A deserted village which was destroyed by the natural disasters and the Plague. Craco is a haunted hill surviving amidst the chaos. Despite the residents abandoning the medieval town, the major part of the town still stands in the sands of time. Craco is situated on the tip of Italy where the village is set out on a 1300 foot high cliff viewing the river valley which is down. The town’s setup was perfect enough to resist several plunders and drama that took place; Followed by the Black Death that arrived in the 1600s, taking out hundreds of residents to die. Yet again, Craco survived and grew big enough, getting divided into two districts by 1815.

 Let’s see what happens to Craco on a detailed trail on exploring it one by one.

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City view of Craco_©Maurizio Moro

Craco ties link with the Bronze age.

Long time ago, Craco was a monastic centre, a feudal town and centre for education with a university, accompanied with a castle, church, and plazas. The place was blessed with extraordinary urban landscapes and its unique beauty that paved the path to be a featured asset in many films like Saving Grace, James Bond Quantum of Solace and for the hanging of Judas scene in Mel Gibson’s the eagerness of the Christ.

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Aerial view of Craco_©Maurizio Moro

Craco was once a medieval village and is situated in the earthquake-prone Basilica region about 40 km inland, from the Gulf of Taranto at the bottom, in Italy. The settlement holds a rock formation above the surrounding hills, adding to it is structurally blended with the landscape. Resting on the top of a 400 m high cliff, overlooking the arid countryside of Southern Italy, it is bestowed with breathtaking views and stands strong amongst the invader’s attack.

The city has its origin dating from 540 AD, at that time period, Craco was known as Montedoro. It was inhabited by the Greek monks who moved in here from the coastal town of Metaponto, in order to escape the unhealthy conditions along the marshy coast and to avoid the constant threat from seafaring raiders.Tombs dating back to the 8th century are making us understand its origin of settlement dates back to the Iron age.

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Street view of Craco_©www.cookiesound.com/2017/03/craco-a-ghost-town-in-southern-italy/
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Norman tower_©Michela R

The foremost written evidence dates back to 1060 AD and at that time the land was owned by Archbishop Arnaldo, who was the Bishop of Tricarico. He called the area as Grachium which means, a little ploughed field. The oldest building of Craco, the Norman Tower, was built in 1040, plus many of the buildings date back to medieval times. This long association of the Church with the town grew a major influence on its inhabitants.

From the period of 1154 to 1168, the control over the village was passed on to Eberto, who established the primary feudal system in the town. In 1179, Roberto di Pietrapertos became the owner of Craco. In 1276 a university was established within the town. In the 13th century, the landmark castle was constructed under the supervision of Attendolo Sforza. And in 1293, under Federico II, the Castle Tower was converted into a prison.By 15th century, four large plazas were developed in the town:

  • Palazzo Maronna near the tower.
  • Palazzo Grossi near the big Church.
  • Palazzo Carbone on the Rigirone’s property.
  • Palazzo Simonetti.

The Population growth

The number of inhabitants of the town increased from 450(1277) to 655(1477) and 1,718(1532) till reaching 2590 in 1,561 and averaged 1,500 in succeeding centuries. In 1656, a plague struck hundreds of masses to die and reduced the count of the population.

By 1799, there was an urge to modify the feudal system. Innocenzo De Cesare, a student at Naples, returned and gave way to an independent municipality. This measure led the town to fall under the rule of the Italian King, followed by a period of French occupation. By 1815, the town grew large enough and divided into two districts:

  • Torrevecchia is the uppermost area adjacent to the castle and tower.
  • Quartiere Della Chiesa Madre is the area neighbouring to San Nicolas Church.
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Vegetation less mounds below_©www.atlasobscura.com/places/craco-matera

The unification of Italy has led to the growth of Brigands in the area. Their plaguing continued until the mid-1860s. The end of civil conflict led to great difficulty both geologically and environmentally.

During the mid-twentieth century, recurring earthquakes began to shake the liability of the town. Between 1959 and 72, portions of the village were severely damaged and declared uninhabitable by a series of landslides.

The geological threat to the town was recognised beforehand by scientists in 1910. The critical location of Craco on a hill made of Pliocene sand has left it overhanging with the clays and ravines which has led to progressive incisions.

Now, Craco is uninhabited. In 1963, the 1,800 inhabitants were moved to a valley at closer proximity called as Craco Peschiera. That population is now reduced to below 800 inhabitants.

