Tuesday, 8 September 2015

From Matera to Mottola through Metaponto

Last week I have been travelling around the south of Apulia.

I have touched few locations of Basilicata as well.

Of course, I have been with my beloved Lucia.

I started my journey from Matera, where I caught up with Raffaele, tourist guide as well as cinema location guide, as he points out in his business card.

Raffaele (pictured) has led us through some of the most extraordinary rocky churches of which Matera proudly boasts.  

“We materani are different from Apulians. Whereas Apulians have sense of business, people of Matera has always remained attached to their traditional economy of sheep-rearing”.

Things are quickly changing, though.

Tourism is whirlingly growing since Matera was appointed European capital of culture 2019.

However, foreigner tourists have begun to come over since Mel Gibson shot The Passion among the rocky sites of Sassi.

We have visited on our own the rocky church of San Nicola dei Greci, with its marvellous Byzantine frescoes.

I start talking with a Dutch tourist who, like me, seems enchanted by the Byzantine art.

“Yesterday, I have visited the museum of Metaponto (Magna Grecia). I strongly recommend you to visit it” he says.

Lucia and I leave Matera at our back, heading straight to Metaponto as suggested by our Dutch friend.

I have discovered that Metaponto was one of the most extraordinary site of Magna Grecia.

Pythagoras, the well known philosopher, sought refuge in Metaponto after having been chased by Cesiade,  tyrant of Kroton.

While visiting the museum of Metaponto, I realize how rich of artifacts this museum is.

One employee of such Museum tells us of her frustration due to the lack of consideration of National politicians for such an important museum, who currently has no archaeologists among his staff.

“Since the archaeologist De Siena has retired, this museum carries on with no archaeologist among its employees”.

This is a shame for Bel Paese, who has the highest number of UNESCO sites on worldwide basis.

After having seen the Museum, we move few hundred metres further to watch the archaeological park and the tavole palatine, wonderful examples of a prosperous Hellenistic civilisation.

The sun is fading.

It’s time to resume our voyage.

This time we drive towards Mottola, a town in the province of Taranto, famous for its rocky churches, among which there is the so-called Cappella Sistina of rocky churches: the church of St. Nicola (11th century).

The day after we have an appointment arranged at the tourist office with Maria, local tourist guide (pictured).

At 9 o’clock we are at office, waiting few more tourist who will join the crew.

The church is in the countryside.

The guide has no car, therefore, I invite her to get on my car.

“Once, I have conducted to this church a large number of Russian tourists. Then, they asked me to let them  celebrate the mass. I found their rites moving” the guide says. 

In order to reach the church of St. Nicola, we have to step down few stairs carved out from the rock.

Once the door is open, I feel shivers at my back.

The frescoes are so vivid, so well kept.

The pantocrator has a so intense sight.

His eyes with his big pupils seems capturing me.

I well understand now the comparison with the Michelangelo’s Cappella Sistina.

Those like me who adore Byzantine art painted in rocky churches, must pay great recognition to Pietro Parenzan, a speleologist who firstly have highlighted few decades ago the importance of rocky civilisation, of which such church belongs to.

I feel so fulfilled.

I have seen so much beauty today.

We have spent the night in Mottola, eating a tasty pizza in the main plaza.

However, this is just a small detail.

The next post will concern a new chapter about the Byzantine art of rocky churches of Massafra.

Peace, Love and Culture

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Trinitapoli and its calendar of the Bronze Age

On Friday 21st I went to Trinitapoli to take part in the "festival dei sensi".

The festival is held within the Museo Civico of Trinitapoli.

The mentioned museum presents the discoveries carried out since the 1987, when huge hypogeums have been unearthed.

This archaeological site is an unicum, and I'm going to tell you why.

"In Trinitapoli have been discovered 15 monumental hypogeums which date back 3500 B.C." the guide says.

These hypogeums were meant to celebrate fertility rites.

Few hundred years later, the hypogeums will be used to bury bodies.

Of course, those who were buried belonged to the upper class, as proved by the grave goods which have been brought to the light.

In one hypogeum, the archaeologists have even found amber, which has been brought here from the Baltic.

In another hypogeum, it has been unhearted the head of a young goat as well as deer horns, which were used for ritual purposes.

The audience, compounded by nearly 20 people, listen carefully to the guide. 

In another hypogeum it has been brought to the light a crucibile, used to forge at that time bronze. 

However, this site tell us more, much more.

The archaeologists have found a thousand of holes, wonderfully aligned in 45 lines. 

What were they used for? 

Here we have the support of archaeoastronomy, which have demonstrated that those holes were made according to the cycles of summer and winter solstices.

In other words, it can be considered a kind of a prehistoric calendar.

