become somewhat of a small tourist destination while the new town, lacking a definitive centro or anything at all of interest, is passed by without much more than a glance. Craco is lifeless – above and below – but the ghost town is a fascinating, peculiar, place to visit.