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The Vasary Corridor, Firenze

Basilicata and Puglia, Italy

The Group under the spell of the Sassi, Matera

BASILICATA & Puglia, Italy October 2013

A guided cultural Tour to Basilicata and Puglia in Italy led by E V Borg and held between Thursday 10th and Tuesday 15th October, 2013

Photography and design by Mary Attard Text by E V Borg




It is a region of plenty and abundance with rich fertile soil, covered with woods and forests, fruit trees, olive trees and vineyards in abundance, grazing cattle and country paths lined with chestnuts. It is the land of castles harking back to medieval history made famous by the stupor mundi Ferdinand II and magnificent Romanesque cathedrals, medieval renaissance and baroque palaces, wonderful ‘borghi’ and citadels and marvellous scenery. It is sparsely populated with panoramic vistas, wide and wild spaces and sweeping bulbous hills; a land with a rich history woven along famous Imperial roads with towns at strategic points sheltering behind bastion walls and lying in shadow, sheltered under turreted castles. It is a land of plenty with streams running peacefully down its deep valleys. The land breathes an atmosphere of tranquillity and serenity that stimulates a sense of quiet calm and peace. It is an enclave where in relaxation one can enjoy quality time. It was pitch dark under a star-studded sky when we finally glimpsed in the distance a glimmer of light as we approached Le Masserie Del Falco from the hills above it. A quick cold buffet dinner washed by a glass of rich red Aglianico and by midnight we were led to our luxury apartments and off to sleep. The next morning we woke up early and went for a 2

walk in the valley below the Masserie. We witnessed a solemn sunrise over the rounded hills. It was a grand theatre of rolling hillsides and undulating sloping escarpments with furrowed fields covered with fertile yellow ochre clayey soil with dark ominous volcanic patches like huge static and frozen waves in calm waters.

The glorious grounds of Le Masserie Del Falco

is an added bonus as it exudes a sense of splendid isolation and solitude with attending therapy, a bonus to the healthy sauna and baths provided by the agriturism centre. We were in the middle of nowhere. Yet it was not only somewhere but it had already become our home, our nest surrounded by Mother Nature. By now the sun rose gradually above the skyline in a glow of rosy fingers of dawn and the birds competed with their different chirps, cries and songs their morning prayers breaking the pregnant silence that reigned supreme. Le Masserie Del Falco is situated between Forenza and Acerenza: 7 kilometres from the former village and 12 kilometres from the latter citadel. Yet being situated in a hollow bowl it is next to impossible to get a glimpse of human habitation. This in itself


The food at the Masserie is tempting, delicious and mouth-watering. It is served by trained personnel (members that own the place) in elegant uniform and serving in impeccable manners, natural but polite.


The centre also includes an international culinary school complete with modern equipment that will commence various courses in the near future. Le Masserie Del Falco is a splendid location where to relax in tranquillity and serenity surrounded by pristine nature and a wonderful rose garden all’Italiana. The enclave is caressed by the changing rhythm of light, colours, changing season and scented air while tasting delicious food and good living far from the maddening crowd where haste lacks decorum. It is an enclave of peace where time stands still.

Accomodation is state of the art and units are varied in style and size according to preferences


Venosa & Melfi

- Friday 11th October 2013

After a heartening breakfast in a modern setting at Del Falco we left in our minibus towards Venosa and Melfi. The weather forecast threatened us with rain and truly raindrops hung in midair and some splattered on the windscreen but the sun came out in revenge after coasting Forenza.

Horace as he was born there in 65BC. Nobody knows exactly the origin of its name though several hypotheses exist including that referring to Venus, the goddess of love. Other attempts include ‘vinoso’ for its delicious wines especially the Aglianico del Vulture, that comes in a lovely ruby red colour, a DOCG about which Horace sang verses of praise: Venosa is included in a wonderful book: ‘I Borghi ‘savoured by the mind and drunk by the heart’ and più belli d’Italia’ and referred to as the city of ‘giving comfort and joy to life’. What promotion by such a poet! The history of Venosa is similar to that of Melfi and related to it too. It is with little difference the history of our Island: Malta. The Romans loom large. Then, come the Ostrogoths, Lombards, Saracens, Byzantines, Normans, Hohenstaufens, Angevins and the Aragonese. How strange it seems we have heard it all.


During the Osrogothic kingdom of Italy the administrative centre of Venosa was moved to Acerenza. After a series of different feudal lords

of Anjou. Little remains of the Longobard castle but the present formidable structure still keeps watch over the quiet ‘borgo’.

Venosa became a possession of the Orsini in 1453. Count Pirro Del Balzo who had married Donata Orsini built a new castle (1460-1470) and a Cathedral. Next to the castle is the 15th century San Marco fountain a concession by King Charles

On the western tower the ‘del Balzo’ coat-of-arms depicting a blazing sun can still be seen. This massive and rugged castle with four cylindrical towers was later transformed into an elegant residence by the Gesualdo family, particularly Carlo, who Torquato Tasso called the ‘Prince of Musicians’, and by Carlo’s son Emanuele. The rooms that echoed to Carlo’s wonderful madrigals also hosted towards the end of Carlo’s life, the refined intellectual court of the ‘Academy of the Rinascenti’ (1612). It presently or actually houses the National Museum of Venosa inaugurated in 1991. We entered this treasure house from a bridge over the ‘fossato’ guarded by two Roman marble lions very fierce to the eye but otherwise harmless.


