Basilicata in detail

History

Basilicata spans Italy's 'instep', and is landlocked apart from slivers of Tyrrhenian and Ionian coastline. It was known to the Greeks and Romans as Lucania, after the Lucani tribe who lived here as far back as the 5th century BC. Their name survives in the 'Lucanian Dolomites', 'Lucanian cooking' and elsewhere. The Greeks also prospered in ancient Basilicata, possibly settling along the coastline at Metapontum and Erakleia as far back as the 8th century BC. Roman power came next, and the Punic Wars between that expanding power and Carthage. Hannibal, the ferocious Carthaginian general, rampaged through the region, making the city of Grumentum his base.

In the 10th century, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (976–1025) bestowed his title, 'Basileus', on the region, overthrew the Saracens in southern Italy and reintroduced Christianity. The pattern of war and overthrow continued throughout the Middle Ages right up until the 19th century, as the Normans, Hohenstaufens, Angevins and Bourbons ceaselessly tussled over this strategic location. As talk of the Italian unification began to gain ground, 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. In the 1930s, Basilicata was used as a kind of open prison for political dissidents – most famously the painter, writer and doctor Carlo Levi – sent into exile to remote villages by the fascists.

The rugged region's hardscrabble history is perhaps best expressed in Levi's superb 1945 memoir, Christ Stopped at Eboli – a title suggesting Basilicata was beyond the hand of God, a place where pagan magic still existed and thrived.