In one of such holes, have been discovered a man surrounded by six skulls.

This site is large five hectars (50.000 meters square).

After the journey through the museum we move to the agriturismo "Il Mulino" to contemplate both Saturn and moon trough powerful telescopes made available by the Società Astronomica Pugliese.

It's 11.30 pm.

I leave the happening with in background the David Bowie's space oddity.

Actually, I'm flying away


Friday, 21 August 2015

The rocky churches of Gravina in Puglia

Gravina in Puglia is an Apulian town very similar to Matera.

Both of them are clinged onto hills (Murgia) with at bottom the Bradano river.

Gravina presents an immense cultural heritage.

Talking about rocky churches, Gravina has 30 of them. 

I strongly wish to visit this Apulian town, so I call the tourist office (IAT) which re-directs me to the cultural association Benedetto XIII.

The association provides a tourist guide which will lead us to visit three rocky churches: Chiesa di St. Maria della Stella, Chiesa di St. Basilio, and eventually, chiesa di St. Michele.

We agree with the guide to catch up at 11 by the Purgatorio church.

We arrive in Gravina at 10.50, just in time for a quick coffea.

It's with me Lucia, with another couple, friends of us, Francesco and Angelica.

At 11 we catch up with our guide, Giuseppe is his name.

After having exchanged pleasantries, I ask Giuseppe whether foreigner tourists have come to tour in Gravina.

"Yes, mainly Germans, followed by French and Austrians." He replies.

We cross the eighteenth-century bridge which link the antique part of Gravina to the most recent one.

The purpose of the bridge is to carry water as well.

It was a crucial infrastructure to the development of the town.

Giuseppe conducts us to see the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Stella.

This church was originally meant to be a Synagogue.

In Gravina used to live peacefully Muslims, Jews and Catholics.

Santa Maria della Stella is located within a complex of rooms, among which we find a heathen cave where the fertility rite was practiced.

Indeed, we see stuck on the wall the Demeter's mask. Beside that, there is an additional statue which symbolizes a pregnant woman.

"Human beings have lived in these caves till the end of the Neolithic included. After that, people have relocated on the top of the hill called Botromagno." Giuseppe points out.

We are told that Gravina (Botromagno) and Gioia del Colle (Monte Sarnace) represent so far the two main locations of Peuceti, a pre-roman population with Illiric roots which inhabited the center of Apulia. 

We move on. This time is the round of the church of San Basilio, located underneath a road.  

This tiny church is dedicated to San Basilio, who was born in Cappadocia (Turkey).

Unfortunately, the frescos have disappered due to water coming down the street. 

We get out the church not before having signed the guestbook.

While walking towards the next church, we pass by the fondazione Pomarici Santomasi, which will definitely be my next destination for a future visit here in Gravina. 

Giuseppe precedes us to go to see the St. Michele church, which originally was a cathedral, the first cathedral of Gravina.

Let me say that this church is outstanding.

If you are fond of such art, you'd be delighted to be here.

The church is wide. 

It still preserves frescos which portray the Christ Pantocrator.

I realize just nearby the church an impressive ossuary, which is the result of the Saracen conquest of Gravina which took place in 999 A.C. 

I'm lost in meditation in this suggestive location.

It's almost 1.30.  It's lunch time.

We have to go back to Altamura where Lucia lives.

Therefore, we come back to the meeting point with our guide.

We give him a donation for his association, shake hands and eventually leave.

However, I have the feeling that I will come back to Gravina pretty soon: there is still a lot which is worth to be admired.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Danza dei coltelli, Torrepaduli and San Rocco

 The night of the 15th August in Torrepaduli, around the sanctuary of San Rocco, people dance a unique kind of pizzica, the so-called “pizzica scherma”.

The dance carries on all the night long till the sunrise of the new day.

I had never seen it before.

In addition, Erika, my sister, fond of folk dance, strongly wished to go there.

How I could let her down?

Therefore, we leave at 8.30 pm of the 15th (Ferragosto) in order to be there at around 10 pm.

Torrepaduli is a small village within the Municipality of Ruffano, around 60 km south of Lecce. 

Once arrived, we find a small area where to park the car.

We walk 10 minutes before reaching the main plaza.

Bright colourful lights enrich the atmosphere.

A band plays music with no interruption.

I’m so surprised when I hear the band playing Rino Gaetano, a very popular singer who died around 30 years ago.

When he was alive, he was famous, but not at all trendy as he is today.

The phenomenon of not appreciating properly its best sons when alive, happens quite often in Italy.

It seems that the country has to digest and assimilate them before paying the tribute that they deserve.

So after a break in the main plaza, we walk towards the sanctuary of San Rocco.

I see so many families outdoor, sat on their chairs, talking each other.

