National Geographic Italia ~ March 2008
Action in the Ghost Town
Abandoned because of landslides, today Craco is the ideal
destination for film makers and adventurous tourists.
Seen from the state road, the old town of Craco, now only visited by
former nostalgic residents, tourists, and an occasional film crew.
Photo caption: In new Craco, where in 1963 many of the inhabitants of the old village relocated, a gas station does not exist; local youths must manage with plastic bottles.
"This empty town...,” says Francesco, a grocer, who with a group of friends travels to old Craco at least a couple of times each week, keeps a watchful eye on the small houses and the perilous movements of the land. Here, in the quiet of this uninhabited small village, a small group of native men gather at night in this medieval town in the Province of Matera, to talk, sing and play old songs in dialect, or cook traditional Crachesi dishes like Cutturiddu, made with lamb, "...is a place that does not have to be forgotten", finishes Antonio.
Today, the "clan" of Francesco and Antonio represent one of the few connections between the new and old Craco protecting and maintaining the history, traditions, and memories of this fallen town.
In 1963, the year of the "great landslide", Craco had about 2,000 inhabitants, but its future was to be changed forever. Beginning in that year, a series of decrees were issued and ultimately the evacuation of the last residents occurred in 1991- Craco was literally dismembered, and the 900 persons who still resided there were relocated to a small district down in the valley, to an area called Craco Peschiera, or "New Craco".
Despite the fact it is abandoned and crumbling, this old town continues to attract the interest of tourists, outsiders who defy the dangers of the steep crevices and precipices, who wish to explore and enjoy the views of the panorama, experience the winds, the tones, colors, and shadows of the natural landscape, and have their breath taken away. One should not forget to mention the imposing Norman Castle of the XIII century and the convent of San Pietro of the "Observant Friars Minor" of 1600, which identify Craco as the center of a great historic area.
The time has come for Craco, with the introduction of an industry which utilizes the irresistible appeal of this neglected small town. Besides the flow of tourists, one cannot underestimate the opportunities afforded by the continual arrival of filmmakers.
Photo caption: A group of friends gather in a home in old Craco for a typical dinner. Below; On one visit, we are taken to the ruins of the old church.
Since the time of Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979), the film industry has represented an important contribution to the culture of an area poorly organized and with little infastructure. After Rosi, other filmakers like the Taviani brothers', Night Sun, and Lena Wertmuller's, The Nymph, film producers have chosen the old town of Craco as the ideal place to represent a land from ancient times. Also included in local productions are the television movies Red Globe and Rei Do Gado, director Bruce Beresford's King David with Richard Gere, actor. Director Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ filmed the scene of Judas' hanging, and finally Catherine Hardwick filmed a scene from Nativity here.
The new James Bond film, under the direction of Daniel Craig is considering using Craco's natural landscape for filming some scenes this summer. Not bad for an area semi-buried and in partial ruins.
All this confirms that these ruins can represent another new culturally based economy, tourism. The local government's future plan of recovery for this historical center includes the development of a "Scenic Park" in collaboration with Centro Craco Ricerche (an institute for scientific study) and others, such as the CNR University.
Centro Craco Ricerche, subtly yet effectively, has been studying the changes in the land. This institute for scientific study continues to research not only the phenomena of the frana, or landslides, which have ravaged this town, but are also investigating the possible reclamation and rehabilitation of this territory, with the guidance of the former mayor of Craco, Giuseppe Lacicerchia.
Photo caption: A Rumanian shepherd rests along a wall bordering the old town of Craco. His flock habitually grazes in the area of the ancient village, unfit for living and completely deserted since 1991.
He warns of the extreme danger of the old village, "It is no longer sensible to allow travel without guides, between the delicate historical frescoes, the remaining altars and artifacts", referring to the many visitors that venture through the ruins of this town.
"A proper and well planned socio-cultural program would have a huge impact upon the future here. The amount of work required is great and laborious. But it's not impossible. Actions aimed at studying data, preserving history, and reclaiming territory could rewrite the future of Craco", concludes Lacicerchia.
It is widely believed that this "City of Landslides", despite the dangers, continues to have a strong and very real significance, allowing the discovery of a place that despite enduring the trauma of great landslides was never totally destroyed.
Since 1910, landslides were known to be a danger to the old inhabited town. Nearly sixty years earlier, before the first major landslide (1959), engineer Walter Brugner, of the Italian Geologic Service, recognized the risk of future landslides based upon various natural causes, ("lesions and openings in the land created by water impregnating the surface and later absorbed below the clay that caused the ground to swell"). Many of these factors can be attributed to human factors, such as the digging of wells, the creation of reservoirs, and the construction of a support wall built to reinforce the state roadway, only contributing to the problem of the soft land which Craco was built upon. The former inhabitants ruefully acknowledge that the construction of the aqueduct, along with the soft and yielding ground, created a new and dramatic seeping penetration of water. These factors have only made the effects of earthquakes in 1979 and November of 1980 more devastating.
Today Craco remains uninhabitable, or as Placido Montemurro, a former "doctor of the earth" who still serves as an official spokesperson says about the town, "it continues to fall, but not into oblivion".
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