We enjoyed this museum with its dungeons a great deal as it was very educative and visitorfriendly, presenting ancient Roman remains and other findings up to the 9th century. Part of it was dedicated to anthropology while most showed open graves and tombs with the objects as found in situ. We climbed to the internal loggia built by Carlo and Emanuele Gesualdo and toured the bastion ramparts a ‘belvedere’ from where we could enjoy a lovely view of the town and luxuriant trees and foliage. 8

We came out from the castle and found a lovely portico in a crescent shape with a homely cafĂŠ enticing enough to stop for a cappuccino and a brioche. All the members of the group were tempted and we sat

under the arches sipping coffee with a fresh breeze blowing from north-west. We had a lovely time and made our way slowly towards the castle- fountain with cobbles paving its entire length.


The town is well known for the abbey church of SS. Trinità consecrated by Pope Nicholas II in 1059, a wonderful Romanesque church still well preserved with a brilliantly lit exedra at the end of the nave. The church then passed into the hands of the Knights of St. John in the time of Boniface VII (1295 – 1305). In the central isle we saw the tomb of Abelarda, the first wife of Robert Guiscard and mother of Bohemund. An inscription on the wall commemorates the great Norman brothers: William Iron Arm, Drogo, Humfrey and Robert Guiscard. Their bones are interred in a simple stone sarcophagus opposite the tomb of Abelarda. We marvelled at the 14th century frescoes and were led by a guide into the crypt below. Behind it is a larger church built for the Benedictines in c.1150 from the designs of a French architect on the plans of the Cluniac church at Paray-le-Monial, but never finished beyond the spring of the vaulting. This is a wonderful site built from large blocks (riutilizzo) from the vast archaeological site nearby: an ancient Roman amphitheatre, baths and houses. Nearby is the Baroque Church of Purgatory or San Filippo Neri which we also visited.


We walked towards the Cathedral that was first built in 1470 at the same time of the castle. It seems that an earthquake destroyed most of it and it was later rebuilt in the same style with a high bell-tower in the form of a castle. The town prides itself on the archaeological area of Notarchirico part of its commune that covers eleven layers (as at Tas-Silġ in Malta – 7 layers from Punic to Byzantine)

of the Paleolithic period dating from 600,000 to 300,000 years ago. Remains of ancient wildlife, including ancient species of elephants, bisons and rhinoceroses have been found as well as a fragment of a femur of Homo Erectus. The town still preserves remains of the ancient city walls, an amphitheatre and inscriptions. Behind the Church of St. Roque (Chiesa di San Rocco) in simple Baroque style built after the plague of 1501 and eventually rebuilt after the earthquake of 1851 has a small cloister recently restored and renovated that actually functions as the entrance of the archaeological park. On the feast of San Rocco, the patron saint of Venosa mothers brought their children sick of serious ailments to implore grace and cures for their little ones. Large wooden scales were brought out of the church, the baby or child was placed on one side and a sack of grain of an equal weight on the other and then offered to the church as a gift. This ceremony was done inside the church during the year on other occasions.


After having a sumptuous lunch we left in the direction of Melfi. In the region of Monte Vulture 1326m high but especially covering its slopes and cliffs are woods and forests and farm land fertilized in prehistoric times by lava flows and volcanic dust. And the land is rich with prehistoric sites, medieval towns and extraordinarily rich archaeological excavated areas. But also castles, monasteries, fantastic cathedrals seeped in myth and legend that cast spells in this angle of Basilicata possibly the most fascinating in this region Here lived monarchs and queens, emperors and popes, innumerable clergy, templars and knights, poets and litterati, princes and musicians, condottieri and brigands who found the impenetrable woods secure shelter and refuge. Melfi is situated in this mytical land that saw the Dauni, Samnites, Romans, Longobards, Byzantine, Norman, Swabians Angevin and Aragonese who have left their traces but it has also attracted and enamored Federico II ‘stupor mundi’ who found the birds of prey so abandunt and marvellous that he wrote a treatise about falconry: ‘De arte venandi cum avibus’ in a manuscript dedicated to these birds and famous till today.

splendid town made impregnable by an imposing bastion in part still extant. In this castle Federico proclaimed in 1231 the famous ‘Costitutiones augustales’, even know as ‘Costituzioni melfitani’ – laws that regulated the feudal rights and recognised the right of women to hereditary succession. Such rich history contributed to Melfi becoming in 1059 the capital ‘del Ducato di Puglia’.

