The causes of abandonment
The causes of abandonment
The birth of a new settlement – actually divided in two if we include the Rione Sant’Angelo – is due to the effects of a sliding landslide that forced the inhabitants to abandon their homes. The first effects were unleashed with the terrible earthquake of 1688, which having as its epicenter the area of Craco-Pisticci, seems to have caused almost 400 deaths in the Rione Dirupo di Pisticci alone, as the historian Racioppi reports in a chronicle. The earthquake, estimated with a macroseismic intensity of the 10th degree of the Mercalli scale, led to the development of some latent landslides.
There is a rumor among the inhabitants that the cause of the Craco landslide lies in the construction of a reservoir actually built inside the medieval tower, which did not exist before the 1950s, as indeed in many urban realities in the South. It must be said, however, that recent studies have shown that most of the erosive phenomena occur, in Basilicata and Calabria, in areas where the intensive cutting of the woods has had a significant impact on the environment. It is associated with the construction of infrastructures which, while freeing the internal areas from isolation, determine substantial changes in the physical landscape, such as urban sprawl on the surrounding slopes, often at the limit of equilibrium conditions, with problems of water drainage.
The Craco ruined and abandoned develops on a basin or cone of dejection of the clays that rest on the conglomerates especially in the south – western area. The first real documented landslide, however, dates back to 1888, when the construction of an arched bridge along the provincial road to Stigliano was threatened, since it dropped by at least 20 centimeters. Subsequent injuries to blocks of flats occurred in 1931, while in 1959 a football field, after five days of rain, was totally destroyed; the situation became critical in the sixties, when the detachment of the clays, starting from the east from Corso Umberto, developed until it reached Largo Garibaldi and via De Cesare in the direction of the provincial road; another front started towards the southeast, affecting the houses in via Del Fico, Maroncelli and Pisacane. Everything was almost quickly abandoned, although, of course, many houses, especially those around the “medieval” neighborhood, are and will be stable. Today they threaten to collapse for two not negligible yet terrible reasons: the vandalism of visitors and the neglect of men.
Little to nothing we know of the ancient Craco. It seems likely that it was built on an indigenous settlement, of which some tombs dating back to the 8th century BC were found in the S. Angelo district, at the beginning of the 20th century by the archaeologist Vincenzo Di Cicco.
Safer news is from the Middle Ages. Probably the site, since located on a spur of well-cemented conglomerates, being in a control area in the passage between the metapontine area and the innermost dolomite areas (Tricarico, Garaguso, Monte Croccia-Cognato, important indigenous centers), was re-occupied in course of the 10th century by Byzantine colonists following a vast program of conquest of areas abandoned during the late ancient age reconquered by the woods; the phenomenon is framed on a large scale in the population of Basilicata by Italian-Greek monks who began to cultivate the abandoned lands, also allowing human centralization and therefore also a continuous process of creating city identities, sometimes fortified.
Medieval Craco and the Norman tower
In reality, the settlement of Cracum is documented for the first time in 1060, when it is included among those possessions of the archbishop Arnaldo di Tricarico, but we will have to wait until 1154-1168 to get to know the first feudal lord, a certain Erberto. Still in 1176-1179 Craco is in the hands of Roberto di Pietrapertosa, royal executioner, who owns a court with his colleague Fulco di Miglionico with the assistance of two judges from Montepeloso and the chamber “domine florentie (Forenza) egregie comitisse”.
If the first feudal lord, certainly with a Nordic name, would demonstrate that Craco was already a stable settlement, it could be assumed that there was a baronial palace or, at least, a tower. The idea immediately takes us back to the most consistent evidence, that is, to the quadrangular tower that stands on the built-up area. It, originally served by wooden stairs, inside had to be organized in a series of rooms and mezzanines, the traces of which are still visible from the external walls. The holes for rafters, small quadrangular openings through which it was possible to provide for the construction and maintenance of the structure, are among the few surviving elements, together with the pointed arch windows. The latter actually date the structure, at least in its “phase” recognizable in terms of authenticity, in the mid-thirteenth century. , as they can be compared with the portals of the castles of Melfi and Lagopesole and some windows of the Angevin age of Atella.
Almost with certainty, it is this tower that is the seat where we find Goffredo, feudal lord in 1239, who by order of Federico II encloses some Lombard prisoners there. From this we deduce that Craco also had prisons, probably located in the same building.
With the death of the Swabian and with the succession to the reign of the French emperor Charles I, that is after 1266, Craco is owned by Pietro de Beaumont (de Bellomonte), and a few years later, in 1277, he records 83 “fires”, that is families, for a total of about 332-415 people. What is certain is that in September 1280 its inhabitants were forced to pay 1 ounce and 6 grain for the construction of the castle of Melfi.
Families and noble palaces
Subsequent events become more obscure, according to which the fiefdom passed to the Monforte family at the end of the thirteenth century, and then to the Del Balzo and Sforza families in the fifteenth century. During the following century Craco belonged to the noble family of the Sanseverino, to whom is attributed a certain urban expansion beyond the medieval nucleus that recent explorations circumscribe on the area extended on the “conglomerates”.
