“On every side there were nothing but precipices of white clay, on which the houses were hovering in the air; and every other white clay, without trees and grass, dug by the waters, in holes, cones, beaches of malign appearance like a lunar landscape”. Anyone who has read “Christ has stopped at Eboli” has certainly recognized the description that of the Calanchi Lucani made Carlo Levi in his book.
A lunar landscape between Matera and Tursi
A landscape that still keeps its charm unaltered and captures the attention of those who, like us, from Matera went to Tursi, traveling through a land made of canyons, white sand dunes, pinnacles, ravines, precipices, where they recognize fossils everywhere to remember that here was once the sea.
Along the provincial road that leads to Tursi, the gullies emerge among the mighty and fascinating green, crossing streams and dams that stand out with their blue-green in the ocher and in the ivory white of the dunes.
In Tursi, arrived in the square on which stands the Cathedral completely rebuilt after the fire of 1988, you literally climb to the Rabatana, the neighborhood that was “Arab’s den” and that between uninhabited houses and ruined houses preserves its ancient beauty.
Worth the effort and the fatigue to climb towards the historic center on which you can see the remains of a castle built by the Goths in the fifth century and get lost in the Saracen alleys between the medieval houses joined together by arcades and terraces overlooking dizzying precipices and whose gaze spans over boundless lands where nature not only dominates but seems to have stopped a few millennia ago.
Going down to the church of San Filippo, one of the most beautiful viewpoints overlooking the valley below, we find the birthplace of Albino Pierro, the man who has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize that his land sang in the local idiom. Palazzo Pierro is home to the Albino Pierro Onlus Study Center and the library where books belonging to the poet are kept.
On the square, look up on the façade of Palazzo del Barone Brancalasso, which according to legend was built in one night by devils helped by the spirits of darkness that were then petrified on the roof of the building.
In reality the three statues that adorn the baronial palace symbolize justice, peace and charity and still today they look on the roof looking towards the wide panorama.
The so-called new country extends into the valley where the Pescogrosso stream flows but looking upwards you can see how the village consists of small houses one above the other connected by external stairs and often with the foundations in the deep caves dug into the timpa, the sandstone wall composed of a sizable sand which literally climbs the Lucanian center which looks like a papier-mâché nativity scene.
The summit of the Rabatana can be reached through several streets: the one that runs through the historical center starting from the Church of the Annunciation, from the wide and steep staircase called “Petrizze” built by Carlo, nephew of Andrea Doria lord of Tursi in 1600 and finally, from the provincial road along the pinewood close to the stream.
Surrounded by deep ravines, Rabatana was the first settlement of Tursi and in the second half of the ninth century it was inhabited by the Saracens and it is precisely due to its name. To get a good overview of the splendid landscape on which the highest and most ancient part of the town develops, go to the former Convent of San Francesco which, built in 1441, stands on a hill not far from the town nestled between olive trees and fragrant pines.
The site is an open-air construction site and can easily be entered. For this reason it is not very respected and next to precious capitals, friezes and frescos are found in graffiti. Despite the abandonment everything speaks of the glorious past starting from the majestic bell tower of Arabesque style, from the altars of the side chapels and from the large hypogean rooms used as cellars, stores and stables.
We were not able to visit the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore which dominates the Rabatana. Mrs. Maria, who holds the keys to the most important church in Tursi, which we called loudly, was not at home so the visit is postponed until next time.
Inside there is a triptych of fine work dating back to 1340 and attributed to the school of Giotto. Below the church you go down into the crypt, completely frescoed and divided into three small communicating rooms. Here is the stone crib attributed to Altobello Persio of Montescaglioso and composed of 35 pieces: 29 in stone and three angels in gilded wood.
You would not want to leave this authentic place where you live slowly and you feel the taste of old lost things that bring back to the past, but deserves a trip to the nearby Sanctuary of Santa Maria d’Anglona, masterpiece of medieval architecture, national monument since 1931 it is reached by plowing a sea of green and orange, that of the orange groves where the Orange Staccia is produced, a variety with a sweet and unmistakable taste and considerable size, which is grown only in the countryside around Tursi.
During the journey we had a face to face with an “inhabitant” of the place, a beautiful specimen of fox, which at all intimidated has looked up at us, almost challenging us, before resuming his hunt in the tall grass and the bushes.
The sanctuary is what remains of the ancient city of Anglona destroyed in 1400 and is built in marble and travertine. The most beautiful part is undoubtedly the apse, while the façade is enriched by a narthex decorated with limestone tufa tiles.
The interior is decorated with bright 14th century frescoes found after the recent restorations.
From the hill you can see the valley floor where in 208 a.C. the epic battle of Herakleia took place which saw the Romans clash against Pirro and his elephants.
To finish some curiosity and advice. Tursi is one of the Lucanian countries that Rocco Papaleo crosses on the journey to the center of his film “Basilicata coast to coast” and in the 16th century it was under the dominion of the Doria family, a powerful Genoese family. In the center of Genoa there is a building called Doria-Tursi which has the same number of steps as the “Petrizze” and which currently houses the mayor’s representative rooms.
Some time ago there was talk of a project to connect more easily the upper part and the lower part of the village through a panoramic lift. But, despite some sites report it as a beautiful reality that already exists, the head of the local Pro Loco Titto D’Onofrio assures us, there is only one good idea on paper.
For a quick bite, we suggest you stop at the Caffè Plaza (via Roma, 80 – 340 0554778) where Silvia with kindness and a big smile will welcome you, betraying her Venetian origins right away, and Antonello will offer you one of his specialties between tramezzini, sandwiches, stuffed focaccia, pizzette, rustic, piadine and local products such as artisan taralli.