We entered the castle through a gate with what was in the past a draw-bridge. The chains are still in situ but the draw-bridge was replaced by a permanent stone one. Actually the castle has become the ‘Museo Archeologico del Melfense’: a great treasure of historic relics from the VII to the III century BC. Among these treasures there is a classical masterpiece, the Sarcophagus of Rapolla - a place on the via Appia in a villa where it was found in 1856. He also built a castle or enlarged what remained This enormous sarcophagus a valuable example of of the Norman structure, one of the most majestic Imperial sculpture, that dates from the second half and formidable with its 8 towers that dominated the of the II century AD was commissioned by a rich 12

Architectural slab in terracotta: Sanctuary of San Biagio alla Venella, Metaponto A light cart, typically Greek for parade, Melfi

family and imported from Asia Minor. On its lid lies the body of a woman in clinging garments and the sides (not just the front) are hewn in white marble representing a series of architectural features like triangular and arcuated pediments on aedicules or exedrae framing gods, goddesses and heroes. It represents one of the most important and refined

products of sculptured work from Asia Minor. The woman on the lid surely one of rank or nobility had a dog at her feet that is no longer extant. This lid remindes me of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia in Lucca cathedral. The museum is full of excavated finds including funerary objects and also armour such as a famous Etruscan helmet. 13

Askos - used in funeral services

is a band of musicians that follow who play Roman musical instruments such as the tuba and corno. Since it was getting late and the sky was getting darker we retraced our steps took some photos of the original Norman bell tower of the rebuilt Cathedral and moved slowly towards the minibus. At dusk we arrived at Le Maniere Del Falco. Waiting for us we found a delicious dinner and a glass of the robust red Aglianico. The ‘askos’ or what in Maltese is called ‘qolla’ or bowl with three openings was found at Lavello in the 3rd century BC at the time when Canosa culture was becoming more tangible. Its figurative decoration is a funeral scene but incorporating three different rituals. The women dressed in black come from the Daunia (tribe) culture. The Gorgon’s head, cock and dolphins of Greek origin refer to the after-life beyond the Great Ocean and of particular interest


Matera & Altamura

- Saturday 12th October 2013 strong, rigid and erect like a male proud member. The construction remained unfinished after the rebellion. Similarly the island of Malta was given as a fief to Don Gonsalvo Monroy during the Aragonese period. The Maltese were so infuriated that they bought the Island back from Monroy for a large sum in gold.

We arrived late morning at Matera and what first fired our imagination was the Tramontano castle begun in the first years of the 16th century by Gian Carlo Tramontano. After a short phase as a commune, Matera passed into the hands of the Aragonese and was given as a fief to the barons of the Tramontano family. On the 29th December 1514 the population rebelled against cruel oppression and murdered Count Giovanni Carlo Tramontano. The castle has three large towers though 12 were originally included in the design. The ‘mastio’ rises

After having a warm coffee we moved in the direction of the Church dedicated to the ‘Purgatorio’ through Via A. Volta with a Borromini-like façade and a sophisticated Rococo interior and stopped in front of the Chiesa di S. Francesco d’Assisi as we were haggling over the price of hiring a guide to take us to the Sassi. We took only a few minutes and soon became like a flock of sheep moving behind our guide in Via D. Ridola until


we stopped in front of Palazzo Lanfranchi and the Belvedere dei Sassi. We were completely overwhelmed by the scene before our eyes. No wonder the learned Carlo Levi called Matera ‘una città bellissima, pittoresca e impressionante’ in his book ‘Cristo si à fermato a Eboli (1945) during his exile between 1935 and 1936. And Pier Paolo Pasolini says: ‘Per me spirituale corrisponde a estetico. Non religioso. La mia idea che le cose quanto più sono piccolo e umili tanto più sono grandi e belli nella loro miseria, ha trovato un scossone estetico’. In Pasolini’s cinematic masterpiece ‘Il Vangelo secondo Matteo’ (1964) Matera was the site chosen to recreate the old Jerusalem as the city is so ancient that it is mentioned in relation to Jericho.


The site was inhabited since prehistoric times. UNESCO in 1993 declared it a World Heritage Site.

We looked fascinated from above on a deep gorge where man improvised the cliff face into dwellings by digging caverns or turning caves into habitations. It is a marvellous labyrinth like the Tower of Babel not constructed but excavated in ‘tufo’. With great intelligence man realized that with little effort he could create cheap dwellings in tier upon tier, in vertical terraced design, in easy modules that the roof of buildings become streets in repeated pattern and as the people put it: ‘the dead lie above the living’ as graves in cemeteries were dug on the last level. This famous rabbit warren became the city of the poor but since the



enclave was quite impregnable it became the shelter of Benedictine and Basilian monks who either escaped persecution or searched solitude where to meditate, pray and live in peace. Faith was so strong that a myriad of ‘rupestrian’ (stone-cliff) churches and chapels were carved in the soft volcanic rock in the region.

The wonder is that many of these religious sanctuaries were decorated with carvings, stucco and fresco thus turning the enclave into a monument full of art and treasure. Water was carefully collected in cisterns, and drain pipes clinging to houses were often supported by animal bone corbels. The ingenuity is fascinating. And since the Sassi originated as a prehistoric settlement or troglodytic site it is considered one of the earliest human settlements in Italy. It is fascinating to walk around the cave dwellings, with innumerable stone steps that reach up or down as in some gigantic crib. Incredibly beautiful though it is hardly difficult to comprehend the hardship, the suffering and the poverty of these dwellers whose women folk cooked, washed and dried clothes, on doorstep or in small square spaces. No wonder that in the 1950’s the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city with better facilities and improved standards of hygiene. Until the 1980’s the Sassi was considered an area of poverty as most houses were mostly unlivable. But since then the town’s administration has become more tourist-oriented and has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the EU, the central government, UNESCO and Holywood. Nowadays the town has developed many thriving businesses, pubs, restaurants and hotels. At about 1.00pm we realized that time had had the better of us and after taking a group photo we followed our guide to have some ‘ buon assaggi’. We tasted good wine over finger food made from local salami, cheese and dips. After having had a wholesome lunch in a barrelvaulted hall we left Matera in the direction of Altamura. 19

