Basilicata


Southern Italy Wines Leading a “Revolution”

Even I do not usually think of whites when I think of Southern Italian wines. This, however, is a huge oversight. The white wines of Southern Italy are poised to become more popular than ever as recognition spreads to wine enthusiasts.

“It’s time for a fashion update. The big buzz right now is for whites from southern Italy, the land of still-active volcanoes, sun-drenched beaches, and 80 percent of the country’s olive trees. It’s also where you’ll find off-beat grape varieties few wine geeks have ever heard of. The best of the bottles that are made from these are great wine buys, offering surprising depth and character at bargain prices.” -Bloomberg Business

According to this recent article by  Elin McCoy, The “White Wines of Southern Italy are Leading a Revolution.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Venosa Castle at Twilight

Venosa Castle at Twilight

Venusia, or modern day Venosa,  has a surprisingly rich history for somewhere now so off-the beaten path…or certainly not very popular as far as mass-tourism goes anyway.

Venosa was inhabited as far back as prehistoric times (traces of Acheullean and Chellean settlements have been found there).  An Apulian town (now, Venosa is part of Basilicata) in Roman times, it eventually became the largest colony in the Roman world.

Venosa lays claim to quite a few well-known historical figures.  The Roman general, Marcellus was ambushed at Venosa and killed by Hannibal in 208BC.  It was the birthplace of Horace (the famous Roman poet) and of Manfred (the son of Frederick II, King of Sicily).  Venosa was also home to the famous “Prince of Venosa,” Carlo Gesualdo, composer of some of the most well-know choral madrigals from the late Italian Renaissance (and also extremely scandalous murderer of his wife and her lover.)

The fairy-tale, 15th century, Venosa Castle sits in the main piazza – complete with whimsical towers and a moat.  (Of all the Norman castles I’ve seen in Southern Italy, this one is the one that is straight out of the story-books.)  Inside, there has been a modern renovation and it now houses the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (open 9am-7pm) with a nice display of Greek, Roman, and medieval finds from Venosa, and also includes some more unusual finds from Venosa’s ancient Jewish population (you can also visit the adjoining Jewish catacombs) and impressive skeletal remains from homo erectus (300,000 years ago!).

Other interesting sights in Venosa include a 13c fountain and stone carved lions, the supposed tomb of Marcellus, 16c cathedral, and the Museo Briscese, displaying Palaeolithic finds.

Right outside the town of Venosa, stands La Trinita Abbey, a very impressive monastic complex founded by the Benedictines in 1046.  It was originally a Roman temple, then an early Christian church, and finally the Abbey that still stands today.  Inside, it houses what is said to be the tomb of Robert Guiscard and his first wife, along with some beautiful frescoes, including one of Joan I of Naples, and a Pieta said to be by Roberto Oderisus.

Across from La Trinita Abbey, you can wander the ruins of the ancient Roman baths, Roman amphitheatre, and Jewish Catacombs (9am-7pm or an hour before sunset)

Venosa (Basilicata) can be reached in about one hour by car from Calitri and makes for a wonderful historical excursion.

The Castle at Venosa

The Castle at Venosa

Southern Italy Vacation Rental – Would you like to stay at Casa del Cipresso near Venosa? Please contact us at SouthernItaly@comcast.net .

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Castle del Monte

Castle del Monte -Puglia, Italy

Despite spending quite a bit of time in Italy, I had never been to Pulgia (Apulia); I honestly had no idea what to expect.  We had enjoyed seeing some of the other Norman castles built by Frederick II – Melfi, with it’s modern, top-notch renovation and impressive museum…imposing Lagopesole with it’s falcons still circling…we were excited to take on this famous “Octagonal Castle”.