Sometime, they take a glance at foreigners who seem having taken their village just for one night, though.

As documented by Ermanno Inguscio with his book “La pizzica scherma di Torrepaduli. San Rocco: la festa, il mito, il Santuario” (Lupo Editore, 2007), few Francescani in the Middle-Age have built up the chapel dedicated to San Rocco.

San Rocco was born and raised in Montpelier (France).

He belonged to the rich bourgeoisie.

Like San Francesco, he divests of everything he owns to become pilgrim.

San Rocco has always been considered a miracolous Saint.

Ever since people has moved to the sanctuary of Torrepaduli to ask San Rocco help and recovery.

Under such circumstances, pizzica scherma practised mainly by gypsy men (Rom), became metaphor of fight between good vs evil.

Yesterday, Erika was expecting to catch up with some friends of her coming from Fermo (Marche).

Pizzica and tarantella is quickly spreading over the rest of the country.

Erika and I have danced, of course.

Dancing pizzica make you feeling relieved. It’s incredible how therapeutic it is.

It’s 3.30 in the morning.

I begin to yawn.

“Erika, would you mind if we go home? I’ve gotta tired”

“Yeah sure bro. let’s go home” she replies.

I love my sister.

After having driven for 1 hour, we arrive at home at 5 am.

Erika and I exchange a quick “good night”.

After a bunch of seconds I start snoring.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Monopoli and the rupestrian church of the Holy Spirit

A couple of days ago I received an invitation to visit
the rupestrian church of the Holy Spirit (10th century).

The Municipality of Monopoli promotes the event.

I do not want to loose the opportunity to visit a 
monument considered unique, comparable just to 
few churches located in Cappadocia (Turkey).

Therefore, on Friday the 7th I call the tourist guide 
(Giuseppe) and book the visit at 6 pm.

The meeting point is in the city centre of Monopoli 
(Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II).

Once there, we find a 
shuttle waiting for us.

“That’s great” I think to myself.

The shuttle is plenty of tourists.   

Transport and access to the church are free of 

While crossing the city on board of the shuttle, we 
notice the amazement painted on the face of locals 
“Where the hell are they going to?” They seem 

Once arrived, we get off the shuttle and follow 
Roberto, an archaeologist who is going to describe us
the marvels of this church.

The church is located around 10 metres underground.

I remain behind, observing the others stepping down
the stairs.

Actually, I’m wondering if the idea of building a 
church into the land is somehow connected to the 
ancestral rite of Mothe Earth (Paleolithic).

Who knows? Probably I’m wrong. Or probably, this 
attachment to the land was still occurring despite the
thousands of years.

The church of the Holy Spirit is fantastic.

It has three navate (naves), despite its tiny scale.

What really strikes me is the vault a crociera and the 
columns, with at their top amazing capitals.

“The columns have just decoration purposes” 
Roberto points out.

“The church of the Holy Spirit echos the Romanico-
pugliese cathedral of Bari.” He adds.

Nori has worked here as restorer.

“We have discovered frescos from the 18th century” she says.

Their touch reminds the Byzantine style.

Nori adds “Of course, it seems pretty obvious that
more palinsesti are overlapped”.

“Unfortunately, it would be needed more money to 
reveal the entire set of frescos”.

The project of rescue has been managed by the San 
Domenico foundation, which has got financed for 
50% by Caripugliafoundation (Cassa di Risparmio di 

The remaining 50% by the Municipality of 

Works to consolidate the church have been 
completed in 2011.

“Monopoli has around 20 rupestrian churches” Nori says.

Roberto adds “Apulia counts around 300 rupestrian churches.

The time of visit is over. 

Indeed, at 7 pm there is another route, therefore, we
are urged to get on board the shuttle.

Lucia and I decide to spend the evening in Monopoli.

We head to the city centre.

After a quick walk, we 
find another rupestrian crypt (Madonna del Soccorso) which is shamefully closed.

What’s the point in having so much cultural treasury,
and not let people and tourist admire them.

Cultural heritage is the non plus ultra in terms of 
identity of a community.

Fortunately, we find out a new 
rupestrian church 
underneath Santa Maria degli Amalfitani, the only
example of Romanico-Pugliese in Monopoli.

We encounter Angela, the tourist guide of this church

“The church takes its name by those who funded it,
the Amalfitani, which were based in Monopoli to 
trade goods and products”.

According to the legend, in 1059 a crew of Amalfitani
survived a shipwreck.

As result of this, they built it up and dedicated it to
the Holy Virgin.

After having admired this church, we continue our 
walk along the port which leads to the castle.

The sky is turning pink.

Along the walls of the castle there are few interesting

Tourists and locals seems enjoying this Mediterranean night in Monopoli.