In late afternoon, already quite tired with the exertion at the Sassi we crossed into Puglia and entered Altamura. We realized that we only had a few hours at our disposition and without wasting time we walked down the main street of the town towards its main landmark: the Romanesque Cathedral wonderful from outside was hideous inside. It was begun in 1232 by Frederick II and restored twice: in 1330 with Gothic addition and in 1521-1547 with Renaissance alterations and cladding in marble that turned it into a dark and sad interior. Altamura Cathedral became one of the most venerated sanctuaries in Apulia and in 1248 Pope Innocent IV under pressure from Frederick II declared the town of Altamura exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Bari. Thus he declared the Cathedral a palatine church: that is the palace chapel of the Emperor. The orientation of the edifice was probably changed during the 1300’s and the northern portal belongs to such construction. The main altar and presbytery, the sacristy and a second bell tower belong to the 1500’s. The Gothic portal set into the entrance portico with columns


resting on lions in the Romanesque style is a wonderful exercise in sculptural narrative and a frame for 22 panels with episodes that represent the life of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the rose window on the façade steals the show with 15 columns like radii in a circle. The Cathedral prides itself of a stone crib or ‘presepe’ of 1587 by Altobello Persio. The style of this wonderful Cathedral is influenced by that of Bari which we also visited. The rank of the Cathedral as a Palatine church vies with three other edifices: that of Acquaviva delle Fonti, the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari (visited later too) and the church of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano. Leaving the church we wandered in the main street with baroque houses and palaces then walked through some of the ancient narrow streets of the town until we stumbled into a quaint café selling cannelloni and tasty cappuccino. After resting our tired feet we continued down the central axis of the town until we


came out through a massive gate in a Mannerist style probably built at the time of the Bourbon government. It is flanked by strong bastion walls erected by Frederick II dating to medieval times that rest on megalithic blocks laid without mortar of an ancient city whose name is shrouded in the mist of time. Altamura located on the Murge plateau in the province of Bari is particularly renowned for the quality of its bread: pane di Altamura, sold in numerous other cities in Italy. The Latin poet Horace sings its praise while he condemns: ‘water is sold here, though the worst in the world; but the bread


is exceedingly fine, inasmuch the weary traveller is used to carry it willingly on his shoulders’. Altamura is famous for the 400,000 year old calcified man that was discovered in the nearby limestone cave known as the ‘Grotta di Lamalunga’. The area of modern Altamura was densely inhabited in the Bronze Age and known as ‘La Croce’ settlement and necropolis. Ancient tombs with fragments of vases and terracotta containers were also found in the area. Such collection is presented at the Museo Archeologico di Altamura. The town has a rich history and was ruled by various feudal noble families including the Orsini del Balzo and the Farnese (15381734) a powerful noble Roman family with a pope (Paul III) and a cardinal (Alessandro) to their credit. The Farnese built numerous palaces and churches in Altamura. In 1784 Charles VII of Naples enriched it by founding a University in the city. The Alta Murgia National Park, about 12,660 hectares of communal territory gives the region and town wide possibilities in developing agriturism. We returned to our base quite satisfied and pleased as the programme we chose was not only educative but also marvellously surprising.

Acerenza, Lago Pesole & Monticchio - Sunday 13th October 2013 We were in high spirits as we travelled towards Acerenza enjoying jokes and interesting conversation. The weather was fine and since it was Sunday the countryside was quiet and welcoming. We had a slight presentiment that we were going to enjoy ourselves grandly. In retrospect we did enjoy ourselves so much that one could say that it was the climax of our tour. Quite early we arrived at Acerenza as it is only 12 kilometres from Le Masserie Del Falco. There was Acerenza above us so beautiful that the scene was really overwhelming. The ‘borgo’ clung to the peak of the hill in tranquillity and serenity, as if floating in the blue sky. No wonder it is included in ‘I Borghi più belli d’Italia’ and referred to as ‘un fiore sulla roccia’. In Latin Horace called it ‘caelsae nidum Acherontae’ (eagle’s nest of Acerenza) while the derivation of its Oscan (tribe) name: Akere, that became Acheuntia, until Horace wrote it Acherontia from the original meaning ‘high place’ (833m.).


And what a high place as our eyes gazed downwards from a belvedere sheltered by buttressed bastions on the modern development of Acerenza below us. The medieval town remains standing in pristine glory. The bright sun gleamed on the roof tops and revealed a clean modern development the pride of its inhabitants, below. Exactly behind our back on this belvedere esplanade was a monument to the bravery of those killed during the liberation of Italy in 1945 and some metres away a simple baroque chapel with a flanking flight of steps to its entrance where we posed for a group photograph on our return from the tour of the city streets.