Driving out of Campania and into Basilicata is really a gentle progression.  There are the same mountains and tress and streams….Hill Towns perched high above the greenery.  Driving from Basilicata into Puglia is an abrupt splash of cold water…well..perhaps, hot water…this was August, after all!  This was an unusually dry season and brush fires a common occurrence – I think it added to the contrast and starkness of Puglia (Apulia).  The landscapes changed – flatlands of amber and brown…here and there an olive grove or a tomato field.  Soon, the vineyards were rolling past…big, fat bunches of grapes hanging down, looking as if they should be snapped up in a photo and places on a wine label.  Had we not been on a highway, I think the temptation to grab a bunch right then and there would have been great.  More olives…and more olives…and more olives (!) I am told that all that brown does turn to green….but it is hard to envision.  Somehow, it makes the castle seem even more present on the approach – a great monument out of the stark dryness of the land.

Castle de Monte, perched up on the hill, jutting out from the flatlands certainly is impressive.  It is symmetrical and perfect and right out of a fairy-tale. 

Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250) ordered the castle built in the year 1240 A.D.  Unfortunately, Frederick died before the castle was completed.

There is some debate as to the exact use of the castle.  Generally, it is thought from the layout of rooms (and bathrooms!) that it was used as a jail for the most part, and not a residence or fortress. 

Water is always important in the dryness of Puglia – a water collection system was designed on the roof, as well as in the courtyard.  On the interior, running all of the way around the foot of the interior walls, there were channels used to collect condensation; water would trickle down the cool marble.  The channels then directed the collected water. .

Most materials used for the construction were from the local area, with the exception of the highly ornate marble columns that hold up the roof.

When the castle was first built, the walls where surfaced with marble as well.  Over the years the marble fell off of the walls and/or was taken to be used as building material.   Things are still remarkably intact, including some of the enormous fireplaces (four of them).

Castle del Monte - Marble Columns   Castle del Monte - One of the Great fireplaces

Castle del Monte is an architectural gem and certainly lends a majestic authority to the vast lands of Puglia. 

It is an easy and fascinating drive from your home-base in Calitri: Driving Directions from Calitri to Castle del Monte

 

Would you like to stay at Casa del Cipresso (Calitri, Avellino, Southern Italy)? Please contact us at SouthernItaly@comcast.net .

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 Bread from Calitri, Avellino, Campania, Southern Italy

I have to admit, I pretty much love all Italian food….but when I am away from Southern Italy, what I miss the most is the bread from inland Campania! 

We have been known to buy a loaf of bread from the bakery, or even the supermarket -becasue even the supermarkets in Southern Italy have wonderful, fresh bread delivered daily-in Calitri and call it a meal! (and maybe along with some fresh deli meats and Caciocavallo Cheese or Buffalo Mozzarella  (Mozzarella di Bufala) produced locally)

Bob Rinaldi writes, in the “recipes” section of kingarthurflour.com: “When I was a young boy I would ask my grandmother about Italy. She told such fantastic and exciting stories that as a young man I began to take romantic trips to the home of my family in the mountains of southern Italy. One story that Nonna told often was of bread. She complained that the bread in “‘Merica” was too white and that was why people got sick so much. It took years of research and the patience of my teacher and bread coach Sharon Masone but here it is; the bread from the ovens of Calitri.”

Pane di Calitri

“Bread from the Ovens of Calitri”, Avellino in Hills of Southern Italy

(Click for the Recipe)

Hill Towns 

Hill towns, also referred to as citadel towns, are towns, particularly in Italy, which were built upon a hill for defensive purposes, usually surrounded by thick defensive walls, steep embankments, or cliffs. The hilltop settlements, which provided natural defenses for their earliest inhabitants, were fortified in the Middle Ages when earthworks and stone and wooden palisades were supplemented or replaced with massive stone and masonry walls, sturdy gates, and watch towers. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, even some of the smallest and most remote hill towns were adorned with churches housing works of art and impressive noble residences.

Italy’s hill towns have been studied for the communities that inhabited them, as repositories of Medieval and Renaissance art, and for their architecture.

In the second half of the 20th century, many of Italy’s lesser-known hill towns, especially those located outside Tuscany and Umbria, experienced steep population declines as their residents left for urban centres. In recent years, this trend has reversed with a deepening appreciation of Italian hill towns and interest in their preservation.

