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Visiting a medieval ghost town

We're not talking about the ghost of a valorous knight who died while trying to save his land, not even speaking of a Lord or a simple artisan of any medieval village. In fact, we're talking about the village itself.

Would you ever believe an entire town could be classified as a medieval ghost? If not, you've probably never heard of Craco, a magical and mysterious ghost town you must see during your next trip to southern Italy. If you find yourself doing something around this area right now, then make sure you clear your schedule, you won't be disappointed.

Craco is located in Basilicata, the region known as "the Texas of Italy", on top of a 400 meters high majestic hill overlooking the arid valley made of many vegetation-less mounds named "calanchi" (badlands) formed by a long erosion process throughout time.

This strategic position once represented an incredible advantage for the local inhabitants, who could more easily spot suspicious activities around their town and detect potential enemies. In short, it used to be a natural stronghold.

The available sources suggest that Craco was originally founded by the Greeks who moved there from Metaponto around 540 BC. During the Middle Ages, starting from 1100, the history of the town became strictly connected to feudal, monastic and military needs.

After the foundation of a university in 1276, Craco went through an exponential demographic growth until the 19th century, leading to the urban expansion that provoked a tragical landslide in 1963. Though it wasn't the first time that such a dramatic event occurred in the area: the hill on which Craco was built is made of clay-rich soil, therefore other similar episodes happened in 1600, 1805, 1857, and 1933.

After the last landslide in 1963 Craco began to be evacuated, its inhabitants moved to the valley below where they built a new town named "Craco Peschiera". Many of them were so attached to their hometown that they refused to leave, even if their moving would have been just a couple of kilometers away, risking their own lives to stay in the exact same place where they grew up.

From 1892 to 1922, after the unification of Italy (1861) and the civil war, around 1300 people migrated to North America to look for better job opportunities, leaving behind a place that couldn't offer the best conditions to practice agriculture. The flood of 1972 and the earthquake of 1980 marked the definitive fall of the ancient center that was completely abandoned from then on.

Now please, don't be saddened by the epilogue of the suggestive story you've been caught up into: there's a silver lining and we will now get to it.

After the abandonment, Craco became a filming location, a tourist attraction, part of the watch list of the World Monuments Fund and the main source of inspiration for the founders of "Craco Society", an American non-profit organization which preserves the culture and tradition of the medieval ghost town.

The beauty, the panoramic views, the strong natural spirit of this unique town are the reasons why it is (and it will always be) under the spotlight. That's quite a lot for being a desert place with such an unlucky story.

Craco isn't always open to the public eye due to safety reasons. In addiction, some of the families who were forced to evacuate still own part of the buildings. You can access the zone on a guided tour (but bear in mind that a limited amount of people is allowed inside at one time).

Once you get in there, you will easily understand why it was so difficult for the people to leave behind this amazingly beautiful place. You will see almost the whole historical center, starting from the external part and then going inside, up to the highest point where the Norman Tower stands. Believe it or not, your entire tour in a "dead" village will be exuding life from the beginning to the end. You will be surrounded by places that hosted the daily life of a proud community for centuries until 50 years ago. You will enter the same walls in which the locals used to stay, pray, celebrate, have feasts, laugh and cry. You will see the ovens they heated to make bread every morning.

Some of the objects you'll find might seem left unused for just a couple of minutes before your arrival as if the ordinary activities of their owners never even stopped. At some points, you might even feel like an invisible intruder who has just stepped into someone else's house without permission.

It could be very hard to ignore the imaginary real-life scenes that will be flowing into your mind as you focus your gaze on each of those objects. Your personal "historical daydream" will surely become even more compelling thanks to the stories you'll hear from your guide, whose final aim is to make sure your excursion in Craco will not only be instructive and unforgettable, but also very concrete and realistic.

Not surprisingly, one of the major risks of this kind of visit is to get trapped into a surreal atmosphere of mistery and fantasy which could overshadow the actual history of the place you're exploring, thus preventing you from processing real facts.

Over the years a lot of tourists invented the most creative ghost tales after visiting Craco: once you see it yourself you realize how easy it is to become a storyteller in this otherworldly landscape.

Picturesque, melancholic, intriguing, fascinating, unreal... we could scroll through the whole dictionary all day long without finding the right adjectives to describe Craco as exhaustively as it deserves.

After all, it's quite impossible to describe the emotional impact you get from this particular, overwhelming tour. Make sure you don't miss the chance to verify the veracity of this statement.

"Craco is a spooky place, but one that unexpectedly fascinates. You almost want to stay here, to walk through narrow and steep stairways and feel the melancholy of the absence of humanity."

-Tobias Jones

If you want to find out more or book your tour visit


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