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“Highway robbery still exists in southern Italy and the Carabinieri (police) discourage visitors from traveling the more isolated country roads.”   Hmm ... I wondered if this warning (from a 2008 Blue Guide to Southern Italy) was still true six years later. With some trepidation, I set off in a rental car from Bari, on the Adriatic side of Italy, and headed south into Basilicata, an extraordinary region! At once mountainous and desert-like with several dried-up riverbeds, Basilicata appeared arid, rugged, and solitary. But beautiful hedges of fig and cactus, cypress trees, recently cut hay fields dotted with hay bales, shepherds with flocks, and white-washed farmhouses all implied civilization. Greek and Roman ruins were plentiful and distant views of the blue Mediterranean cheered me.
Italian drivers are death-defying, moving at breathtaking speeds on the highways. I quickly decided to stay on secondary roads, and those I negotiated were dramatic, isolated and not always in good repair. Twice I was detoured around sections of road that had given way, leaving a yawning, gaping hole! I could envision how highway robbery might have been possible, as I encountered no traffic on winding, remote stretches of road (especially between the hours of one and four pm, when everyone is inside out of the heat). Yet, owners of the Agritourismos assured me that this activity was a thing of the past. I had explored Agritourismos as alternatives to hotels, and each farm offered items they produced: almonds, honey, figs, olives, and olive oil. Basilicata had once been the poorest region in Italy, but EU money was now helping to make it economically viable through agriculture. Indeed, I spotted newly built “aqueducts” bringing precious water to acres of neatly raked olive groves, tented vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and rows of vegetables.
Matera, Basilicata’s largest city, is built upon caves which have been inhabited since Paleolithic times. Its ancient, subterranean center, the "Sassi di Matera," is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Mel Gibson shot much of his 2003 film, The Passion of the Christ. In the 1930’s, though, thousands of peasants were living in these caves with no heat, light or sanitation, with illiteracy and disease contributing to the miseries of Italy’s impoverished south. A book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi, a writer exiled by Fascists to Basilicata in 1935, brought the scandal to wider attention and, in 1952 the Italian government relocated everyone and closed the cave dwellings. But many of the rock-hewn, or rupestrian, churches and chapels are open to the public and contain beautiful painted frescoes. Unfortunately the buildup of condensation in these caves is damaging the frescoes and many have already disappeared due to the dampness.
Eventually reaching the Ionian coastline, a swim was what I needed after exploring Greek and Roman ruins at Metapontum and Policoro under a blazing sun. There, I quickly discovered that the Italians take their beach time very seriously, and my hopes of just going for a quick swim turned into a lesson in how Italians go to the beach: 5 Euros will get you a beach umbrella, a deck chair, easy access to food, drinks, a bathroom, and all the pulsating disco music you can stand. After chatting with some kids (English is compulsory in Italian schools), I found the beach I was looking for, far beyond the crowds and disco beat. The Ionian Sea was beautiful: turquoise, bath-water warm and very salty.
After a week of driving, I arrived in Noepoli where I would live and work for the next ten days. The remote village is a maze of stone buildings and cobbled streets, dramatically perched on a hilltop located within the confines of the Parco Nazionale del Pollino, Italy's largest National Park. Palazzo Rinaldi hosts international artists of all disciplines and is located near the pink church and small piazza at the heart of the village. An open terrace provides sweeping views of distant mountains and the valley below, with ceramic busts of famous Italian poets lined up along its edges. Up here, there was always was a breeze even on the hottest of days. The studio opened out onto this and once, during an afternoon thunder storm, we watched amazing views of lightening dancing over the valley. The rooftops of neighboring houses contributed varying shades of terra-cotta roof tiles to this broad, colorful vista.
A slower pace which included two weddings, a funeral, and a village festival celebrating a religious icon from the pink church, marked my time here. The days were full of rituals: coffee and breakfast on the terrace with other residents, focused work in the studio until the honking horns of the frutta, verdure or formaggio venders brought villagers to their trucks to buy our daily fruits, vegetables or cheese. Then more work in the afternoon, a walk, dinner, further work, and a beautiful, late (10:30 pm) sunset to end most days. Each evening I noticed simultaneous rituals as neighbors dragged chairs into the alleyways below the terrace and commenced some al fresco chat time in the cooler temperatures. Routines were accompanied by church bells extolling the time (every fifteen minutes); cicadas screeching; rosters crowing; cow bells tinkling; and pigeons cooing. I accomplished new work, met wonderful people, and felt a pang upon leaving the village as I drove down the winding hill for the last time.
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Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014

 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Basilicata 2014
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