This area, situated in the northern part of the Basilicata, is dominated by the Vulture Vulcano (1326 m. a.s.l.). The fertility of the territory is one of the main reasons why people has always settled down in the area since prehistoric times. The strategical position between the Campania Region and the Adriatic Coast explains the reason why in the Middle Ages the presence of a high number of fortresses and castles, which were reorganized from Frederik II, who in this way tried to protect his Kingdom, as well as to create places for hunting and for the pure pleasure of the body and of the mind, connected to the close Apulia Region like a line through. Important are also the Albanian settlments founded by refugees, who came here between the end of the 15th and beginning of 16th Centuries. Very famous are also the Aglianico vineyards, considered the King of wines of the Region. Jewels of this area are Melfi and Venosa, where it is possible to go through the most of local history of Basilicata starting from Prehistory up to the Golden Age during the Norman time.
Melfi lies 530 meter above see level and was originally inhabited by the Daunians and the Lucanians and then became a Roman settlement and acquired increasing importance during the Middle Ages for its strategic location between the areas under the Byzantine and the Lombard influence and later the Norman and Swabian dominations. Thanks to the Normans, starting from 1041 Melfi became the first Capital of Southern Italy, before this happened with Salerno, Palermo and then Naples. It was from here, especially thanks to the much feared Roberto le Guichard (considered the terror of the populations of that time and also quoted from Dante Alighieri in his masterpiece La Divina Commedia), that the Normans began their conquests to detriment of the bizantine, arabic and longobard territories, giving at the same time birth of new dioceses, castles, cathedrals and monasteries still existing today. Melfi became the venue for many important Papal Councils: it was here that during the third council, held in 1089 by Pope Urban II, it was organised the Holy League and the first Crusade was called. It was again in Melfi that Frederick II, in 1231, issued the code of laws known as “Costituzioni di Melfi” (also known as Liber Augustalis), by which he launched a tax reform free from feudal influence and, for the first time, allowed women to take part of the feudal succession.
The tour of the town includes the Mura Normanne (Norman Walls), with the ogival gate Porta Venosina (Venosina Gate) and the Baroque-Style Cathedral, with its polychrome marbles and original Norman bell tower.
The tour continues with the well-preserved castle featuring ten towers, moat and access brigde, which have been housing the National Archeological Museum of the Melfese Area since 1976. This museum displays finds from the area’s prehistoric, Daunian, Samnite, Lucanian and Roman settlements. In particular, its treasures include: a collection of archaic finds with artefacts in noble metals and amber (8th-6th century b.C), ivory Samnite pieces from the 4th-3th centrury b. C.and the sarcophagus known as the Sarcofago di Rapolla, which proves the valuable evidence of Imperial Age sculpture (2th century a.C.).
After the castle the tour goes on by driving to Venosa where we will stop in one of the local wine-cellar in order to learn more about the King of local wines, the Aglianico del Vulture and of course tasting it with other local wines. After the tasting free time for lunch and then keep going with the visit of Venosa. This town lies 415 meter above see level and it has a complicated historical bakground. Originally organised by the Samnites as a city-state, it was later occupied by the Romans, who only managed to break the local resistance by transforming the town into a colony and transfering there 20,000 people. The importance of the town grew remarkbly over the years, especially due to its location along the portion of the Via Appia (Appian Way) which connected Campania to Apulia. The poet Horace Flacco was born here in 65 b. C. During the first centuries of the Christian Age, a large Jewish community settled in one of the town’s neighbourhood. When Emperor Trajan moved the Via Appia further upriver, Venosa underwent a severe crisis and headed for a steady decline. In 1042, however, the Norman assigned it a new role as part of their defensive arch and Frederick II transformed it into a crown property. Under the rule of the Orsini, the town was part of the dowry that was offered in 1443 by Donata Orsini to Pirro del Balzo, by order of whom both the castle and the Cathedral were built. During the 16th century, the Gesualdo Princes turned the town into a lively intellectual and artistic centre. In particular, the Prince of Venosa Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1613), undoubtedly a controversial figure, was nevertheless an exceptional musician, one of the greatest of his times.
The visit includes the castle, which was erected on the site of the former cathedral in 1470. It houses the Municipal Library and the National Archaeological Museum, which displays an assortment of finds fanning from prehistoric times to the Norman period and including collections of ceramic ware and coins, funerary artefacts, mosaics and wall paintings.
The new Cathedral of Sant’Andrea was also built by order of Pirro del Balzo between 1470 and 1512 using ancient materials. Not far from this there is the House of Horace, a Roman building with semi-circular layout which was regardes as the house of the latin poet Horace Flacco, although it is more likely to be some sort of spa-related building. A bronze statue dedicated to the great Latin poet was erected in the square named after him in 1898.
The most abundant traces of Roman glories can be seen in the Archaeological Park, located just outside the town, around the Abbazia della Trinità (Trinity Abbey). The park includes an amphitheater, roman baths, a house dating back to the 2th century b. C., a residential complex and the ruins of a Paleochristian religious centre, with the first cathedral. Nearby can be visited also the Jewish and Christian Catacombs. The area’s highlight, however, is the Trinity Abbey, wich was erected during the Paleochristian period on site of a pagan temple and was later enlarged by the Benedictine monks.
The Chiesa Vecchia (Old Church) was meant to be the funeral chapel of the Norman family of the Hautville and here there are the tombs of Robert Guidscard and or his brothers Drogone and Umfredo. Attached to the Old Church there is the Romanesque-style Chiesa Nuova o Incompiuta (New Church or Unfinished Church), which was begun between 11th and 12th century as an extention of the old one (using materials recovered from the Roman Amphitheatre) but was never completed. The atmosphere created by the old ruins is enticing and time seems to be frozen.
Every day. Possibilities of pick-up from accomodations in the surrounding area of Matera according to your needs.
6 hours plus the transfer times from Matera's surroundings.
Comfy shoes, camera and during summer water, cap and sun cream.
The tour is private but, upon request and according to availability, it is possible to make a Tour Sharing with other guests.
If you don’t have a car to reach the cities of the tour, it is possible to book a shuttle or minibus.
Please contact me for more information and price.