We climbed upwards and upwards until we reached a small piazza with the dominant faรงade of the Museo Diocesano. We did not stop and continued walking through the narrow streets until we came to the clock- tower quite quaint and appealing in its baroque solidity and weight. A few more steps and in front of us was the faรงade of the Romanesque Cathedral a wonder to behold.

The Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption and San Canio is a wonderful building erected on an ancient site where once stood a temple to Ercole Acheruntino. Since the town was very strategic as it dominated the road arteries to Rome: the Appia, the Appia-Traina and the Erculea it was considered of great importance and therefore its history is hardly marginal. It is enough to say that tradition 25

maintains that the diocese might go back to the times of St. Peter who travelling from Brindisi to Rome passed through the Appia and probably stopped to rest at Acerenza leaving an ‘old’ man by the name of Ughisio to take care of the flock. And this was not an isolated incident as the first Bishop Marcello was its pastor around the year 300AD. Then there was Bishop Godano who was of importance in the Council of Melfi in 1059 and faithful to the interests of the Norman Roberto II Guiscardo. And Pope Nicholas II raised Acerenza to a Metropolitan Archdiocese. Until we come to Bishop Arnold who was involved in the building of the present Cathedral around 1067. What a story! Finished or partly finished by 1080 the Cathedral cannot be termed early Romanesque but it is surely a type of Romanesque-Gothic of Norman origin following Apulian examples such as Bari and Altamura. Since Arnaldo was an Abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Cluny he commissioned French architects 26

who were influenced by such architecture and who designed a radiating apse of great beauty. Fortunately for us in the 1950’s the Baroque stucco accretions were all removed except for a single chapel and therefore one can enjoy the original Romanesque simplicity in its grandeur and severity. The plain


façade of the church is relieved by an elegant portico The beauty of the Cathedral is the rich element of ‘riutilizzo’ as parts of the Ercole Acheruntino temple with spindly columns and a rose window. and the Palo-Christian church are embedded in the The portico is of great interest as it might belong to masonry of the Cathedral more as mere decoration the previous Palo-Christian Cathedral (riutilizzo) or than in a functional sense. Traces of the foundation as its ‘ciborio’ as the four small columns integrated of the Roman and Christian buildings were found at the back of the Cathedral still stand witness today. in 1975-77 during excavations effected to replace 28

the pavement of the Cathedral. While nearby there was a Baptistery of the Palo-Christian Cathedral for neophytes as the study of topology proofs with reference to ‘Via San Giovanni’ dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The portal of the Cathedral is immersed in magic and mystery and rich symbolism. The slender elegant columns with capitals and sphinxes as abacus rested on two marble lions, still extant: one placed on the façade the other embedded in a house wall. The columns rest on bases hewn as horrid apes


decoration of luxuriant foliage (the Garden of Eden) with zoomorphic images of deer, peacocks and rampant horses, while the arch above the door was decorated with a halo of angels. Some retain their position while others have been damaged or removed to the Museo Diocesano. These motives are symbolic of paradise.

in obscene position with humans. Probably the meaning is simple: that before entering the house of God, man had to cast off evil from his heart. The jambs of the doorway are carved with sensitive


Inside the Cathedral are a number of treasures that include a polyptych of the ‘Madonna del Rosario’, dated 1583 painted in a Mannerist style by Antonio Stabile and framed between elegantly carved and gilded wooden columns and pediment; a Deposition (1570) painted on panel by the same artist and framed in a beautiful Renaissance marble


triumphal arch, several frescoes, wooden statues and relics. But the main feature is the Renaissance crypt (c.1524) lavishly decorated with frescoes by Giovanni Todisco. The ‘archaeologist count’ Giacomo Alfonso Ferrillo and his beautiful Slav wife, princess Maria Balsa called Pietro di Muro Lucano to build this crypt and sculpt a sarcophagus or cenotaph of great beauty but surely influenced by Tuscan sculpture pertaining to the ‘cult of beauty’ in the style of Desiderio da Settingnano, Rossellino and Mino da Fiesole.

Around noon we arrived at Lago Pesole, a beautiful borgo dominated by an enormous and impregnable castle built by Federico II with a vast courtyard and with a private Romanesque church (not a chapel) integrated into its core. Once it housed 400 brigands. Unfortunately the steep hill that the group had to tackle to climb to the top did not help the disillusion that the exhibition about Federico II left us. But hardly was this an anticlimax as we looked around us and beheld lovely countryside, the We retraced our steps followed by a sweet dog that remains of a dry lake. wanted to act as guide that in sympathy we accepted until we reached the Museo Diocesano that occupies There we found a good trattoria: ‘Castello di Potere the old Lombard-Norman-Suevian building now e di Delízíe’ where we ate and rested. Enjoying a restored to its previous glory and improvised into an glass of Aglianco is a must. It is a full-bodied red ‘Opera del Duomo’ Museum housing the treasures wine for medium to long aging. It has a ruby red of the Cathedral: vestments, church furniture and colour with garnet overtones, and a delicate bouquet silver and an archaeological rich section with unique of berries, with hints of vanilla and wood if aged terracotta utensils and a famous marble bust of in barriques, or of leather and tar if aged for a long Giuliano l’Apostata (II-IV century AD) that used time. The flavor is dry and harmonious, and tends to become velvety with aging. to decorate the Cathedral façade. 32

