Monday, May 11, 2009

La Citta Morta

Craco, Basilicata.

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.

8 comments:

liquirizia said...

Italy is always facinating isn't it? Your description of this town in Basilica sounds much like that of Pentedattilo, Calabria!
About an hour away from Siderno is an abandoned medieval village called Pentadatillo (translation: five fingers) because the little peaks of the mountain on which this village once existed look like fingers. During the 1950s, the side of the mountain started to erode and the homes began to crumble, so everyone left and eventually established a new village just a couple of kms away near the base of the mountain.
A country divides the two towns, but the story is so similar, as are many.

Lola said...

I was in Craco in 2003 filming The Passion of the Christ. The place where we shot the Judas tree hanging had the backdrop exactly portrayed in your first photo.

Some of us crew memebrs returned some days later to take a walk around the deserted city. I still have a fallen terracotta shingle from the church dome I picked up. It is a memento of those fabulous days.

Ciao, it's good to hear from you again.

Valerie said...

Liquirizia - It's amazing how many towns were abandoned instead of being stabilized. We saw other entirely vacant towns in Le Marche and Campania, but none as dramatic or eerie as Craco.

Lola - I totally don't remember that scene! How fun you got to work (and play a little) in bella Basilicata.

wifeonthe run said...

I am Italian and yet I don't understand the mentality that most Italians have of getting rid of the old not repairing or maintaing it or reusing it ,just throw it out by the side of a road , Its mind boggling.
Your photo's are poignant ,

Valerie said...

Wife on the run - ha, like your screen name! ;) I am sure it is difficult when there are thousands of years have to maintained for posterity! Costs a lot and how do you prioritize? But we really don't understand abandoning an entire city and leaving it to crumble, especially when we have seen others that have continued after a frana or mild earthquake (like Castignano in Le Marche). But then, Americans tear down buildings that are only 40 years old to pave it over for a parking lot, so I guess it is a similar thing.

Chef Chuck said...

It's like molded in the rocks! That is a place of curiosity, nice photo's

Karen (South of Rome) said...

I'm just catching up on my blog reading. I feel we are following you. We went to Matera last weekend and had a lovely stay. We also went to Craco (but I'm just now reading your post!). I'm such a law abiding American I didn't walk the town!!!! The signs said no trespassing so I didn't go! Ahh... And all those photo ops wasted. I did take similar photos from all around the town, but now from within. And now we are on our final count down, 21 days till we return to the US... tick tock is right. -- K

Pierre said...

Congratulations on a fine, interesting Blog and thanks also for sharing some great pics. I look forward to reading more of your posts in future!