Southern Italy can be geographically defined as Sicilia, Calabria, Puglia, Campania and Basilicata. At the root, they share the agricultural traditions of working the land, a way of life that has suffered under urbanization. Uniqueness of each stem from how they were able to bounce back. One region I knew very little about was Basilicata, a part of Italy that once contained the great shame of the country, Matera. Using this now bustling city as home, I set out to explore how Basilicata capitalized on its geographic location within the peninsula.
Basilicata dates back to the Greek Empire, when it was known as Lucania, derived from the Lucani tribe. The Roman Empire under the eye of Hannibal would bring great misfortunate to the once lush forested topography. Being a gateway to the Byzantine East, meant that it would become highly contested position. One of the largest events that would change the face of the region occurred in the 1960’s. Coined as the great migration, families who worked the land left for North America. Despite the historical struggles, strong communal ties are resilient and a source of pride. This was put to the test during WWII, where Matera became the first Italian city to stand up against German Occupation.
Like much of Italy, deforestation was drastic leaving a bare geography that is now dotted by fields of wheat, olives and grapes. Home to some stunning towns that hang gingerly from the cliff edges, a trip to Basilicata is a visual adventure into the old country.
passato svegliato | iso400 | 50mm | f/1.8 | 1/60sec
I found this alarm clock while visiting one of the Matera's sassi, a cave dwelling that typically housed one family with an average of 6 children as well as the animals that helped the family work the land.
castelmezzano | iso100 | 24mm | f/8.0 | 1/160sec
This town of 970 sits theatrically at an elevation of 985m and dates back to between the 6th and 5th century BC when it was referred to as the 'world of gold'.
craco | iso100 | 50mm | f/8.0 | 1/250sec
Craco sits atop a 400m cliff and has a total population of 773. Shown here is the historic core that was evacuated after a landslide in 1962. Things worsened in 1980 after an earthquake rendered the core a ghost town. The next photograph documents the impact of the earthquake 36years later.
36 anni fa | iso100 | 50mm | f/8.0 | 1/250sec
ponte del peccato | iso100 | 24mm | f/8.0 | 1/100sec
This abandoned bridge spans a small ravine that hides the crypt of original sin. A common theme within Basilicata is the conversion of old caves into functional spaces. This crypt is considered the sistine chapel of cave churches as its dramatic well preserved frescoes depict the old testament. Photography is not allowed in the space, so instead I share a view of the bridge I took accidentally as I tried to located this carefully hidden archeological site.
percorso illuminato | iso320 | 24mm | f/2.8 | 1/30sec
Life in Matera was not easy. Up until the 1950's malaria ran rampant and infant mortality rates touched 50%. The cause was due to the contamination of the caved canal water systems by bringing livestock within the home, not by choice but rather necessity. In the evenings, households would place a candle at the foot of the cave to guide loved ones back after a long day of sacrifice. By purposely blurring the lens, I sought to capture the intensity of modern lighting as it illuminates the storied alleys.
CB | iso100 | 24mm | f/3.5 | 1/400sec
This marker instantly spoke Roman, but Matera was also run by the Lombards, Benedictine, Basilian, Byzantines, Normans, Aragonese, Tramontano as well as the Orsini. The blurred structures in the background are the jewel of the city and are better visualized in the following photograph.
matera | iso200 | 24mm | f/8.05 | 1/50sec