In late afternoon we arrived at Monticchio in time to experience a beautiful sunset on two lakes in volcanic craters divided by just the lip of a ridge. On the mountain slope a monastery clings to the rock covered by lush vegetation and tall conifers that reach upwards to the light like giant sequoias. The monastery façade screens a church partly cavernous and partly excavated in solid rock. The religious atmosphere, quite morbid inside contrasted with the beauty of the scene outside as we carefully walked down the cliff-face through cobbled passages to the lake’s shore below. We remained spellbound as the sun sank below the rim of the crater and the paddle boats created ripples in the magnetic tape reflection of the white monastery building seen inverted in luxurious shades of contrasting pale and dark greens like a Monet painting. Horse-drawn cabs took holiday-happy groups around the shores and small outlets sold drinks and food to relaxed Sunday strollers while others picnicked under the high trees or collected chestnuts. The serenity and tranquility of the place cast a magic spell.

The day programme was striking for its diversity, mixing culture and art with recreation and the enjoyment of fresh unpolluted air with a backdrop of a setting sun. What else could man hope for: idyllic and fabulous!


Castel Del Monte, Trani & Forenza

We left early and took the road to Castel Del Monte but the distance was relatively long yet the landscape was marvellous. After we left Forenza behind us we entered into a deep wooded valley


- Monday 14th October 2013

with a swift running stream running on the bottom. The scent of foliage and threatening rain made it even more exciting and thrilling. The trees closed like an arbor above our heads until we came to

open countryside, kilometers and kilometers of it. According to Ferdinand Gregorovius (a famous German Historian): ‘The Murgia like the Sila in Calabria, has never been a sure place…’ but the vast planes at times undulating are nowadays an oasis of peace, tranquility and serenity where one can breathe the balmy air in May impregnated with the scent of wild flowers and with a glimpse of the dazzling blue sea in the distant horizon. Finally we arrived at Castel Del Monte quite a myth, with a spell of mystery and magic about it. From the castle keep the eyes can rove over the gulf of Manfredonia and the southern Gargano. Nikolaus Pevsner in an ‘Outline of European Architecture’ refers to the castle ‘As the most accomplished in all Europe…an octagon, with elements derived from ancient Rome as well as the French Gothic’. Castel Del Monte is the most original castle of its kind, quite unique and a landmark in world architecture. In 1996 it was chosen by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The castle is situated in the commune of Andria, in Apulia a region in south-east Italy. It is presently found in the middle of nowhere on a small hill 540



stole all the columns, marble frames and marble cladding and reused them at their palace in Caserta. How puzzling. If it was a hunting lodge it could have served as a retreat for the Emperor hence the splendor as found in the Reggia Venaria Reale of Turin. Its unusual octagonal shape that is based on 8 square modules that develop the octagon into a circle, points to Islamic influence since the Arabs were expert mathematicians using geometry in construction. Another theory is that the octagon is an intermediate symbol between a square – representing the earth, and a circle – representing the sky. Frederick II might have been inspired to build the castle in such shape either by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (which he had visited in the VI Crusade) or more likely by the Palatine Chapel at Aachen. The interior is spanned by quadripartite vaults so high that one feels a sense of floating space, surely an element of Gothic roofing methods.

meters high. The construction (c.1240) is highly puzzling as its shape is quite sophisticated, elegant and noble to have been built for defence. In fact it is rumoured that Frederick II used it as a hunting lodge though some historians insist that he never used it. Scholars actually believe that it originally had a curtain wall and that the castle served as a citadel. Without actual documents such proof does not exist. In fact it was so opulent inside, that in the 18th century the Bourbons


The castle was completely abandoned for a considerable length of time but later purchased in 1876 by the Italian State for the sum of 25,000 It. lire and much later in 1928 it started a programme


of restoration. An old fortress referred to as the ‘Aedificium’ central to the plot created by Umberto Eco in his novel: ‘The Name of the Rose’ is almost certainly inspired by Castel Del Monte.

Leaving the Castle behind us we drove straight to Trani. What a wonderful town! The blue sky and the brilliant sun made us forget the threat of rain as we entered the vast square in front of the Romanesque Cathedral blinded by the shining white limestone construction blocks and the light of the sun refracting on the rippled water in the bay. In the background stood the castle: massive, strong, formidable and austere. Above our head loomed the Cathedral bell-tower: high and dominant striding a solid arch partly resting against the Cathedral wall and partly on a giant pilaster. Some of my group went straight to it and sat on a bench of stone in its shadow, the only relief in the square. It was already 1.00pm and quite hungry we left the touring of the cathedral after lunch. 39

We ate outside under the shade of an awning in a fishrestaurant. We ate fresh fish that were delicious. Then we loitered on the wharf watching the fishermen tie their trawlers to the bollards and unload all kinds of fish in wooden boxes ready arranged in


rows for auction. The colourful spectacle, the bustle, the commotion, the excited seagulls crying and hovering overhead seeking their share of the catch, the gesticulating restaurant owners speaking in dialect made our short stay in Trani incredibly memorable.

