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Basilicata spans Italy’s instep with slivers of coastline touching the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. It was known to the Greeks and Romans as Lucania (a name still heard today) after the Lucani tribe who lived here as far back as the 5th century BC. The Greeks also prospered here, settling along the coastline at Metapontum and Erakleia, but things started to go wrong under the Romans, when Hannibal, the ferocious Carthaginian general, rampaged through the region.

In the 10th century, the Byzantine Emperor, Basilikòs (976–1025) renamed the area, overthrowing the Saracens in Sicily and the south and reintroducing Christianity. The pattern of war and overthrow continued throughout the Middle Ages as the Normans, Hohenstaufens, Angevins and the Bourbons constantly tussled over its strategic location right up until the 19th century. As talk of the Italian unification began to gain ground in the 19th century, Bourbon-sponsored loyalists took to Basilicata’s mountains to oppose political change. Ultimately they became the much-feared bandits of local lore who make scary appearances in writings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Norman Douglas, Craufurd Ramage and George Gissing – Basilicata’s earliest tourists. In the 1930s, Basilicata was used as a kind of open prison for political dissidents – most famously Carlo Levi – sent into exile to remote villages by the fascists.