In the heart of the Italian region of Basilicata lies a place frozen in time, a silent witness to centuries of history and human existence. Craco, a small town nestled among the hilly landscapes between the Lucanian Apennines and the Ionian Sea, is a testament to the ebb and flow of time, its stone houses and narrow alleys whispering the stories of generations long past. Just a stone’s throw away, at a distance of 30 miles, lies the enchanting stone city of Matera, and it is in this vicinity that the tale of Craco unfolds.
The allure of Craco is in its unchanging character. The town boasts an aura of timelessness, as if it has been meticulously preserved to tell the story of an era gone by. But its history is not without turmoil and tragedy. Known as the “ghost village,” the old town of Craco met its unfortunate fate in the 1960s. A massive landslide struck, wreaking havoc on its infrastructure, including the vital water and sewage systems. The calamity forced the inhabitants to make a heart-wrenching decision: they had to abandon their cherished homes, leaving behind the echoes of their lives and memories. The residents resettled in the nearby town of Craco Peschiera, leaving their ancestral home to the mercy of nature’s forces.
Yet, the abandoned streets of Craco are not devoid of life. Though a profound silence envelops the village, the very stones of its alleys seem to retain a trace of the daily life once lived by the “crachesi,” the former inhabitants of the town. Each corner, each building, stands as a poignant testament to the stories of laughter, sorrow, love, and labor that once reverberated through these now-empty spaces.
It is precisely this sense of surreal and decadent beauty that has attracted the attention of filmmakers and artists. Craco’s unique ambiance and well-preserved structures have made it a sought-after film location for renowned directors, who have recognized its potential to transport audiences to eras long gone. However, the allure of Craco extends beyond the realm of entertainment. The town has been officially acknowledged as an architectural and historical treasure by the World Monuments Fund, further solidifying its status as a captivating slice of history.
Delving into Craco’s past reveals a noble town with a history deeply intertwined with defense and grandeur. The towering Norman tower that stands sentinel atop the village serves as a striking reminder of Craco’s storied past. This tower, along with other monuments that grace the landscape, narrates tales of conquests, battles, and a once-thriving society that found its stronghold in these very walls.
But the story of Craco doesn’t end with its abandonment. In 2009, a concerted effort was made to safeguard and enhance this historic gem. The town underwent territorial enhancements to make it accessible to tourists and visitors, allowing them to step back in time and experience the magic of Craco firsthand. However, entrance to the village comes with certain prerequisites: the “Craco Card,” issued by the administration, is a ticket to this journey into the past. Moreover, wearing a protective helmet is mandatory, a small sacrifice to ensure the safety of those who tread upon the weathered cobblestones.
Exploring Craco is an experience orchestrated in groups and guided by knowledgeable local volunteers, the torchbearers of the town’s history. These volunteers provide insights into the stories etched into the stones, the history that lies beneath the layers of time. Their guidance transforms each visit into a voyage of discovery, a chance to immerse oneself in the legacy of Craco.
As the sun sets over the hills and casts long shadows through the abandoned streets, the allure of Craco remains undiminished. This ghost village, once a vibrant hub of human activity, now stands as a haunting monument to the passage of time. Its beauty, both surreal and poignant, captures the imagination and invites contemplation of the transience of existence. Craco, with its timeless charm and abandoned elegance, is a destination that transcends mere tourism; it is a portal to another era, a living embodiment of history’s whispers.