We returned to the Romanesque Cathedral, a jewel of architecture with a marvellous portal sensitively ornamented in a style suggesting an Arab influence with mighty bronze doors

(1175), the work of Barisanrus of Trani so spectacular and monumental that is considered among the best of their period in southern Italy. The Cathedral of Trani is dedicated to St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, a Greek who died in the city in 1094 while journeying to Rome. He was canonized some years later by Urban II. The Cathedral lies on a raised wharf, an open site overlooking the open sea. It was consecrated in 1143. It is a threeapsed basilica with a large crypt and a high tower erected in 1230-39 by an architect whose name: Nicolaus Sacerdos appears on the ambo of Bitondo Cathedral. The capitals of the columns in the crypt are fine examples of Romamesque architecture. 41

cohesion that the city enjoyed. The Scolanova Synagogue survives and after serving as a church for several centuries it has been rededicated to its former function. The church of St. Anna is another medieval former synagogue. Near the harbor is the beautiful Gothic Palace of the Doges of Venice, actually a seminary and the Church of Ognissanti that was at one stage the chapel of the Knight Templars’ hospital has a Romanesque relief of the Annunziation over the door. San Giacomo and San Francesco churches also retain Romanesque facades; the latter together with Sant’Andrea have Byzantine domes.

Since touring time was getting shorter we made straight to the Castle a 13th century fortress extensively restored and improvised into a museum and performance venue. Trani has unfortunately lost its city walls and bastions but the fortress makes up for this loss especially for the arcaded loggia that gives on to the sea front. It is a magnificent castle with a stone bridge and moat that harks back to the time when defence was not only vital but mandatory. The streets around the Ghetto area remain much as they were in medieval times and many houses display Norman cornices and decoration. By the 12th century Trani already housed one of the largest Jewish communities in southern Italy but anti-Semitic persecution ended the positive social 42

We finally arrived at Barletta but we felt too tired, so we just had a look at the castle and continued our journey towards Forenza. There we visited the Church of the Crucifix (sculpture) with an adjoining Capuchin convent of the 17th century. The church has a baroque façade and an interior decorated in Rococo style stucco. There were volunteers inside restoring the decoration with whom we struck a friendly conversation on reversible restoration techniques. The crucifix is so expressive that it is similar to that painted by Grunewald. Unfortunately we had no time to visit the medieval Church of dell’Annunciata with a portal of the XIII-XIV century. Dusk had fallen and we retired to our nest at the Masserie Del Falco.

Alberobello & Bari

- Tuesday 15th October 2013

Departure and the end of a relationship are always a little sad, yet in our case it was lively and joyful as we thanked our hosts Profossore Saverio Lamendola, the Director of Le Masserie Del Falco and Professore Giovanni Canzii Preside della Scuola Culinaria. All the family of the Director came out to wish us a bon voyage and we showed them how much we

appreciated their gentle and caring hospitality. We packed our luggage on the minibus and drove off in the direction of Alberobello in Puglia. It was a long journey and we were resigned to wait in patience until we arrived at our destination always driving through wonderful countryside. We entered Alberbello through the valley of the Itria: several kilometres among hills, dry-stone walls, vines, almond trees, cherry orchards, thickets, strips of land exploited from the rocky floor through action lasting many million years. It is in this region, among these hills that the houses with cone-shaped domes, appear more frequently as soon as we got nearer to Alberobello. At first glance the fairy-like 43

By the end of the 1400’s the region which was forest land (silva arboris belli) and hunting land was exploited by the Aquaviva family into settlements and the peasants were encouraged to build comfortable and Spartan constructions cool in summer and warm in winter as their abode. In fact these ‘trulli’ were built from dry stone without mortar and are documented from 1550 onwards easy to build, easy to destroy or partly demolished for more reasons than one: either to punish the peasants or to avoid paying tax. Giangirolamo Aquaviva Aragona from 1626 encouraged the building of ‘cassede’ the word for ‘trulli’ in dialect. The ‘Prammatica de Baronibus’ (Baronibus Regulation) came into force to regulate the barons. An authorization was necessary if there was an intention of erecting new house settlements or districts. The reason was to register and tax dwellings. Naturally these peasants were the poorest of the poor like the ‘cafoni’ as Ignazio Silone calls scenery unfolds gradually and casts a spell on the them in his literary novel: ‘Bread & Wine’. beholder. But as one gets used to the repeated pattern of ‘trulli’ all kept spick and span and decorated We enjoyed the atmosphere so much that we entered with flower pots one becomes aware of constant certain ‘trulli’ open to the public as museums and exploitation by the tourist-oriented town and a also decided to eat in a restaurant made of ‘trulli’ feeling of an artificial Disneyland seeps in. Perhaps huddled together. We preferred to eat outside on the this is felt most in the ‘pseudo-trullo’ church garden-terrace under linen awnings. The meal was surrounded by dainty ‘trulli’, houses decorated with delicious as the choice was wide. Some of us ate plants and flowers in street, window and doors. fish. The beauty of these simple dwellings lies undoubtedly in their construction with the local ‘chiancarelle’, calcareous stone slabs about 7cm thick. These are laid horizontally like corbels jutting out inwards towards the middle for about 2 metres until they meet at the ‘pinnacolo’ and are closed by a round keystone slab. In reality this method of construction is as old as the hills and may be referred to as a ‘false arch’. In fact these structures were evolved from the ‘tholos tombs’ in Mycenae, Greece. But since they are found scattered all around the Mediterranean, including Malta (il-girna), the diffusion theory is hardly probable as each region could have evolved its own version without being influenced. 44