From: Hill town, Wikipedia.org

“Today, the obsession is with hill towns. Partly this is because so many of us have already visited the major cities and seen their renowned sites. It is also probably because there were no such things as the motorbike or the Fiat one hundred years ago. In those days, Italy’s great cities were relatively calm, the broad streets were impressive rather than nervewracking, and the populations were far smaller. All that has changed since World War Two, and as a result we now find ourselves longing to get out of the cities, out into the country, to visit the small towns, eat real food, meet real people, experience the “real Italy”. 

Of course, if you stop to think about it, there’s nothing to support the claim that small-town residents are any more “real” than big city denizens. What is likely, however, is that you will have more opportunity to chat with them for a few moments while you sip caffè or scoop up gelato. If you are on the street in the late afternoon, you will not only witness but actually become a part of la passeggiata, the ritual arm-in-arm stroll that brings entire hill town populations out of their houses. On the surface, it would seem la passeggiata serves no other purpose than to stretch one’s legs and exchange the latest gossip. In reality it is also a much more subtle experience, a reassurance that one is indeed an integral part of the town’s human fabric, and that one’s place in that arrangement is exactly what it was yesterday and the day before and, for that matter, on any given day in one’s local family history. During la passeggiata it becomes very clear to everyone that the main difference between small-town residents and big city denizens is that the latter are usually immigrants, whereas the former most likely live in the house their great-great grandfather once converted from a stall.

Of course, the other reason we are so enchanted by hill towns is that they look so great. Most of them have kept faithful to their original character, because their hilltop locations made it impossible for them to expand. The “new towns” had to be built in the valley, sometimes a mile or two away. This meant that as families expanded, especially in the past 100 years, the second-, third-, and fourth-born children would move down the hill and build new homes there. The child who remained in the hill town might make adjustments such as adding plumbing and electricity, but he would generally keep the building’s exterior intact, giving us the quaint winding alleys, colorful flower boxes and impeccable shutters we see beckoning to us in posters and pictures.

…(There is a) wide selection of hill towns. Most of them are rarely visited by foreigners, so you are less likely to find crowds, congestion or calloused local residents. Do try to peep into the tiny churches and ancient buildings while you’re there, but remember that the most important experience in a hill town is to share in the life of the village. We suggest you carefully review the items on your “must-see” agenda, throw out at least half of them and replace the time you’d have spent there by just sitting at an outdoor cafe or trattoria, watching the people and making local friends. It’s easy as pie in Italy’s “unknown” hill towns.”

– Taken From In Italy Online , where you can read about Hill Towns in every region if Italy!

There really are so many undiscovered Hill Town gems in Southern Italy!  Explore and find you’re own favorite! There are WAY too many to try and list here…but…here are a few you may not have heard of to get you started:

“Unknown” Hill Towns in Campania

Benevento

Gesualdo – hilltop town dominated by a story-book castle. Directions from Calitri to Gesualdo.

Teggiano – see Roman ruins, several well-preserved medieval buildings, a 12th-century cathedral and of course, a 14th-century castle. Directions from Calitri to Teggiano.

Benevento – lots of Roman antiquities. It has a 2nd-century BC theatre, a towering triumphant arch, and a well-preserved gate, and almost every house in town has bits and pieces of the ancient monuments plastered into its façade.  Directions from Calitri to Benevento.

“Unknown” Hill Towns in Basilicata

Melfi Castle

Melfi‘s imposing Norman castle’s eight towers can be seen for miles around, standing on the hilltop surrounded by a host of pre-Roman graves. The town gate dates back to Norman days. View of Melfi in BasilicataDirections from Calitri to Melfi.

Acerenza‘s rooftops seem to have been neatly shaven to form a perfect round profile. Its 11th-century cathedral is one of the finest in the region, and its crypt is particularly worth a visit. Directions from Calitri to Acerenza.

Rivello looks almost alpine, sprawled along the side of a densely wooded hill caught between Mounts Coccovello and Sirino. There are loads of ornate balconies, two nice churches and a beautifully frescoed convent, but the town’s most charming feature is its authenticity and simplicity. Directions from Calitri to Rivello.

