Basilicata History

Matera – Photo © maurizio guarino

The very ancient land known as Basilicata was already inhabited in the prehistoric age. The settlements of Venosa and the Bradano Valley date from the Paleolithic period while the organized agricultural villages around Matera and Melfi sprang up during the Neolithic period. From that time until the Bronze Age the region became an important center of communication between the Jonian and Tyrrhenian populations, giving rise to important settlements. The inland regions began to be populated during the Iron Age. It was during this phase that many Indo-Europeans arrived in Lucania, among whom the Liky from the Illyrian coast.

In the 8th century B.C. Greek colonies landed on the Lucanian shores of the Jonian Sea. This historic event gave birth to that flowering civilization that will be remembered in history as the Magna Graecia. Metaponto, Siris and Heraclea are the most important settlements. Between the 6th century and the 5th century B.C. certain Osco-Sabellic tribes came down from the Irpinia, while the Lucanians settled the more inland regions. Later, in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., the Lucanians attacked the Greek colonies along the Jonian coast in their quest for new land to cultivate. Meanwhile, between the 4th century and 3rd century B.C., the Romans pushed their way into Lucania as they continued their expansion. At first the Lucanians were allied with the Romans against the Samnites.

Later, not wanting to yield to Roman domination, they allied themselves with the Samnites and the Greek colony in Taranto to combat the Romans. Meanwhile, in 291 B.C., Venusia (today Venosa) becomes the first Roman colony in Lucanian territory. The Romans fight against Pyrrhus who was rushing to the aid of the Greek colonies, and loose a battle that took place between the areas of Metaponto and Heraclea (today Policoro), which became famous for the heavy losses incurred on both sides. In the northeast, Roman domination increases: the town of Grumentum (today Grumento) is founded and the road that connects Grumentum to Venusia is constructed (Via Herculia). 280 B.C. witnesses the end of Magna Graecia.

In the 2nd century B.C. Lucania is under Roman domination. The proud and warlike Lucanians rebel against Rome, which had decided to impose landed estates, but are defeated. From 27 B.C. to 14 B.C., under the Augustan Empire, Lucania is divided into two parts and unified with Apulia, the Regio II, and with Brutium, the Regio III. At the end of the 3rd century Dioclesian reunites the area, unifying it with Brutium. With the decline of the Western Roman Empire the region sinks back into deep isolation, which destroys the already impoverished economy. We are in the Middle Ages. Between the 6th century and the 9th century, the Longobards annex Lucania (with the exception of the Byzantine possessions in the region of Matera) to the Duchy of Benevento.

The Byzantines, gathered in Lucania in their effort to escape religious persecution in the Orient, give life to the phenomenon of the Rupestrian (rock) Churches. They proliferate on the Murgia of Matera. Meanwhile, the Saracen invasions force the Lucanians to retreat to the surrounding mountains and hills. Between the 8th century and the 9th century, Matera is annexed to the Duchy of Benevento, while the rest of the region passes under Byzantine domination. In the 11th century and 12th century the Normans conquer Lucania, making it the center of Italian political life. In 1059, Melfi is the capital of the Norman realm. When Norman domination ends, the Swabians and Angevins compete for control of Lucania and southern Italy. Frederick II of Swabia is born.

In 1231, in Melfi, he enacts the Constitutiones Utriusque Regni Sicilae (the Constitutions of the Two Sicilies). At the end of the 13th century the Angevins control the Realm of Naples and the Two Sicilies. Feudalism has begun, during which time many Lucanian lordships spring up and which the Aragonese attempt to oppose. The Barons, faithful to the Angevins, try to overthrow the Aragonese Reign and the ‘Congiura dei baroni’ (baron conspiracy) is planned in the Miglionican Castle in 1441. Between the 13th century and the 16th century Bourbon power consolidates. Certain Albanian communities arrive in Basilicata, settling along the slopes of Vulture and the Pollino Massif.

In 1663, Matera is the capital of the Lucanian Province of the Kingdom of Naples. This period witnesses the beginning of bloody rebellions by peasants against the barons who exploit the land, forcing the population into famine. In 1707, the Austro-Sabaudian army occupies Lucania, and after the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastadt it passes into the hands of Charles VI of Austria. The Bourbons return to power with the Peace Treaty of Aquisgrana. In 1799 a peasant rebellion is repressed with mass executions. Then power passes briefly to the French, who after a short time are forced to return it again to the Bourbons. A part of the Lucanian bourgeoisie adheres to the ‘Moti carbonari’ (Carbonari uprisings). Between 1861 and 1868 the entire region is affected by the phenomenon of Brigantaggio (banditry), rebellions against power generated by the extreme isolation of the population and which finds its ideal habitat in the thick woods of Mount Vulture.

The beginning of the 20th century, in 1902, sees the first meeting of Socialists in Potenza. Poverty has reached unacceptable levels and the phenomenon of emigration begins, reaching its high point in 1913. In 1943, Matera is the first southern Italian province to rebel against Nazi-Fascist occupation. When World War II ends, it becomes necessary to tackle the problem of the ‘Sassi of Matera’ (ancient rock dwellings) which, because of overpopulation, had become a health risk. In 1952, a state law decrees the evacuation of the Sassi district. During the same period ‘Riforma Fondiaria’ (land reform) begins and transforms the face of the region. Unfortunately, emigration damages the communities of Basilicata since it provokes a progressive demographic impoverishment. The 1980 earthquake in Irpinia creates serious problems in the entire northern region and in the capital Potenza.

The University of Basilicata is established in Potenza in 1984, which a few years later opens a campus in Matera. In 1986, the Italian government enacts a law to finance the restoration of the Sassi of Matera, which is still being carried out among a multitude of problems. At the beginning of 1994, UNESCO declares the Sassi of Matera ‘heritage of humanity to be handed down to future generations’ and counts it among the territories under its protection. FIAT establishes an enormous factory in the industrial zone of S. Nicola of Melfi. In the same year the National Park of Pollino is established.

Where to stay in Matera

Hotels, apartments, B&Bs and villas can be searched and reserved here.