It is from this period that the great noble palaces arise, such as the Palazzo Maronna, located next to the medieval tower, characterized by a monumental entrance built in brick, surmounted by a large terraced balcony.
Unique and characteristic is Palazzo Grossi, whose entrance overlooks the square where the Mother Church stands. Although it shows numerous restoration works attributable to the eighteenth century, it presents a typical typology of the monumental houses of the old Craco; a high architraved portal, without frames, leads into an entrance hall from which one or two flights of stairs lead up to the upper floors covered by ribbed vaults and decorated with floral or landscape motifs enclosed within medallions. There are many windows, and the balconies today rarely retain wrought iron railings, torn by jackals and men’s neglect. Palazzo Grossi is a masterpiece of civil architecture and can rightly be called one of the most majestic in the country.
Similar in the organization of the space is Palazzo Carbone, formerly of the Rigirone family, located in the northernmost and most extreme part of the town. A monumental entrance, datable to the end of the fifteenth century, carved with squared boxes with diamond-shaped cases. Through him there was access to a desk which served as a stable, and through two ramps built subsequently, to the noble floors and to a loggia with a double arch which still preserves the bases of the torn balustrade. To the XVIII sec. the renovation of the terrace is attributed, but originally the building was to be covered by trusses. The access road to reach Palazzo Carbone is very interesting: in fact, it was obtained from the conglomerate rock and is covered by river pebbles; ironically, the road will hardly be erased from the landslide, while the building is in danger of collapsing completely, including its beautiful portal. Palazzo Carbone is remembered in the historical event of Basilicata in the late eighteenth century until the completion of the National Unity, when the Lucanian society began to register signs of dynamism and renewal; in the wake of the renewal of the Neapolitan reformer, a new ruling class known as the “rural bourgeoisie” grew, formed by the union of “massari”, professionals and intellectuals. With the riots and riots that occurred in Potenza, Montescaglioso, Cancellara, Matera, Rionero and Ruoti, Craco witnesses the attempt of the peasants to occupy the municipal and ecclesiastical lands unduly occupied. It was from Palazzo Carbone that the old nobles fired at the insurgents who suffered the defeat between March and April 1799 by the forces led by the ruthless cardinal Ruffo.
The defeat of the republican ideals and the continuation of the looting by the victorious French troops caused the rough and violent rebirth of the brigandage.
In Craco there are few remains that recall that social malaise, while the noble palaces of the period are still evident, located almost in the center of each “neighborhood”.
Palazzo Simonetti, with a simple lowered entrance, which led to a hall from which frescoed rooms date back to the end of the 19th century. Unique are the painted medallions depicting seaside cities, probably from Campania as the artist, anonymous, who made them. The building, then, faces two sides of the town to control the passage that led to the Mother Church, at the top, and towards the rocky base of the town, where there is still an internal roadway characterized by narrow passages, stairs and steep climbs made with river pebbles.
The eastern side of the town, the one most illuminated during the day, preserves the splendid Palazzo Cammarota Rigirone, formerly the barracks of the Carabinieri.
It is a seventeenth century building. conceived with several entrances on the ground floor, and a single upper noble floor, with sail coverings for each room. The interiors are dark and poorly lit, since today the original layout denotes the construction of various tuff partitions for use at the barracks.
The mother Church of San Nicola Vescovo
According to the land register of 1815-1825 Craco was divided into some small districts or neighborhoods: the first, called significantly “Terravecchia”, indicated the highest area where the “castle” with the medieval tower was located; the second, called the “Mother Church Quarter”, was concentrated around the matrix Church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Bishop.
The building, about 30 meters long and 12 meters wide, has a monumental entrance, but the facade shows that the ancient rose window, dating from the seventeenth century. , was more moved to the left in correspondence with the older buildings characterized by quadrangular buildings with vaulted and extrados domes covered with majolica. The most modern layout dates back to the mid-18th century. , period in which the side chapels were built, but most of the frescoes and the remaining altars are earlier due to the intervention of the archpriests Molfese and Giannone, who used local workers influenced by Neapolitan schools.
The bell tower is majestic and powerful, built on three orders and covered by an extrados dome covered with majolica and a bell tower.
Less preserved over time are the chapel of S. Barbara, annexed to the Terravecchia district, and that of S. Rocco, almost at the foot of the town alongside the western front of Palazzo Rigirone.
The convent of San Pietro
At the current entrance to the abandoned settlement there is the Franciscan convent with an adjoining church of S. Pietro, both built outside the city walls around 1630-1631. The church refers to a slightly older architecture, perhaps prior to 1620 , when the building had an external apse of which the only traces are found on the external wall. The convent, however, was initially conceived with a single quadrangular courtyard surrounded by seven limestone columns; subsequently a later building was added to it with another courtyard, towards the end of the seventeenth century, as shown by construction techniques very similar to those found in the Mother Church such as the bell tower and the domes. While the church of S. Pietro retained its eighteenth-century structure before the restoration, little remains of the chapel built alongside it around 1777 on the initiative of some noble families. Unfortunately in 1933, due to a fire and a landslide, the hat completely ruined and only the apse area remained standing.