Montescaglioso‘s location is similar to Orvieto’s: it occupies the entire top of a broad flat plateau. The graceful cloisters of the Sant’Angelo Abbey are especially worth a visit. Directions from Calitri to Montescaglioso.

“Unknown” Hill Towns in Apulia

Minervino Murge has been nicknamed the balcony of Apulia, because it makes a perfect lookout across the Murge Valley below. It has a Norman cathedral, a 12th-century castle, andmany pretty sandstone façades. Directions from Calitri to Minervino Murge.

A Special Thanks to In Italy Online, where I got much of this information.

Vino“Those wine lovers who have heard of Aglianico usually know it as the variety that makes Taurasi, Campania’s most famous red wine.  But Basilicata is Aglianico’s Italian home–although it originated in Greece, as did most grape varieties in southern Italy.  Aglianico arrived in what is now Basilicata around the 7th century B.C., and shortly after made its way to Campania…Monte Vulture is in northwest Basilicata.  The eastern slopes of Vulture, around the towns of Rionero, Barile, and Melfi, are the sites of the best Aglianico vineyards.  The soil, composed largely of deposits from the ancient lava flows, is rich in potassium and tufa, the porous calcium carbonate stone that is ideal for grape growing.  The late-ripening Aglianico variety thrives in this soil and climate” Discover the Mount Vulture home of Aglianico…right across the the Campanian border (Calirti, Avellino) in Basilicata (Potenza) and the slopes of Mt. Vulture!  READ the full article/review about some of  the Aglianico del Vulture wines, by Ed McCarthy, WineReviewOnline.com.

Wine

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  calitri_antica.jpg

Every second Sunday of the month (excluding January and February), Calitri hosts an antique market (Antiquacalitri) on Corso Giacomo Matteotti starting at 10am. 

Calitri’s weekly outdoor market (household goods, fresh local produce, cheese, etc.) is held every Thursday from 9am-1pm. 

Sunday is market day in the nearby towns of Lioni, Bisaccia and Nusco (about 9am-1pm) – a good option to stock up on food when most shops in Southern Italy are closed for the day on Sundays!

Here are some other Italian Antique markets (and Southern Italy Flea Markets) in the area:

Mirabella Eclano (Antiqueclano) – Every last Sat., (4pm-9pm) and Sun. (9am-9pm) of the month, Piazza XXIV Maggio

Avellino (Mercato dell’Antiquariato) – Every first and Third Sun. (8am-7pm) of the month, Piazza Castello

Potenza (Mercatino delle cose usate e d’altri tempi) – Fourth Sun. (9am-9pm) of the month, Piazza Mario Pagano

Salerno (Mostra Mercato) – Every Fourth Sun. (9am-7pm) of the month, Piazza Sant’Agostino

Salerno (Mostra Mercato dell’Antiquariato) – Every Second Sat. and Sun. (9am-9am), Piazza Sant’Elmo

Salerno (Mercatino dell’antiquariato in viale Kennedy) – every second Sat. and Sun. (9am-7pm) of the month, viale J.F. Kennedy

Salerno (Anticaglie Sotto Le Stelle)Every first Sat.(5pm-10pm) of the month, except July and August, Historic Center

Apice (AnticApice) – Every last Sat. (3pm-9pm) and Sun. (9am-9pm) except July and August, Piazza Municipio

San Lorenzello (Mercatino) – Every last Sat. and Sun. of the month, Historic center

Napoli (Fiera Antiquaria Napoletana) – Scheduale Changes (Usually thrid weekend of the month) – Click HERE for the Website w/ Info. Viale Comunale

Napoli (Mercatino di Poggioreale) – Sundays (8am-1:30pm), via Nuova Poggioreale

Please be sure to leave a comment and info. if you know of other Antique Markets (In Southern Italy – near Calitri, Avellino, Campania)I have left off the list… or if you have gone Antique shopping at any of these markets!

Would you like to stay at Casa del Cipresso? Please contact us at SouthernItaly@comcast.net 

 
 
   
   

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