The Churches

Churches are pivotal to the history of the town, originating from monks. Some of the remarkable buildings include the church of the Observant Friars Minor and is dedicated to St. Peter which dates back to the 17th century, plus has now been partially restored and used as a conference centre. The church of Santa Maria Della Stella is a small chapel built on the hillside and is an active part associated with paying reverence to the Virgin Mary. The statue of the Virgin and Child was miraculously found in a body of water by a shepherd. The statue of the Virgin is still present there, despite the original infant being stolen and replaced.

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The Piazza di Largo Vittorio Emanule II, circa 1962_©cracosociety.net/Basilicata.php

Adding to a small new church in Sant’ angelo is the only remaining section on the hilltop which is still inhabited. It has the religious relics of the preserved body of St. Vincenzo who is the patron saint of the town. 

San Vincenzo was a soldier in the army of General Massimiliano, Thebes Legion and  in 286 CE who was martyrized because he denied to renounce Christianity and worship Emperor Marco Aurelio. In 1769, his relic was brought to the town  and also placed at the new little church, after the old town had collapsed.

A story is told of another town, Pisticci, claiming the relic should be in their town and a gaggle from there tried to acquire the relic.It was too heavy for them to carry it very far. Furthermore, it was abandoned on the roadside and identified by the people of Craco and returned it to the town.

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The War Memorial in Craco Vecchio, circa 1960_©cracosociety.net/Basilicata.php

There is also another church in the old town called Chiesa Madre (di San Nicola Vescovo – St. Nicholas Bishop). Its remarkable arched dome stands tall above the skyline just below the tower, also considered as the largest Church in the village.

 

With the old town falling apart, the statuary and interior fixtures were relocated to the new church and are currently situated at the centre of Craco Peschiera, the urban area. Although, appearance from the outside looks modern, the old statues inside are from the original church, which provides a transition to the visitors that gives them the reminiscence of old Craco.

The religious connection in the town is celebrated regularly with grandeur festivals:

  • Madonna Della Stella festival occurs on the first Sunday in the month of May, at Craco Vecchio.
  • San Nicola festival occurs on the second Sunday in the month of August.
  • Madonna Della Stella festival occurs on the second Sunday in the month of August, in Craco Peschiera.
  • Madonna di Monserrato festival occurs on the third Sunday in the month of September.
  • San Vincenzo Martire Feast Day occurs on the fourth Sunday in the month of October.
  • The agricultural customs of the town are still existing and can be seen in the local market held at Craco Peschiera, every month.
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Relic of San Vincenzo_©cracosociety.net/Basilicata.php

Presently, the old village majestically stands with its Norman Tower visible in the surrounding valleys, retaining its charisma, attracting both the tourists and the natives.

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Craco tourist_©www.cookiesound.com

Modern Craco: A tourist retreat

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Craco’s entry point_©luxeadventuretraveler.com/craco-italy/

Today, Craco remains abandoned, ransacked, overgrown and is no longer accessible to the public, but a guided tour is available. Though the town has fallen into ruins, several buildings like palaces and churches remain intact with their original features like shutters, railings, and frescoes, as a living memory of their life. On a different note, the village receives visitors, travellers and the occasional film production.

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Ruins of Craco_©www.ancient-origins.net

Like other ghost towns unwinding the beauty of the Italian countryside, Craco is now brought to the spotlight with the help of conservation efforts. In 2010, it was included in the Watch List by the World Monuments Fund. 

As tourism is flourishing, the local municipality has also received both EU and regional funding, which indeed brings in concerts, festivals and cultural events as well as provides funding to maintain the site.

References

The Craco Society. 2021. The Craco Society. [online] Available at: <https://cracosociety.net/Basilicata.php> [Accessed 11 September 2021].

Ancient-origins.net. 2021. Craco: The Abandoned Medieval Ghost Town of Italy. [online] Available at: <https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe/craco-abandoned-medieval-ghost-town-italy-003527> [Accessed 11 September 2021].

All That’s Interesting. 2021. Inside Italy’s Abandoned Medieval Ghost Town That Sits Atop A 1,300-Foot Cliff. [online] Available at: <https://allthatsinteresting.com/craco-italy> [Accessed 11 September 2021].

Author

Prakriti is an Architecture graduate from MCE, Chennai. She is an enthusiastic person and is passionate towards writing perspectives that are profound and narrative. She gets fascinated by Tadao Ando’s minimalistic approach and loves to explore new avenues of architecture in a sustainable manner.

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