Since Alberobello is unique in the world UNESCO confirmed the town as a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Against our will we had to leave Alberobello to make our way to Bari to visit our last town before driving to the airport. We arrived in Bari late afternoon and walked along the ‘Lungomare Augusto Imperatore’ dominated by a fortified entrance to the port. Bari has a rich history and is only second

in importance to Naples in the south. We entered the city through arches in the bastion walls lined by stumps of roman columns. Without losing time, as preciously little remained we came to the square in front of the Basilica di San Nicola a famous pilgrim centre for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox


Christians. The church being very ancient is a watershed in the architecture of the region. The façade looks more like a fortress with two square bell-towers and a solid, robust and heavy façade. In fact it was twice used as a castle. Built in 1087-1197 during the ItaloNorman domination of Puglia it commands respect for its ancient structure and religious fervor and veneration fused with the legend of the relics of St. Nicholas and their quite mythical translation from their original shrine in Myra. These relics are preserved in the crypt as in ‘martyrium’ churches of old. It seems the relics were carried away under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians to beat rival Venice and were safely landed on May 9 in 1087. The Basilica has three arches dividing the nave in front of the presbytery in the Byzantine style and a ‘matronaeum’, a tribune gallery opening on the aisles for women. The edifice has a wonderful ‘ciborium’, a kind of canopy over the main altar, a great sculptural


treasure, most ancient in the region, supported on four columns covered with foliage, animals and mythological figures. More impressive still is the marble ‘cathedra’ or bishop’s throne in marble of the late 11th century for Elias, a seat supported by servants or slaves in a distorted pose that emphasize they are carrying a heavy weight. The Basilica prides itself on the precious pavement mosaic in the crypt whose ceiling is supported by a forest of 26 columns sporting Byzantine and Romanesque capitals. Besides, the Basilica has precious works of art including a collection of candlesticks a gift of Charles I of Anjou. Together with the Renaissance tomb of Bona Sforza (16th century) the Basilica is the proud possessor of a Bartolomeo Vivarini painting (1476), a ‘sacra conversazione’ restored in 1737. The painting is a witness to centuries of maritime commerce between Venice and Bari that was fortunately saved from the clutches of the Saracens in 1002 by Doge Pietro Orseolo. It is a beautiful painting that the splendor and richness of this Basilica really deserves. The edifice also houses a treasury in the first chapel near the side entrance on the right.

San Nikola di Bari devotional niche

Bari is made up of four different urban sections. The Basilica of St. Nicholas, the Cathedral of San Sabino (1035-1171) which we visited and the Swabian Castle built for Frederick II (actually a major nightlife district) lie to the north in the closely-built old town on the peninsula between two modern harbours. To the south is the Murat quarter, erected by Joacim Murat) the modern heart of the city (where we ate our last ice-cream before leaving the place) that was designed on a regular grid-plan with a promenade facing the sea. The ‘via Sparano’ and ‘via Argiro’ make up the major shopping district. The modern residential zones replacing the old suburbs outside the gates of the 1960’s and 1970’s and the outer suburbs that developed in the 1990’s form the other two sections.

Homemade orechie di pasta being aired on mesh out in the open in the narrow streets of Bari


At 6.00pm we decided to retrace our steps towards the promenade. Dusk was falling. Sadly we took our places in the minibus and slowly drove through the port road towards the airport. Our cultural and educational tour had come to a nice end and in the darkness of the vehicle some of us were already dreaming of another tour of Italian towns full of masterpieces and treasures. Finally all good things come to an end. E V Borg

The Tour leader, E V Borg who, while travelling on the coach, gave everyone an anticipation of what the group was about to experience just before arrival on the spot

Lino Sammut, one of the participants who is a pianist, entertained us all with his lovely music


Acknowledgements: participants Credit: Carmen Aquilina Mary Attard Monica Bonello Ghio E.V. Borg Frank Borg Dolores Camilleri Wozna Peter Camilleri Wozna Ben Cassar Monica Depasquale Jane Frendo Victoria Lyttleton Ben Rizzo Marylou Rizzo Lino Sammut Lucienne Zahra Stanley Zammit E. V. Borg: tour leader L. Zahra: organization and co-ordination M. Attard: photography E. V. Borg & M. Attard: layout & design Masserie Del Falco: hospitality and good living

Professore Giovanni Canzii Preside della Scuola Culinaria, Profossore Saverio Lamendola, the Director of Le Masserie Del Falco and E V Borg the Tour Leader

The Wonderful World of Castles

Castle at Venosa, Basilicata

Lago Pesole Castle

Tramontano Castle in Matera, Basilicata

Castle at Melfi, Basilicata

Trani Castle on the coast

Castel del Monte near Trani

The Vasary Corridor, Firenze

I Sassi in Matera

Basilicata & Puglia 2013  

A tour organised by the Art Discussion Group leader Mr E V Borg in October 2013 visiting Basilicata and Puglia in Italy.

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